I filled out the order form at amazon.com, confirming the shipping address and making sure I had ordered the right book, A Painted House.
“If you like A Painted House you might also like Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” the site suggested in its masterful marketing ploy.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. What does that have to do with a John Grisham novel? Why would I automatically like one because I like the other? And, how did they know I was paralyzed with fear in every part of my daily life? I quickly scanned the screen to see if I’d filled out a questionnaire at some point and had answered the questions too thoroughly.
Are you between the ages of 35-50?
Do you own your own home?
Do you have a computer?
Does your stomach quake when you’re asked to speak in front of more than three people?
Does your husband have to pry your white-knuckled fingers off of the kitchen counter before every band performance, just to get you in the car?
There was no such questionnaire, so I shrugged and ordered the suggested self-help book. It had been my opinion that self-help books were usually filled with a few bits of helpful information sandwiched between paragraph after paragraph of unnecessary anecdotes and verbiage. Blah. Blah. Blah. If they were edited for efficiency, most of them would make fine magazine articles. I would see if Dr. Jeffers book was fluff or worthwhile.
Within a couple of days, my shipment arrived. I set the Grisham novel aside and went for the Fear book. I didn’t even bother to read up on Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.’s credentials. I decided to take her word for it.
Right there on the first page:
“We fear beginnings; we fear endings. We fear changing; we fear ‘staying stuck.’ We fear success; we fear failure. We fear living; we fear dying.”
Like Lucy’s diagnosis of Charlie Brown at the 5¢ psychiatrist stand, I yelled, “That’s it. I’m afraid of everything.” The doctor went on to promise that her book would give me the tools to harness my fears and use them for good. I was about to learn how to let go of negative programming, how to say “yes,” how to raise my self-esteem, how to see myself as having purpose, how to. . . .
I wasn’t sure how the doctor was going help me help myself to erase decades of negative programming. My formative years were punctuated with key phrases: you’ll never amount to anything. You’re not worth a dime. You’re not worth a plug nickel. Don’t be stupid. Why do you want to look like that when you could look pretty? All of those choice words were being catapulted from the outside, but I kept them going throughout my adult years from within. The doctor called it negative chatter. Chatter? I had my own internal ticker tape of self-deprecating phrases.
“For the love of God, you can’t do that? You didn’t go to school for that? You’re too old to start that now? Almost anybody could do that better than you could. You’re just average at everything.”
When I was ten or so, I went to church camp for a week. The camp was situated on the banks of Crystal Lake, but the camp maintained a sewage ditch that ran right into it. Not very Crystal. One afternoon, the counselors divided all of the kids into two groups and separated us in a big field. They went down the row and wrote a letter on the bottom of each right foot. They took stock of the campers and gave each of us a descriptive letter. If a kid had freckles, his letter was F. If a kid had pigtails, her letter was P. When the counselor came to me with her marker, she stood back, looked me up and down, and said, “Hmmm. A for average.” When the whistle blew, we all ran down the hill toward the other group, looking for someone with our matching letter. I charged, looking for the other unremarkable camper, someone with no distinguishing features and no immediately recognizable character traits. The other lumpy Average kid. I don’t recall who my match was, except that he was somebody I hadn’t noticed before.
That afternoon would serve to define me for years to come, but here I was on the threshold of help—self-help. I would learn to stop “the chatter” that was making me a victim, according to Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., and replace it with “a loving voice.” It was a daunting task but not as difficult as it would be if I hadn’t been able to wash off that big, red A from the bottom of my right foot.