I’m not sure if it’s because I’m preparing to enter the wild world of motherhood in about four months, or if it’s because I’m about to turn the awkward age of 29 (I might as well just be 30, okay), but lately I feel an overwhelming fear of failure.
It’s as if there is the building pressure to be who I am—all of who I am, in all my shining glory—before some invisible clock stops ticking. Perhaps I am just dealing with the reality of my own mortality, or maybe this is what happens when you’re in your late 20s and certain dreams and aspirations start “poofing” goodbye left and right.
It’s not that I don’t believe in myself—it’s that time is running out.
Being a full-time mama looms on the horizon, and I’m not an idiot. I don’t really believe that I’m going to be a famous rockstar pulling in millions, while also pursuing a Broadway dance career, while simultaneously managing a self sustaining homestead with goats and chickens and running an organic herbal tea business, while going back to school for a degree in journalism.
Except I have believed that somehow, and I can’t anymore.
There’s just not enough room for all my dreams that I have carried all these years, and it is terrifying.
Growing up and making decisions about who I am is terrifying.
Letting go of all the expectations I had for myself before I turning 30 is terrifying.
Many of my dreams are still possible, don’t get me wrong. The future holds all possibilities, and I don’t pretend to have a handle on what could or could not happen in the next year—let alone the next 10 or the next 20. Maybe I’ll be the first little old Grandma in the Rockettes line up, kicking my arthritis stricken legs high above my head in front of packed audiences. Who knows?
But for now, as I march towards a certain unavoidable “adulthood” that comes with settling down, getting married and having children, I know I am being offered a huge life lesson amidst the terror I am facing.
In growing up, my adolescent self must be laid to rest.
Who is this new woman that reemerges from the ashes? What does she cling to? What new hopes, dreams, and curiosities does she embrace?
The woman of my past has been one of “what ifs” and “maybes” and “if onlys”—a creature of perpetual dreaming, a creature stuck swimming in an ocean of possibilities without ever coming to dry land. But as I age, the “what ifs” have become heavy, the dreaming seems more time wasting than actually fulfilling, and the ocean in which I have been swimming is beginning to drown me in its potential.
During my 20s, I made the mistake of making a lot of promises to myself that I couldn’t keep. I told myself that I was “not successful unless” I did this, did that, had this much money in the bank, had this kind of relationship with my family, had that kind of job and had achieved a certain level of outward fame and recognition. I didn’t realize it, but I was setting myself up for disappointment. I was making promises based on the premise that I could control the unfolding of my life, myself and the world around me.
The most difficult part of this journey has been to accept that letting go doesn’t mean that I have failed. Yes, I grieve the life I now set behind me—my maiden self, my adolescence—but I strive to recognize the invitation before me.
It is an invitation to accept myself—as I am, where I am—right now. It is an invitation to set new goals, reevaluate my priorities and ground myself in what is really happening. It is an invitation to release me expectations of myself and honor all that I have already accomplished, without judgement. It is an invitation to redefine what a successful life looks like to me at age 29, as opposed to age 21.
Ironically, as I prepare to give birth, I must go through my own inner death. In the “Motherpeace Tarot” deck, the Death card is portrayed as a snake shedding its skin, encircling the bones of a human. It rubs between two birch trees, pushing the dried-up withered skin away from its bright new colorful scales. The metaphor is quite simple—death is simply the releasing of an old layer of ourselves. If we focus on what’s being left behind, we may find ourselves in a state of terror-induced paralysis. If we focus instead on the new layer being revealed, we will find ourselves hopeful, excited and confident in the future before us.
But how is this snake shedding its skin in the first place? How is this “Death” occurring? By the friction created by rubbing itself between the trees.
That snake doesn’t just slip its skin off like a greased monkey out of a cannon. It takes work—it is hard and it is messy—it is an emotional roller-coaster ride. Psychologically, as parts of the old ego are burned away, they struggle and fight and resist with all their strength. We are tested by not just our outer world that is shifting, but by our inner world that is reimagining itself.
Death is characterized by the friction between that which was and that which is becoming.
This quintessential moment in my life—in so many of our lives, when we must accept our limitations and perceived failures in order to plant new seeds for the future—is ultimately a blessing. It is our chance to know ourselves more truly, more deeply and love the self we find with a passion and devotion never before experienced. It is the time we work hardest to regain a lost balance, to make peace with what we must leave behind and to hold on through all the friction and burning away to see what comes through in the end.
Because from the ashes, we always rise again. From the water, we must eventually land.
For me, it is time to come ashore. I’m still figuring out what that means—still constructing the boat to bring me there. The waves get high, and sometimes I surf them, but sometimes I swallow water and sink beneath. But I can see the green land of my home on the horizon—that place I dream of where some of my dreams materialize, while others remain like foam, drifting back out to sea. It is the place I become self-realized and no longer self-imagined.
As I am pregnant with my baby, I am also pregnant with myself. As I anticipate and prepare my body for labor, I labor every day to bring my dying self to this place—to give birth to the woman I am becoming, to the woman that I can’t wait to meet. She is a mother and no longer a child.
Who in you is begging to come forth? Who in you must die so that person can be born?
Have you caught glimpses of that brilliant, shiny, new skin waiting beneath the surface of what is old and decomposing? Or is the fog still in your eyes?
When the friction gets to be too much—the fire too hot and the water too deep—can you surrender and give thanks?
Do the echoes of “what ifs” and “could have beens” and “if onlys” still haunt you?
Does the fear of failure and loss still paralyze you?
Are you still in mourning for the self you must leave behind?
Let’s all hold on together, sweet ones. I’ll meet you on the other side.
“To die will be an awfully big adventure.” ~ Peter Pan
Author: Monica Bethelwood-Tucker
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina