A few days ago, I started panicking: It kind of came from out of nowhere.
Pacing around the living room. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. I was fine last week, so what was the big deal now? I couldnt focus. My mind was racing and trying to control something I had no control of. That was the problem: control.
I got anxious while watching the TV show Shark Tank, and instead of looking at the various participants’ sales pitches and criticisms as teaching points, I began focusing on what I didnt have. Just a week ago I was selected to be the CEO of a production company my friends and I created. I began thinking, What did I know about production? Who told me I could create a company? All these people that went to school and were trained artists and writers that didnt make it in the television industry. And here I am, a trained emergency medicine doctor doing something that I wasnt trained to do.
My mouth was dry, and my heart started to beat faster. The crazy thing was that this was a familiar feeling that I had experienced many a time before. Each time I started something new or had a minor set back, I would feel like this. I wasnt allergic to hard work. I could sit and study and work for hours. But failure was something that I had always had a hard time with. It made me a little angry.
If I could feel myself getting angry. Then I would dismiss it and act like it wasnt something I really wanted. But in private, I felt like kicking myself for not being more advanced.
I felt the same way when I played my family in checkers as 7-year-old and hit all of the pieces off the board when someone double jumped me.” Same thing happened when I started running track in high school, and a girl that I thought was a little on the chubby side ran past me running up a hill in cross-country practice at Ft Greene Park. My freshman year of college; first 6 months of medical school; residency; rough times in relationships; the list goes on and on. But eventually the feeling would start to dissipate.
Sure, friends and family and mentors would offer encouraging words. But I had to be open and receptive to receive the advice and goodwill. The anger would be internalized and fester. The days failures would play on repeat almost to the point of analysis paralysis only augmenting the fear I was experiencing. Problem with analysis paralysis is that Id over analyze to the point that I wouldnt do anything. How could I do something if it was less than perfect when it came out? Stupid way of thinking, but on occasion our thoughts can get the best of us. Fortunately, half of the time, I have a short attention span and will forget what Im mad about. The most consistent time this feeling would go away was after I finished a workout. My mind would be still and calm.
I remember someone told me a few summers ago that, You cant be mad at yourself or other people for being where they are. I needed to take heed to that advice, because I was doing just that– being mad at myself for being a beginner. Besides, there were other adults in there that were starting out from scratch just like me.
I decided to go in to the class. Clean, super starched white gi (Cotton uniform worn in various schools of martial arts), fresh out of the plastic bag. I didnt even have a white belt. I had to earn the white belt! Aww man smh.
I walked out onto the mat and met the instructor along with some of the other students that had the same nervous look that I had and took some deep breaths. Maybe it was the tranquility of the dojo. Maybe it was the first step onto the mat that was the first step to letting go of unnecessary expectations I had historically been placing on myself in all walks of my life.
After a while on the mat, it didnt matter. I was where I needed to be. I wasnt thinking about where I was or where I thought I could be in the future. I was reminded of coming back to the present (besides not paying attention might get you hurt in a martial arts class). My business partner was talking about how some entrepreneurs want to fail as quickly as they could when they started their businesses not because they were thinking in a self-destructive matter but they wanted to learn from their mistakes early on and move forward.
Its a magical moment when you let go of things that dont serve a purpose for you any more. In my case, its the fear of the unknown. Im not a big New Years resolution kind of person. But I am looking forward to new beginnings.
Dr. Rob Gore is an emergency medicine physician in Brooklyn, NY. He is also the founder and executive director of the KAVI (Kings Against Violence Initiative), a youth violence intervention, prevention, and empowerment program. Most recently, he is co-founder of the Global Empowerment Project, a docu-series focusing on travel and philanthropy through community projects.