agony aunt

I'm terrified of failure - how can I face my fear of new things?

fear of failure

3 minute read

Q. I’m a mum of two boys and in September my youngest begins primary school. Before I had my children, I worked as a teaching assistant and helped at their school. In September, I would like to have something to do and I thought that I should stay within this comfort zone, but there’s something inside me that wants to take on a new challenge.

I was thinking of doing a hairdressing course at college. The problem is I’m scared! I have tended to be the ‘could do better’ type of person when it’s come to education in the past. How can I stop my fear of failure from holding me back? Name supplied

A. I love this idea of ‘something inside me’. It’s common for change to start this way, not with a fully articulated plan, but with a spark that almost disappears if you look at it directly. I’m not sure how much you’ve looked into hairdressing as a career, but it is renowned for job satisfaction because of its creativity, flexibility and contact with people. There’s also evidence that it’s more resistant to economic downturn, because customers will get their hair done to cheer themselves up, even when their own jobs are bleak.

When you say ‘could do better’, I wonder about circumstances in which you have done better than you expected, and how you could take those lessons into your future. You weren’t born fully formed as a teaching assistant or a mother, and probably had moments of doubt along the way to those roles. How real is your fear of failure, or is that a story you are holding onto out of habit?

It does give special meaning to this Mark Twain quote: ‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.’ That confidence to try something new is exactly what you want your sons to keep learning from you. 

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Better You

by Psychologies

He spends more time in the gym than with me

Gym

3 minute read

Q. My partner and I have been going out for 10 months and he has now moved in. He’s a gym bunny and I’m not, but I made the assumption that his gym-going habits might lessen once he was in a relationship. He tells me that he used to go 11 times a week, but has cut it back to seven. He goes every evening and gets home at 9pm. This means that we don’t eat together and have about an hour and a half together before bed. He goes on weekend mornings, too.

He’s kind and thoughtful but hasn’t been in a relationship for 11 years. I’ve spoken to him about how it feels like I’m not his priority, despite him saying this isn’t so, but he says the gym is a key part of his identity. The problem is it’s making me feel miserable and lonely. What can I do? Name supplied

A. When your partner says that exercise is a key part of his identity, he’s warning you that challenging his gym habits feels like attacking him as a person. It’s early days, and you are both figuring out what this relationship can be, so there’s no better time to work out how to disagree. The way you manage conflict will be key to long-term happiness for you both.

At the moment, the bottom line is that this level of activity makes him feel good, and you miserable. My sense is that there is underlying anxiety on both sides; you are feeling insecure because one of your expectations has not come true, and he has uncomfortable feelings which he deals with through exercise. He may even fear that his own identity could disappear in the relationship unless he defends it. One question I have is whether this counts as an exercise addiction. Although not recognised as an official mental health disorder, a behaviour has addictive aspects if there is an element which the person can’t control, especially if they refuse to see its impact on other people. What made him decide to cut down from 11 sessions to seven? How did he do it? How did he feel about it at the time?

Your aim in asking these questions is to grow in your knowledge of each other. Relationship expert John Gottman calls it building your ‘love map’. He has also spent 40 years researching how to manage conflict. When choosing a partner, you’re choosing their problems and they’re adopting yours. No one escapes this, but happy couples find ways to understand what’s going on at a deeper level. You might try simple but profound questions, such as: what’s your partner’s dream body and what does that give him? What’s your ideal evening as a couple?

In summary, I’d approach this as an anxiety and communication issue, with exercise being the symptom. It’s going to require new levels of honesty, which could be the opening to a new degree of vulnerability and closeness. In that sense, there is everything to play for, if you are both up for the challenge. 

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

relationships

by Psychologies

How to deal with freelancing anxiety

freelancing anxiety

2 minute read

Q. I am a freelancer and I lost my main contract a couple of months ago. Now, I am struggling with self-confidence. At first, I was OK – I told myself it wasn’t about me or my work (which is what they said to me; that it was to do with numbers) – but it is hard to really believe that, since the company kept other (younger) contractors. In fact, I didn’t even enjoy the work that much, but it made up most of my income.

I have a few other contracts, but have found nothing new and am eating into my savings to get by. I am becoming scared that these firms may also let me go; that because my confidence is wobbly, my performance will suffer. What can I do to dispel my anxiety? Name supplied

A. What stands out to me from your letter is, firstly, that you have been successful enough as a freelancer to save money for this contingency and, secondly, you didn’t enjoy the work that was taking up the major part of your time. It leads me to imagine how successful you might be if you are doing work that you love.

I suggest getting specific about what you did not enjoy, and what the counterbalance to that would look like. It doesn’t have to be dramatic; it’s more like turning the volume up or down. The reason I say that is because big thoughts can be crippling and shut down our creativity. I’ve been a fan of keeping an eye on the manageable elements of change since reading One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer (Manjul, £7.99). Another of his books, Mastering Fear (Career Press, £11.99), may be more relevant to you. The essence of his argument is that fear is not only normal, it’s there to help you. Fear is best dealt with by a healthy social network because one person can’t provide all the types of support we need.

For you, this may mean talking to all the people you do enjoy working with, or anyone who may have been a bright light for you at the former workplace. These will be positive conversations – ‘I feel as if we work well together, and I want to get more of that in my life. What’s your advice?’ Asking for guidance is my single biggest tip for opening up a conversation – it gets people to relax because you’re not asking for anything bigger, such as a job or more money. You could even try bolder questions like, ‘I’m thinking of adding to my skillset to have a broader range of work opportunities in the future. What’s been the best thing you’ve studied so far?’

Don’t forget to include people who have known and loved you for a long time and who can help you to see this current transition in a bigger perspective. In time, this will become a story that you tell other people about resilience and what works.

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

Career

by Psychologies

Should I get a cat?

cat

2 minute read

Q. I live alone in a studio flat and I am thinking about getting a cat. I would love the companionship, but I am a bit worried about the commitment – the idea of taking on a living thing that will live for 15 years until I am in my 40s just seems pretty major. Also, I rent and while my landlady now is OK about me having a cat, another may not be, and that worries me.

I know the sensible thing would be not to do it, but part of me really wants to. Please help. Name supplied

A. Short answer: get the cat. I say this because it will help to build confidence in your decision-making, and in your ability to take consequences. The worst-case scenario would be suddenly having to move, and encountering nothing but unfriendly landlords. Then you’d have a new set of decisions – ask a friend to cat-sit; offer the cat for rehoming; renegotiate with your existing landlady – but you would have built up your resilience and faith in your own judgement in the meantime.

My parallel suggestion is to consider getting a cat of a specific breed, so that you have an inbuilt social network of people with a common interest as well. It’s with humans that you have the opportunity to extend your relationship skills.

Part of the reason I’m being so direct is to test your commitment – if you have an instant reaction to my advice and think, ‘No, that’s not right,’ that would also be a useful piece of self-knowledge. Basically, there is no answer which is definitely right or wrong, and learning to live with ambiguity and uncertainty even in this relatively small way will expand your horizons and make the next decision easier.

Be part of our tribe

Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

relationships

by Psychologies

How can I forgive my cheating husband?

Forgive

3 minute read

Q. I recently found out that my husband has been unfaithful to me with a married woman he works with. He says that he’s broken it off, that it was a big mistake on his part and that he regrets it, but I’m finding it hard to forgive him or move on. Also, I’ve heard that the woman is divorcing her husband. 

I am in a very dark place right now – I can’t sleep, eat or work and I’m just numb and down all the time. I don’t know what to do next. Please can you give me some advice? Name supplied

A. It sounds as if you are in the early stages of shock and it’s probably too early to talk about forgiveness, apart from forgiving yourself – for not knowing, for the anger, hurt and confusion.

I’m going to make a series of bold statements, which others in your situation have found to be true. Men are more likely to get caught up in an affair they haven’t thought through. Women have a greater range of words to describe emotion – their own and other people’s. You have an opportunity to rebuild things, but it will involve starting at the beginning again, and both of you taking some responsibility. The last part is the hardest; accepting that both of you have lost something here. You’ve lost trust and faith, and somehow, at an earlier point, your husband lost his closeness to you. He still has vital information about what your relationship needs to make it sustainable for the future, and eventually you’ll need to hear him out.

I’ll give you a link to an article with questions to ask each other and yourself. I also recommend reading After The Affair by Julia Cole (Ebury, £14.99). You are not alone, and you have more power than you imagine. 

Image: Getty

relationships

by Psychologies

How can I help my cheating brother?

Cheating brother

2 minute read

Q. My brother was engaged to someone we thought he was happy with, but then he cheated on her. Now, he meets women on dating apps, rushes into it, then something happens like he cheats on them, they find messages on his phone and they stop talking.

I love my brother but his apparent lack of respect for women is frustrating. I’ve tried speaking to him and it feels like he listens but then history repeats itself. How can I get through to him? Name supplied

A. I see elements of both the other two letters here – it sounds as if the boundaries are a bit blurred between what’s ‘my problem’ and ‘his problem’. I also suspect that some form of anxiety underlies your brother’s behaviour, maybe a fear of intimacy, and you talking at him is not going to help.

If you want to support his change in any way, he will need to feel that you are alongside him and respect him. We’re all made up of many different parts, and it can be frightening to be ambushed by our own feelings. I remember a psychologist friend saying about a challenging case: ‘I talk to the part of the man that does not want to beat up his wife.’

The pattern you describe sounds very much like the pull-and-push behaviour of someone who wants emotional closeness, then panics, can’t find the words and acts without thinking. The underlying fear could be that someone else will take over his life. If you approach him head-on, he’d do anything to make you go away. Keep creating opportunities for him to talk. If he feels safe to open up with you, it’s possible he will start talking about his feelings with other women in his life – but please remember that it’s his choice, not yours.

Be part of our tribe

Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

relationships

by Psychologies

I hate my home

I hate my home

2 minute read

Q. I don’t like the home I share with my husband and toddler. Mostly, it is the location and aesthetics. I try to avoid comparing on social media, but I feel like our house is not matching up to the life I want to lead. I feel as though I can’t identify with it, and the location offers convenience but none of the values I hold dear, such as the opportunity to go on rural walks.

Everything feels oppressive. My husband thinks I’m overreacting. We talk about moving in a few years but I’m feeling trapped. How can I cope with this? Name supplied

A. I wonder if this is a more general anxiety, which is attaching itself to your home because that’s where you spend a lot of time. The other factors I hear within your letter are that you are at home with a toddler, a lot of your social connection is online, and your husband may be the only person who knows how you are truly feeling. There is research to show that social media is more useful if it’s used as a ‘way station’ – for example, as a way to make arrangements and meet up with people – rather than a destination.

I return again and again to a quote by songwriter Joan Baez: ‘Action is the antidote to despair.’ What is the smallest action you can take towards the life you want to lead? It might be a part-time job (60 per cent of mothers of two-year-olds also work), it may be learning a new skill, or joining a community group to create green spaces near you. If taking the smallest step still feels too hard, then please talk to your GP to rule out depression.

You’re not imagining it is tough – we’re not designed to be isolated at home all day with a small child. You’re just a tiny human connection away from feeling a lot better. 

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

Better You

by Psychologies

It’s hard to keep the peace with my rude teenager

Teenager

2 minute read

Q. My son is 14, being a full-on ‘typical teenager’ and I am struggling. He can be viciously obnoxious and unpleasant to me, which is upsetting. I have managed to keep some rules in place (I take his phone at night and limit his gaming time) but he refuses to come on family outings and gets furious if I try to monitor his schoolwork. I know other parents judge me when they want to meet up and he won’t come, and part of me feels like I should make him, but how? Do you have any tips to manage this better? I don’t know when to enforce rules and when to let things go. Name supplied

A. After four trips to this circus, my main tip is to remember the end goal: both of you want him to become a successful adult.

Your main advantages are the ability to plan and greater experience in managing your emotions. In neuroscience terms, he’s actually dependent on your more stable adult brain – he still needs the love you’ve always given him, perhaps most of all when he can’t explain his own behaviour. You don’t have to get it right all the time, and mistakes are an opportunity to be graceful and a role model for respect.

I wonder how you might give him more responsibility for his phone use. My concern is that taking it away builds conflict into every bedtime, has the potential to become a physical wrestling match and denies him the opportunity to learn how to manage screen time himself. Next time he’s open for discussion, ask him how he thinks it could work, and you might be surprised. Research says young people and adults are equally concerned about the addictive nature of phone use.

Teenagers respond particularly negatively to the idea of being manipulated by ‘the system’ – it’s better if you are working out a joint approach, rather than him seeing you as part of the problem.

With regards schoolwork, could you speak to teachers, provide what they advise, but remember it’s his name on exam papers, not yours? It might be that he needs to feel some pain, even failure, to find motivation. If you read about the science of brain development, it will become easier to see the limits of what to expect. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop; it helps us plan and control our impulses.

He’s also watching how you handle peer pressure – if you want him to resist it, then you need to ignore other parents’ judgements.

The cure for being 14 is turning 15. Your job is to keep calm, let him experience consequences, and love him even more when he messes up.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

relationships

by Psychologies

My new life is lonely and I’m not forming relationships

Lonely

3 minute read

Q. Six months ago, after completing a counselling MA, I relocated to a vibrant new city. I was depressed living at home with my parents but, since I’ve been here, I’ve made only one friend.

Also, I’m single and find it hard to meet men. I’m starting to feel low again. My work can make me feel lonely but, since I have invested a lot of time and money in my MA, I think I should continue on this path. Can you help? Name supplied

A. It sounds as if a lot of change in a short time has left you feeling rudderless. The question is whether you are experiencing normal unhappiness and uncertainty, or whether depression is a more accurate description. The dividing lines are three Ps – personal, permanent and pervasive. Depression says it’s your fault, things will always be this way, and it affects everything in your life.

If this is you and, especially if you have had depression, please check in with a GP. It’s likely that counselling will be recommended. You know how valuable that is and it’s no reflection of your professional skills that you can’t apply them to yourself (I can’t write my own website copy).

The unspoken quest for you, I believe, is for meaning and a connection to something bigger, which is a basic human desire. A good place to start is to consciously think about activities, people and times when you feel passion and purpose. At the moment, you will be vulnerable to seeing a romantic relationship as the answer. My sense is that your spiritual exploration comes first. This doesn’t have to mean religion, it could be getting into nature, meditation or developing your creativity. As you find that overall direction, the light will fall differently on your other questions. 

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

relationships

by Psychologies

The man I'm in love with has a girlfriend

Girldfriend

3 minute read

Q. I volunteer at a youth group and I’ve fallen in love with one of the guys who works there. We get on well and I feel we have a connection. His face lights up when I arrive, we talk for hours and laugh so much, but can be serious, too.

The problem is that he has a girlfriend who lives abroad. I think that, if it wasn’t for her, things between us would have moved to another level a long time ago. I think about him all the time. What should I do? Name supplied

A. If this was a film, I’d be shouting a slow-motion, ‘Nooo!’ I’m going to say a few things you won’t like: Nobody wants to be the bad guy, and that probably applies to this man – he is trying to be loyal to his girlfriend. On the other hand, part of him is not being straight with you, not being honest with himself, or not noticing your feelings, which is also not great.

The maths is not in your favour – there is one of you and two of them; or, there’s one of him, with two women interested in him. Marriage counsellors talk about a ‘three-legged stool’, where having an affair makes it possible to stay in the relationship because you are getting some of your needs met elsewhere. You don’t want to be the ‘some needs’ person.

The brave option is to take his lack of action as a message that he’s not interested enough. It’s up to him to make a move, and that powerlessness is not what I want for you. You want a balanced relationship with someone who knows their own mind. Take this as a reminder that there’s no such thing as ‘the one’, read the wisdom of Esther Perel and volunteer at another youth group.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

relationships

by Psychologies