For a long time, I’ve been afraid to speak. I was going to write that sentence in past-tense, but when I’m really honest with myself, I know it’s still very much true. It is one of my greatest flaws, and looking back, it’s been the source of some of the most profound challenges I’ve faced in my life. I think this fear is a struggle that a lot of people share, so I figure I might as well share my experience with it.

Words carry a lot of power. They give us handles on abstract concepts, and allow us to share them with each other in precise, well-defined ways. Well, that’s the idea, at least. In actuality though, it doesn’t always work that way. Words are fuzzy. If they weren’t, we would know definitively whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich (no), or if water is wet (yes), or if pop tarts are ravioli (yes). Every word is a lasso around some portion of the abstract world of ideas, trying to wrangle the wild, untamed concepts therein into something that can be controlled, and passed along. And as useful as that can be, the process is friggin scary. Because they never lose their power. Any given sentence I say has a plethora of potential interpretations associated with it, and not all of them are good— much less what I actually intended to say. The knowledge of that fact makes it hard for me to say anything. Why take that risk, when I could instead just remain silent, and safe? Sometimes, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

I’ve written four blogs now, including this one, and every time, even as I type out these very words, I feel that fear. I know I have things to say, ideas to get across, but somewhere within me I know I’d rather not be heard, than be heard and misunderstood. Even when I have the time to write and rewrite and delete and edit to try and make myself as clear as possible, in an attempt to make these words as eloquent and evocative and precise as I can, I’m fighting that fear. I’m second guessing myself, saying “oh, that last sentence was too long; oh, you’re getting too meta now; oh, now you have too many ‘oh’s; oh, this isn’t the proper usage of a semicolon; oh, this quotation to yourself is far too long; oh, you’re clearly just deflecting all your mistakes by calling them out so you don’t have to fix them.” Yup. I am. (For fun).

I spiral and I tangent because I’m so worried about how other people perceive what I say that I lose track of what it even was. It’s a bit self-defeating, really. And it’s completely unnecessary. Because the whole point of talking is to take that leap of faith. It’s putting yourself out there, in the best way that you can, and trusting that the people who are listening care enough to figure it out. Because they do. Communication is a two way street, and that means that you’re not alone. You’ll never get full control over how other people interpret your words, and that’s as much a blessing as it is a curse. Letting go of that control is hard, and scary, but as with so many scary things, it’s not about eliminating the fear. It’s about having the courage to overcome it.

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