Overcoming Fear of External Perceptions

As I embark on week two of my Letters for Lent project, I have successfully written and sent six of forty letters to their destinations.  Only one recipient has received hers so far and I anxiously await the arrival of the others.  All but one have been sent to fairly close friends, but I have never written any of these friends in the past.  There is an overall sense of anticipation as I wonder each morning if it will be the day that so-and-so heads to their mailbox only to be surprised by a letter instead of the typical mundane bill or corporate catalogue (the kind in which you never quite understand how you ended up on their mailing list).  Furthermore, all of these letters have been sent to domestic addresses, although by the end a handful will have been mailed internationally.

Suffice it to say, the first week’s batch of letters were relatively easy to write and about equally as easy to send.  Even the one letter being mailed to the someone I don’t know as well wasn’t as daunting as I had imagined.  Writing the letter itself was just as easy as the others.  And writing openly, honestly and authentically, especially to someone you don’t consider yourself close with, is of course half the battle.  But there is definitely a greater sense of anxiety as I await this particular letter’s arrival.  While I excitedly and eagerly wait to hear that close friends have received their letters, I sit nervously unsure of what this one person’s reaction will be to a letter from a girl they hardly know.  As the days have passed, however, and the anxiety continues to come and go in waves, I’ve come to ask myself – what am I so afraid of?

The thing I resent most about this era of overwhelming technological advances and its subsequent social media takeover is the disservice it has done for this generation’s personal interactions.  I could go on about how these advances have adversely affected not only our now pathetic dating culture, but the way in which this generation confronts conflict amongst friends, etc.  Keyboard courage perpetuates a false sense of confidence that many keyboard crusaders would not be able to back up during face-to-face confrontation.  Okay, I digress.  Back to that letter… again, what am I so afraid of?

I am afraid of the way in which I will be perceived for such an unconventional approach by today’s standards.  I am fearful that the letter will be regarded as too ‘intense’ for a friendship that is largely unfamiliar and founded on a few chance encounters fueled by mutual friends.  Perhaps this fear would be regarded as rational by many for the gutsy nature of reaching out to someone whose reaction I am unable to predict.  But where is the boldness in sending 40 letters to 40 people whose reactions I am able to preconceive?  I recently read about the liberation that comes with the realization that you don’t have to constantly concern yourself with the repercussions of what you’ve said and what other people think of you.  This concept is so seemingly simple and something that has been reiterated to us often throughout our lives, but how often to do we allow this to resonate?  I’d assume for most of us, not often.  For me, not often.

When we allow ourselves to be defined by others’ perceptions of us, we are acting as puppets on strings.  We think, speak, and act with the utmost concern for how others will perceive us and ultimately think, speak, and act under their indirect control.  We no longer hold the reins of our own life and our own passion and personal sense of purpose get lost somewhere along the way.  We are often so concerned with these external perceptions that we don’t even realize this loss of the sense of self.

Like most decisions I have made in the past year, I ultimately chose to take on this project to step out of my comfort zone.  The most significant growth is made when taking a leap of faith and stepping into the unfamiliar, where both the consequences and rewards are incalculable.  So maybe this person will perceive me to be some weirdo for sending a letter after only meeting a few times.  Or maybe this person will appreciate the manner of a thoughtfully written letter.  But honestly, who the hell cares?  Realistically, people’s perceptions of us for such gestures are as insignificant as they are unpredictable.  Through this particular gesture, I am being my genuine self and if that isn’t embraced then so be it.

Beyond the scope of these 40 days, allowing myself to be so preoccupied with someone’s impression of me for anything is binding myself to shackles of which someone else holds the key.  Our own psyches can leave us powerless and trapped within the confines of external perceptions of which we have no control.  I’ve spent much of my life paralyzed by such anxieties.  But I am learning that acting intentionally and authentically and with little to no discernment of others’ judgments is what it means to truly live rather than to merely exist.



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