Fear as a motivator

how it's fallen short for me and what I am choosing instead

I am not the best Frontend Engineer at Clearcover. That is hard to admit “outloud” not because it’s a close race, but because that has been my internal expectation for a long time.

I realized that I didn’t have to carry at Clearcover a couple of months ago, but it hasn’t been until late that I discovered in counseling why I had taken up that burden in the first place.

For the last few years, I have lived my life in fear, specifically fear of not being good enough. Case and point: Why has 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night been good enough for me? The real answer is because I have woken up on the treadmill every morning judging myself on the sum of the previous day’s work. Coincidentally, the work was never enough to satisfy my inner judge, which then led to the daily choice of “work harder” or “give up.”

How has this impacted my life?

In work, this comes out as imposter syndrome. At Clearcover, I spent the first 4 months questioning whether I was going to get fired or not, and when Dennis (my manager) was repeatedly positive during our 1 on 1s I didn’t believe him and instead asked him if he was mocking me.

In my marriage, I have pushed Izzy to find another job even though she is content at Veritas. Under the guise of looking out for her, I have projected my own fear onto her situation by questioning whether “this job is setting her up well for the next,” and always subtly suggesting that “she should make the move now.”

In personal finance, we’re saving a decent percentage of our income, but my fear of not having enough down the road has caused me to thrash between petty strategies always pushing for 5% more.

There is a theme here. The grace that other people give me is always greater than what I give myself, and my internal treadmill is always faster than what real life requires.

Where should motivation come from?

I heard a quote over a decade ago that went something like “The way to be the best in the room, is to fear being replaced the most.” I remember consciously dismissing the thought, without confronting it, which over time resulted in believing it. It’s crazy that my fear had run under the radar for so long. Up until last week, I would have said that I had never faced a fear problem. Turns out it’s defined most of my thoughts for the past 5 years. I say 5 years because 5 years ago something happened for me when I read The Slight Edge. This triggered my ravenous push for programming success, which was ultimately just my fear running out of control.

What will I be motivated by now?

It would be easy to switch one vice for another. To switch fear for one of its ugly siblings: pride, selfish ambition, or envy. Here is what I am trying to replace it with:

Stewardship

Stewardship is a biblical term that is similar to ownership. Rather than motivation out of pride for what you have done, however it's a motivation that comes from gratitude for what you have been given. This concept is all throughout scripture.

It’s God’s grace that allows me to learn, grow, and contribute at work, so part of my new strategy is to frame my work as a way to share what God has given to me.

It’s a gift of God that he trusts me with his wealth. I get to be generous with my wife and with others, because I can trust him for the future.

Love / Joy

How do you choose to be motivated by love? It starts with the gospel. Even in writing this, I can become ashamed of how much I have loved myself above my wife, but that is where the gospel comes in. Before I was born, the son of God came into this world, live a perfect life, died an innocent death, and in so doing took on himself the judgment, the shame, the brokenness of my sins.

Reminding myself of the great debt that Christ has paid for me gives me joy. A joy that helps me build up my wife in her work, rather than push her for “more.” A joy that helps me address the temptation of the treadmill, knowing that the work was finish long before I start. I am enough.

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