"I want to be a writer.""I wish I could travel the world."
"I'm going to start a Big-Ass Business that totally upends the technology market."
Dreams like these are exciting. They course through your veins, electrify you, and make you feel like you can take on the world.
Dreams like these are also important. You can't accomplish anything in the world without first dreaming it up.
At some point, though, you have to stop saying, stop dreaming, and start doing.
When you do, don't be surprised if zielschmerz kicks in.
What is zielschmerz?
Zielschmerz, as defined by writer-artist John Koenig in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, is
The exhilarating dread of finally pursuing a lifelong dream, which requires you to put your true abilities about there to be tested on the open savannah, no longer protected inside the terrarium of hopes and delusions that you created in kindergarten and kept sealed as long as you could, only to break in case of emergency.
In other words, zielschmerz is the scary-but-exciting feeling that you get when you're about to leap into something about which you really care. In regards to this thing, success means the manifestation of a lifelong dream; failure means a wasted life.
How we protect ourselves from zielschmerz
At its core, zielschmerz is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of mockery and judgment, fear of not being good enough or worthy enough to pursue and achieve our greatest desires in life.
Fear is a mechanism of our ego, the "part of us that's focused on getting recognition and protecting us from social ostracism" (The Big Leap, loc. 212). Long ago, our ego was necessary to our survival; to be ostracized from our social group was to be eaten by predators. Now, it's just a distraction that shows up to keep us from expanding into greatness.
Generally, we protect ourselves from zielschmerz by manufacturing bad thoughts or crises. Specifically, we protect ourselves in one of several of the following ways.
1. We putter and procrastinate
It's hard to commit to pursing a lifelong dream. It's hard to make the declaration, to put yourself out there, and to do the visible work. It's hard to hang all your hopes on the one thing that will complete your life.
On the other hand, it's easy to send email and check our social media accounts. It's easy to fiddle with a minute detail that ultimately doesn't have an impact on the success or failure of our lifelong dream. It's easy to do all the laundry, put away all the clutter, and scrub the surfaces of our homes until they shine.
And that's what we do. We clean, we tidy, and we avoid the one thing we need to do to create positive forward movement.
2. We pick fights
As the anxiety of pursuit eats away at us, it spills over into our relationships with others. Behavior that wouldn't normally bother us becomes a Big Deal, and we let that other person know in no uncertain terms.
We can recognize this particular behavior as a protective mechanism if we lose steam after a few minutes. Taking out our zielschmerz on our family and friends relieves the pressure of succeeding and, in creating a relationship problem that must now be solved, distracts us from what we truly desire.
3. We create money problems
Oftentimes, the pursuit of a lifelong dream requires some sort of financial investment. Whether it's in a class, in travel, or in the experience itself, a financial investment goes hand-in-hand with fulfilling our desires.
Therefore, as our ego reasons, we can't pursue a lifelong dream without available funding. So we make decisions that limit our liquidity and use that as an excuse to put off the leap.
4. We make avoidable mistakes
Even if we get to the point at which we begin doing our dreams, we're so nervous, anxious, and fearful that we make mistakes that we typically wouldn't make. We make typos in our writing, we forget words while we're speaking, and can even forget how to sign our own names when putting pen to binding legal document or large check.
How to overcome your zielschmerz
As zielschmerz is essentially fear, the advice is essentially the same: transform your fear into excitement and exhilaration.
In The Big Leap, author Gay Hendricks offers this method:
The best advice I can give you is to take big, easy breaths when you feel fear. Feel the fear instead of pretending it's not there. Celebrate it with a big breath, just the way you'd celebrate your birthday by taking a big breath and blowing out all the candles on your cake. Do that, and your fear turns into excitement. Do it more, and your excitement turns into exhilaration.
And then, darling, leap.
Over to you
Do you have a lifelong dream that you're ready to pursue, and have you experienced the "exhilarating dread of finally pursuing a lifelong dream?"
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