How to Kick Fear in the Gonads (Even If You’re Currently Crying on Your Dorm Room Floor)

by gigigriffis

When you imagine me at eighteen, imagine me wracked with indecision. Sitting in the middle of my dorm room floor, crying my eyes out and feeling terrified that I would take the wrong path, make the wrong choice, and impact my life forever. Begging God to tell me what to do. Begging my heart to be at peace.

Because even though all I was doing was thinking about changing my major from Journalism to English, it felt like a decision that would make or break my world.

You see, I’d always wanted to be a writer. I was illustrating and writing books somewhere around the age of seven. I was sharing poems and stories online in my teen years and building whole websites so that I could fill them with tips for young travelers. My first job was a web content job (though I didn’t know to call it “content” back then).

I wrote every chance I got – and it made my soul endlessly happy.

Still, the working-9-to-5-themselves practical people in my life (not to mention the culture at large) warned me away from my dream. They said that if I got an English degree, I wouldn’t make any money. That I’d be living out of a box or, worse, working at McDonalds. That I needed something to fall back on (e.g. “a real career for the day I finally pulled my head out of the clouds”). That the whole starving artist thing isn’t a joke, young lady.

What my parents really wanted was for me to major in computer science. But our compromise was Journalism – the more respectable of the writing majors – particularly if they could convince me to minor in something more practical (read: boring).

So I entered college as a Journalism major.

…and immediately felt like something in my life wasn’t quite right.

My first class in the Journalism department kicked off with a lecture on how to manipulate people with your words. If you want people to believe that you are the best, you say “nothing works better than X,” my professor told us. It really means that everything works exactly the same, but people think it means your product is the best. This kind of marketing is why name-brands can charge more than generics.

And so on and so forth he went, as I sat there worried that I’d made a terrible mistake. I didn’t want to mislead people about pain killers. I wanted to tell stories that, as Arabian Nights says, “teach us how to live and why.”

My professor also told us to be objective at all times, to take ourselves out of the writing.

And that was the last thing I wanted to do with my writing – to take the human spark out of it. I didn’t read any of that sort of writing, so why would I want to write it? I wanted to read and write about beauty and love and travel and I didn’t see how writing like a court reporter could possibly get me there.

So, there I was after my first semester of college, kneeling on my floor and crying. Begging for a sign.

Because even though I knew deep in my soul that Journalism was a compromise and what I really wanted was to read and write things with a soul, even if it made me almost no money…

I was afraid.

The funny thing is that I wasn’t really afraid that everyone was right and I’d end up living in a cardboard box by the river. I wasn’t afraid of being poor. And I was only a little afraid of failing.

No. I was afraid of something else altogether.

I was afraid of disappointing everyone.

My parents. My professors. God.

I was afraid that I was doing “the wrong thing.” Because at eighteen all you have is the way you were raised and the way I was raised said that the right thing was whatever God wanted and the wrong thing was anything else.

And how was I supposed to know what the hell God wanted?

Which is why I was agonizing on the dorm room floor, tears running down my face and a notebook and pen resting next to me. My mind was a whirlwind and my gut was churning. And so, as I have so many times before and since, I sought comfort in words. I opened the notebook and began to have a conversation with myself.

I don’t have the notebook anymore, but the conversation went something like this:

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do.

What do you want to do?

I don’t know.

I think you do. Think for a moment. What do you want?

I don’t know.

Yes, yes you do. Take your time. Take a deep breath. There’s no one here but us. You can say anything. You can say that you want to become an astronaut or a ballerina if that’s your soul’s desire. Just tell the truth. What do you want?

I want to change my major to English. I want to write poems and stories and things that are bursting with emotion. I want to do something that matters.

Okay. Then do all of that. 

But what if that’s wrong?

Gigi, If you believe God created you, don’t you also believe that he created your passion and talent? That perhaps passion was given to guide you? And perhaps God’s plan is to let you make your own way? And if all that is true, then perhaps you should trust your passion and keep moving forward. Instead of waiting for a sign to start you down a new path, go ahead and forge that path until you get a sign that stops you.

That moment on the dorm room floor was revolutionary for me.

It was when I realized that life isn’t full of right paths and wrong paths – that, for the most part, all of our options are good. I don’t have to wrestle an angel for every little decision. That I can do what’s right and do what I want. I can trust myself.

And trusting myself? That is the antithesis of my biggest fears.

When I really trust myself to make the right decisions, I can’t also be endlessly worrying about making the wrong ones and I stop worrying so much about everyone else’s disappointment.

Because trusting myself also means prioritizing myself. It means recognizing that it would be far worse to disappoint myself than to disappoint my parents or my professors. And it means trusting that God – whatever you believe about Him – couldn’t possibly be disappointed in a person who relentlessly and passionately pursued her dream of telling beautiful stories and doing work that matters.

So I closed my notebook and splashed some water on my face and went to bed, sleeping the deep and dreamless sleep of exhaustion and determination.

And the next morning, I started the process of changing my major.

Today, I am a writer. A full-time, world-traveling writer who gets paid to do what she loves. I’ve never lived in a cardboard box or worked at McDonalds. I’ve certainly disappointed some people along the way, but it no longer bothers me. And I have never – not for one second – regretted changing my major or making any of those other tough decisions (to move to New York, to quit my job in New York, to go to Europe, to move to Denver, to take a pay cut in order to get an agency job, to quit my agency job, to start my business, to leave a conventional life in the dust).

So this is the part where I leave you with some tried-and-true, hard-fought wisdom: trust yourself, make a choice, and move forward. The more you step forward into the dream, the less real your fears will become.


Love with a Chance of Drowning – A Memoir by Torre DeRocheThis post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.

“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press

“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com

“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail

Find out more…


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26 comments

Jonathan Welford May 27, 2013 - 3:49 am

Completely loved this post, and I feel it’s so important to follow your dream, you may not be a millionaire, have a luxury life, but living your life happy is better than being miserable wondering ‘what if?’

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gigigriffis May 27, 2013 - 7:51 am

Thank you. And so agreed!

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Roommate #1 May 27, 2013 - 11:14 am

I believe 100% that God gave us our passions and talents to guide us toward what we are supposed to do. Beautifully written, Gigi!

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gigigriffis May 27, 2013 - 11:19 am

Thanks, love!

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Melissa Adams May 27, 2013 - 11:18 am

Interesting post that opens just like Eat, Pray, Love, with Elizabeth Gilbert crying on her bathroom floor, asking God what to do. Like you, I was born to be a writer. That was always my dream and I couldn’t find any other career options when my father was talking about marketable skills.

When I started UCLA in 1969, the School of Journalism had just closed. Probably because you learn journalism skills by doing…as I did in numerous jobs after graduating with a degree in English and a head full of Shakespeare, Chaucer + Milton (including quotes I recall + use in my work to this day). My head was never in the clouds, it was in books.

I got a job as a travel writer for AAA right out of college. People say I was lucky…I say it had something to do with the 200+ letters I wrote. Over 3 decades, I’ve worked in corporate communications, magazine + newspaper journalism, PR + advertising. Always as a writer.

Although I’d rather be blogging and writing travel stories now, I still write for Southern California clients, including one I’ve been working with for 30+ years. Majoring in English and becoming a writer never took guts for me. It was and still is one of the only things I do really well ;-).

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gigigriffis May 27, 2013 - 11:20 am

Oh, that’s lovely! Thanks for sharing your story. My writing career was a bit more hard-fought once I got out of college, so it’s great to hear from someone who launched directly into one and never looked back!

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Maria May 27, 2013 - 11:56 am

I second Jonathan on this – looks like you have landed in a great place.

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gigigriffis May 27, 2013 - 2:50 pm

:)

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Gary May 27, 2013 - 8:53 pm

If only I had had the courage to follow a dream from a younger age…or indeed the intensity of that dream. Many years on I find myself in a very similar position to you Gigi and am following a different course but I was always concerned about what others thought!

Regardless of lost opportunity I have still had a great innings so far and don’t actually have regrets because I only made the decisions in my life the best of my ability or understanding….arguably as God willed.

Great post though…thanks

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gigigriffis May 27, 2013 - 10:55 pm

Excellent point, Gary. It doesn’t matter how long it takes – the main thing is that you are following your dream now.

It took me 10 years to get from that dorm room floor to today, so I’d say most of us have dreams that take a circuitous and sometimes longer-than-we’d-like route. The important thing is that we learn to trust ourselves somewhere along the way and keep moving forward.

Cheers to living the dream and not having regrets!

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Rebeca May 28, 2013 - 10:16 am

Right or wrong you need to follow your dream and ptttttht to those nay sayers. You make make a mistake but, at least you are living your life.

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gigigriffis May 28, 2013 - 11:58 am

Hear hear!

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Libby May 28, 2013 - 9:04 pm

Love this. I think a lot of people can relate to the idea of facing “right vs wrong paths.” It takes a strong person and brave one to realize just as you did that there is no wrong path–just different ones. Glad you’re proud of the path you chose and have embraced your passion.

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gigigriffis May 28, 2013 - 9:33 pm

Thanks!

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Jonathan Look, Jr. May 30, 2013 - 2:07 am

As the old saying goes, “Jump and the net will appear”! Been working for me for a while now. Great insights.

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gigigriffis May 30, 2013 - 7:10 am

How very true.

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Torre – Fearful Adventurer June 11, 2013 - 9:10 am

How incredible that you had this breakdown/breakthrough at such a young age. A lot of people don’t find themselves in this tug of war between heart and head until much later in life, when change if much harder. Thanks for sharing your story, Gigi!

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gigigriffis June 11, 2013 - 9:11 am

Thanks, Torre. Just finished your book – gorgeous writing and inspiring story. And you were rather young when you made those leaps too!

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Your Fearful Adventures June 18, 2013 - 4:02 am

[…] How to Kick Fear in the Gonads by Gigi Griffis […]

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Layla September 3, 2013 - 8:45 pm

Loved this post! As someone who has both worked at McDonald’s and is in a major I don’t like (three years ago, I wrote in my journal that I “must” travel before I got settled in my “boring job” and got married to my [then] boyfriend. I said “boring job” as I would say “engineering job” where adjective was just to distinguish it from whatever else was out there. At least two problems with my thinking: I must do this or that, and I will be doing a job I don’t like.)

It’s taking a while to figure out what it is that I want, but the ideas keep on coming and I keep getting closer.

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gigigriffis September 4, 2013 - 4:48 am

It takes a while for all of us to figure it out. In fact, I feel like I’m constantly re-inventing and re-figuring out, myself.

Thanks for the comment love!

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Victoria November 27, 2013 - 12:13 am

Hi Gigi, what an interesting post that I can definitely relate to. My mother wanted me to read Law and I wanted to read English so we made a compromise. I studied Political Science with minors in Economics. Best thing ever as I still had the professional aspect and I became Editor-in-Chief of both my faculty and my hall!
After living in the Czech Republic as a Project Manager, I moved to Berlin. I’m now a Business Corporate English Trainer. If that’s not full circle, I don’t what is LOL!

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gigigriffis November 27, 2013 - 3:16 am

That is quite full circle. Hilarious! Thanks for sharing.

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How to Kick Fear in the Gonads, Part II | The Ramble February 10, 2014 - 10:56 am

[…] few weeks ago, I told you a story about fear. About laying on the floor and crying, full of indecision. About changing my major anyway, […]

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KristyK September 19, 2014 - 4:26 am

Hello Gigi,

What a wonderful and inspiration post! I have always admired those people that knew what they wanted, knew what their talent is and worked hard to get it.

I was somewhat in a similar position when I was 18 and trying to decide what I wanted, trying to find a compromise between what I wanted to major in and what my parents thought was the right and sensible decision.

I won the fight with my parents eventually and did what I wanted to do (European studies) but now 8 years later I work for a software developing company, a field completely unrelated to what I so strongly fought for but yet I really like it!

We have a saying that goes like this: Nothing in this world is more prone to change than ones sole, ones beliefs and the weather.

I just wanted to offer a different perspective :)

XOXO

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gigigriffis September 19, 2014 - 4:54 am

Thanks! I think that’s actually the case for all of us – even those who really knew what we wanted at the time: Life is always shifting and career paths rarely turn out exactly how we thought they would!

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