The Fear that Lurks Deep in the Hearts Of Multipotentialites
Photo courtesy of Quin Dombrowski.

The Fear that Lurks Deep in the Hearts Of Multipotentialites

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Shanna Mann.

There’s a fear that I see all over— But it’s never more pernicious than in multipotentialites. The fear of easing up, of coasting, “wussing out.” We think we lack discipline and drive if we don’t always push, always drive, and if we ever give ourselves any slack, we’ll ultimately fail.

I think this affects PuttyPeeps more than most because we’re always quitting things. There’s the sense that if the last thing we tried wasn’t right for us, the next one had better be, or else. It’s a slippery slope to failure, isn’t it?

Actually, it isn’t.

This is all the result of a faulty logic system.

  • Black and White Thinking
  • All or Nothing Mentality
  • False Dichotomies.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s flawed. But it’s pretty much the backbone of our modern culture. If you’re not a success, you’re a failure. If you’re not working your butt off, you’re unmotivated and undisciplined. If you change careers once too often, you’re a flip-flopper who lacks follow-through.

However, multipods aren’t exactly prone to an all-or-nothing lifestyle— Any scanner you know have exactly one project on the go because he wants to “give 110% to it”? The very idea is absurd.

And yet the innate rejection of that kind of faulty cultural imperative is what makes us most vulnerable to the doubts it causes.

I know it was that way for me. I had always been a smart, talented kid. I was kicking ass in university; they let me invent my major, and my professors loved me. I was made for academia. But then I got bored. And you know how that goes, right? I wanted to move on, and I developed this insidious doubt– what if the only reason I was successful was because I wasn’t doing anything I could possibly fail at?

The fear ate at me. So I chose the thing I was weakest at – driving– and got my trucker’s license.

After seven tries. It was humiliating to fail, but I just couldn’t let that fear be true. If that were the reality of things, my entire self-image would be in shambles.

But then I found it wasn’t enough to be a trucker… oh no. Highway driving? Way too easy. All you had to do was keep it between the ditches. What a cop-out. No way would I wuss out.

So what was the toughest kind of trucking there was? Working in the oil-patch. It was dirty, highly physical labour, and the first time I looked into it, I was flatly told that women weren’t strong enough for that type of work. SOLD.

I fought tooth and nail to be hired, and then again to get out of being an errand girl and onto an oil rig. I was consumed by the idea of proving my toughness, not only to myself, but to everyone who told me it could be done. It took over my whole life— nothing was more important to me than not failing at this challenge.

That sounds good, right? It sounds like I’m committed to my goals. It sounds like I have guts, doesn’t it? Single-minded discipline and focus are universally good things, aren’t they?

Nothing could be further from the truth

I mean, nothing.

It sounds good. It’s pretty powerful ego-validation when you can say, “I ran that marathon with a hairline fracture in my shin.” “I moved to Nashville and slept in my car while I waited for my big break.” “I knew it was true love, so we drove up to Vegas and got married.” “I’ve never missed a workout in ten years, and never cheated on my diet once.”

And so it was with me. My first summer in the oil patch, I got on a rig that worked 24 hours a day. It should have had two guys working it, but there was only me. I knew my sexist boss was putting pressure on me, daring me to complain. So I worked. 94 straight days that summer, averaging three hours of sleep a night.

I had a system, see. Every load of mud I hauled to the pit I drank a bottle of water and ate a granola bar, to keep my calories and fluids up. I ate entire boxed lasagnas for supper, and in spite of my carb-loading I lost two jeans sizes and gained 20 lbs of muscle. I once went 40 hours without sleep– or was it 60? I was driving machinery so heavy it wasn’t allowed on the highway, and I was hauling hoses that were double my weight. But the payoff was amazing:

There was nothing I couldn’t do.

I kept my eyes on September, because I’d promised my dad I’d go back to school. The weekend before Labor Day, my boss pulled me. He said the consultant had asked for me to be replaced– he was worried I was seducing the riggers. I knew it was bullshit– the consultant loved me. I’d earned the respect of every guy on that rig. Only my boss had an axe to grind. So I told him where to stick it, and I walked out. I’d earned my stripes.

Back at school. my body began to fall apart on me. I could no longer sleep much… but I wasn’t staying awake properly, either. I began to be afraid to be behind the wheel– laughable, when you consider how I spent my summer. I had no strength. I fainted carrying a load of laundry up the stairs and my roommates took me to the ER.

My doctors began a battery of tests, and finally settled on the controversial diagnosis: adrenal fatigue. I had burnt out my adrenal glands the way a junkie burns out their hypothalamus.

Oh, but I was hardcore. I was tougher than tough. I proved that I could push myself all the way to self-destruction.

Yay, me.

Now, mine may be a very extreme case, but it’s still the sort of thinking that people engage in all the time. They don’t trust themselves to make good decisions when things are hard.

A person under pressure isn’t operating at their rational peak, I’ll admit. But here’s where the fear comes in:

We default to the most punishing option to avoid seeming weak.

That fear is everywhere. It’s like the air we breathe. I have examples beyond counting, not only in my own life, but the lives of clients, friends, and family. We operate from this place of fear and it cudgels us mercilessly.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can recognize the fear-based reaction, recognize how it dehumanizes you, robs you of your sovereignty. You can choose to respond from a place of discipline and self-knowledge.

I know we all can do it, we putty-peeps, because we’ve already done it by choosing to be who we are. Every time we choose to change tracks, switch jobs, dive into another challenge, we’re winning over the fear and doubt.

Keep up the good work.

Your Turn

Was there a time when you let the fear drive you past a sensible limit? Do you have a good story about overcoming those doubts urging you to do something that wasn’t right for you?

Shanna Mann is a coach and author who helps adventurous spirits bust through all the b.s. that makes decisions hard and grow into the most powerful versions of themselves. She blogs at and she’s co-hosts a monthly teleseminar (the next one is Creating Better Boundaries: Permission Slips for Saying ‘No’ and Other Useful Tools.) She can’t be succinct to save her life.


  1. linda says:

    Fear is definitely a pain point for all… driving us to do something over the edge or stopping us dead in our tracks. I think Shanna hits the core of the topic in asking us to “recognize the fear-based reaction.” If we understand the origins of why we do what we do, there will be a lot more clarity to lead us forward. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Shanna Mann says:

      Thanks, Linda. The funny thing is, noticing the origins of your reaction doesn’t *have* to change your decision. Sometimes there’s a good and valid reason for diving over the brink. But way too often people do it mindlessly, so that’s what I hope people will realize.

  2. Ethan says:

    Wow, I had no idea about your history as a truck driver! It’s funny, because though I consider myself a Multipod, the result of this cultural “all or nothing” mentality has taken an opposite toll on me. Rather than going all in and pushing myself way to hard to prove myself, I’ve been doing the opposite: Giving up way too early.

    After reading your article, I realize that fear was probably behind most of my decisions to give up: Really just the fear of having to do too much work. The fear of having to commit too much time to something that might take away from my other interests. Great writing!

    • Shanna Mann says:

      I have the same fear, Ethan, of getting overextended and not enjoying myself anymore. I vacillate a lot actually. :) But you’re right, fear is at the basis of both reactions.

  3. Denise says:

    I resonated with this so much.

    I’ve definitely let fear drive me past my limit several times… my stories aren’t as extreme as yours, but the same idea. I wanted to be tough and prove just how much I could do, and I always succeeded. It took me several years, though, to do what I REALLY wanted to do, and start pursuing interests based on my passion and not on what I felt I needed to prove. Of course, I don’t regret anything though… it all brought me to this point.

    Love that you shared this story!

    • Shanna Mann says:

      I know! I feel like *tough* is a TERRIBLE trait to have to prove. But no one EVER believes it until they actually *do* believe that they’re tough. So I’m trying to find a middle ground. By all means, *prove* to yourself you’re tough. But if you find yourself continually trying to prove you’re tough, have a look at the motivation behind it.

  4. Sarah says:

    First reaction is oh-my-goodness, Shanna – why have you not been shouting about the adrenal fatigue part of the story from the rafters? This is absolutely incredible (and… ya know… totally supports what you and I both believe in to the hilt.)

    But oh you know I love this whole topic of conversation. IMHO, we are all always changing and getting new information about ourselves and our surroundings, and multipods are just better adapted to doing something about it and acting on the new information rather than getting stuck in the old patterns.

    I think it’s pretty incredible that you went so far in the opposite direction though – makes for a great story although I’m sure that was not your imagined end-point at the time!

    • Shanna Mann says:

      Why is the adrenal fatigue part so interesting? I always feel like it’s a cop-out… part of the reason that I’m completely anal about my bedtime and regular mealtimes and whatnot is my body is extremely punitive when I push it for no good reason. Like, I’ll slur my words and get confused and lose coordination. And the next day is totally shot, if not the next two. **Ahem** Boundaries. Very important. :)

      Honestly, I do love to tell a good story, and I go out of my way to *make* good stories. However, that’s not the moral I thought this one would have.

  5. Holy crap Shanna! Now THAT’S a story! And one that can only be told by someone unafraid to be “long-winded”. Thanks for sharing it in all its detail and vivid imagery.

    Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of something that contains this kind of story and the sentence “And yet the innate rejection of that kind of faulty cultural imperative is what makes us most vulnerable to the doubts it causes.”

    You’ve always had my respect and admiration and now it’s been taken to a new level. Think you can make this even more long-winded and turn it into a true life short story or action inspiring narrative?

    I can’t even answer any of the great questions you pose at the end of this post right now because my heads spinning (in a good way).

    • Shanna Mann says:

      Haha! Thanks Joel. That means a lot to me. It’s an interesting study of extremes, isn’t it?

      Actually, I think if you made it longer it would just be a good story. It’s the kind of transformational experience that can be mined over and over again for useful lessons. Any single lesson is simply an incomplete interpretation.

  6. Alex says:

    I’m a fourth year PhD program right now. I probably should have stopped with my M.S., but I kept going because I was afraid of looking like a failure.

    During my second year of grad school, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She was a mother to me, my closest relative besides my brother. I was her main caretaker as she endured cancer treatments and declined rapidly (because my grandfather is an alcoholic who had no idea what he was doing and my mother lives far away and was in complete denial that her own mother was dying).

    I was working on my thesis at the time (which involved a lot of data collection time in a lab) and taking a full course load. I was working for the Navy and working as a grad teaching assistant. Think of it as working a full time job and two part time jobs and then living in a hospital most of my free time. Sure, some people could “handle” it better than I could. But it weighed on me physically and emotionally. I should have taken a personal leave of absence from school to handle “life.” I gained 40 pounds and began drinking heavily to cope with anxiety and sadness. I slept 5 hours a night, stopped exercising and doing yoga because I felt guilty when I did. The list goes on. But like you said, “I was tough.” I didn’t ask for a leave of absence because I thought, “I don’t want to look like a failure if I quit now” and “If I can’t handle this, I’m weak” and “Everyone expects me to do it all and they’ll think less of me if I can’t.”

    And in fact, I was criticized by my peers and faculty advisors for putting family first. It’s shocking to think back on it now, but they were quite vocal about judging my choices. And you know what? I am 100% OK with the fact that my grades fell some and my productivity by grad student standards diminished over that year. I was with my grandmother every day until she died.

    Today I exercise, eat healthy, spend time with loved ones, and take time off every day. I watch TV sometimes. Hell, sometimes, I just sit still doing nothing. Somehow the loss of my grandmother was the nail in the coffin for some of that fear. It creeps up on me late at night when I’ve been typing for 14 hours and my hands hurt so much I start crying and think, “This is not me, this is not what I want.” Part of me wants to quit school, but I keep going for fear of looking like a failure from outsiders (most of whom have no earthly idea how difficult a PhD program in the sciences can be). But I also keep going because I’ve made it this far despite the setbacks.

    If I do quit, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says about me. I will still be able to look at myself in the mirror and go to sleep at night knowing I did my best and I made the right choice by spending time with her instead of being a published author.

    Sorry this is so long. I rarely post comments here for some reason. Your post just really got the feelings flowing. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Love this blog.

    • Shanna Mann says:

      Alex, I know *exactly* how you feel. You work and you work and you work, and you know you don’t want to quit. Or more correctly, you don’t want to through away the work you put in.

      But life is a series of tradeoffs. You made the decision to be with your grandmother, and that was worth any other sacrifice you made. Only people who’ve never come across anything truly important can possibly think that grades mean more than bringing comfort to the dying.

      You made the right choice. It was not, in retrospect, the smartest choice, as you see now that taking personal leave had no reflection on your character. But you chose to put certain things before your own comfort, and they were worthy of it. And you were worthy, too. You gave your best. And your best is utterly tremendous. And now you know that your best, when it is working on something that is worthy of your best is incredibly powerful.

      And now you’ll be able to identify the things that are worthy.

      Thank you for your compliments. It means the world to me to share your story. Shanna

  7. Anna says:

    This is such a powerful story. In my experience, fear has always been the thing holding me back; how interesting that it can also be the thing that propels you forward – but into the wrong things or for the wrong reasons. Definitely a fascinating perspective… thanks for sharing it.

    • Shanna Mann says:

      Fear is certainly a wonderful motivator, but it’s better to live without it. Interesting how it can have such different effects on different people.

  8. Douglas Eby says:

    Thanks for this stimulating post. Part of it reminds of some quotes I just published: “Just remember when you are tormented by unfinished projects, the agony of the great Leonardo Da Vinci himself who existed in a torment of self hatred because of finishing so little, the ambivalence that the creator feels toward the creation, may be both the shadow and the impetus for the creative process itself.” Jean Houston

  9. Celynne says:

    I recently found out my job will be terminated within the next few months, and so am in a position to change. I hate my current career, something for which I attended college and acquired a diploma. I’ve wanted to leave this library for years but never really known where to go to next. I have so many desires and dreams and hopes. One of them is actually to be a long haul truck driver, believe it or not. I’m a little too afraid to get my license though – that and I have a lot of demanding pets, from a cat and snakes to 8 tarantulas – so it’s not going to happen any time soon. I am however applying to a Cordon Bleu cooking school because I love being in a kitchen… I get shit from people so often when I talk to them about all my ideas for my future, like I’m a flake for not being able to settle on just one. I think it’s great you got your license and everything, I wish I weren’t so chicken!

    • Shanna Mann says:

      I hate sharing with people who just criticize your dreams. Who needs ’em? Long-haul trucking is something that really sounds cool, but you have to like the life-style. Same with being a chef, actually. Hope you have fun making the leap!

  10. Jim Gage says:

    I have only today discovered this site and the term multipot… can’t even spell it yet, but I ARE one. I was inspired by your writing here, as it made a curtain go up in my mind, explaining what had driven me to the brink and beyond… fear. My boss saw that breakdown as a sign of weakness, not as a sign of devotion and effort. I gave up so much for my employer, and in the end I finally gave up on him. He just didn’t get IT. Only when I resigned did I begin to regain my mental strength and confidence. You know the saying “If you tell someone how bad they are at something, they may start believing it…?” Well, when I quit that job, I stopped believing it. Thanks for sharing your story, I look forward to more.

    • Shanna Mann says:

      Jim, I’m so glad the curtain went up. Welcome.

      • Jim Gage says:

        Hey, I thought of a topic that would be interesting to take up here, namely if a large proportion of multipotentialites suffer from what is know as Earworms… or having a tune stuck in your head, repeating over and over and over. I am curious to know if there is a connection between this annoying syndrome and scanner-type personalities. Perhaps we could find a way of alleviating this habit, as it is distracting and annoying, stealing energy from my day, every day.

        • Emilie says:

          LOL I totally suffer from ear worms! I thought it had more to do with my musican ear than my multipotentiality, but who knows… I wonder.

          • Jim Gage says:

            I was a professional musician for 25 years, and fought with my hereditary hearing loss and tinnitus all that time. When I finally decided it was not enough fun anymore and quit playing, the earworms became much more noticeable. I guess I tried to compensate for the loss of musical input by “humming a tune.” But I think there is more to it than that. All I have to do is go for a walk and a worm jumps up in that walking tempo and digs in for a week’s stay or more! Ooooooh. Hate that!! You have my sympathies, Emilie!

  11. Nadira Jamal says:

    The only time I feel like that is when I’m spending too much time in Dudeland.

    I do NOT mean spending time with men. I’m talking about a specific chest-beating, push-it-to-the-extreme-or-you’re-nothing, my-experience-is-universal-and-ideal culture.

    I see that in the marketing world a LOT, and I see it in the minimalist world a fair bit. And in both places, there are (otherwise awesome) people that I avoid because that mindset just isn’t good for me.

    When I allow that to enter my world, it distracts me from what’s actually important to me, undermines my confidence, and kills my enthusiasm.

    [Again, this is NOT a rant against men. Most guys are great, and I’m comfortable in a lot of male-dominated spaces. It’s this specific culture, based on the most stereotypical idea of masculinity, that bothers me. And I’ve been in the the stereotypical female equivalent too, and that drives me just as batty. :) ]

  12. Shanna Mann says:

    Haha! Dudeland is an awesome name for it. I’ve called a ‘locker room mentality’ before.

    I agree, avoidance is definitely the way to go. It’s too easy to get sucked in otherwise.

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