To grow old is to acquire fear.
When we are born, we are fearless. Well, mostly. There are some instinctive fears.
But most of the fears, we gain over the course of our lives.
And that’s a good mechanism, for our survival. If you do something once and get hurt, you don’t do it again. Fear gives us warnings against danger.
That said, for many of us fear becomes the driving force behind our decisions. Every decision, even. Your primary intent becomes “I don’t want to get hurt!”
And this stifles our growth. Because growth is inherently risky.
In every decision-making, there are two kinds of choices you can make. The ones you fell proud of, and the ones you don’t. But in a fear-driven mind, the view of the situation becomes blurred and distorted with this incessant fear. I myself used to have a very tough time deciphering the right direction, especially in stressful situations. I’m a firm believer in listening to my gut, but fear is a pretty deeply ingrained emotion, too. When I’m afraid, I can’t tell what my gut feeling is.
Earlier this year, I began to learn how to approach this issue with fear in decision-making. Derek Sivers, the founder of CDbaby.com, seems to say at every turn “whatever scares you, go do it.” Steve Pavlina had his lengthy essay on how fear is a beacon for things you must face.
I read them and thought, “Wha! There’s a scary thought.” 🙂
Usually when I think of something I fear, I think of it as something to avoid. But now they’re saying, what I fear is precisely the thing I must do!
This is an 180-degree change to what I thought the role of fear was.
But I tried it, on little scales. I would talk to strangers, or say things I’m afraid to say.
And results varied, in terms of the outcome. I would have a very awkward conversation with a stranger, for example.
What I noticed, though, was that the results had less of an effect on how I felt about the decision. Consistently, I felt proud and elated for having made that choice. I realized that I was really on to something here.
First, what brings satisfaction in life is not the outcome (which we don’t always have control) but how we feel about our decisions.
Second, the right choice always seems scarier than the easy decisions. It always takes more courage to choose the right path.
Now, don’t confuse “easy” choice with the lack of actions associated with it. Sometimes it takes more courage to do nothing, or to wait. Many people do all sorts of things that are counter-productive because they are afraid to wait. On the other hand, many people procrastinate and postpone because they are afraid of choosing or committing or doing what must be done.
Either way, the right choice is scarier. Fear, indeed, is a beacon for the right way. The choice you’ll later feel good about always stirs up more resistance inside you.
This revelation made my decision-making a whole lot clearer, if not easier. I began to pay attention to which direction felt the scariest. And try to go that way every time.
I still have a long way to go, though. I would say I choose the right path 30-40% of time. That’s up from going the wrong way 8-9 times out of 10, though. That sounds ridiculous, but that’s how afraid I was of pain and failure. And to this day, old habits die hard, and I still constantly fall back on easy choices.
Plus, I also begin to sense another force — the mediocrity in the world. It’s no secret that mediocrity is everywhere in our society — many businesses are built around people’s laziness and “Unspiration” (opposite of inspiration). We all carry that mediocrity inside. And when someone around us go do something risky or bold, we “helpfully” advise them “nah, don’t do it. That’s stupid.”
In the other words, not only do you find more resistance within yourself against the right path, but externally, too, you’ll notice more counter-current. This only reinforces your fear, making it difficult to choose that way.
But this is one habit you must break, if you intend to live a satisfying life. Easy choices lead straight down the path of mediocrity — and to the feeling “I could have been more.” The greater the fear, the greater the resistance, that shows how you must choose that path.
Just start out by trying it on a small scale. Say hi to that neighbor/co-worker that you’ve been around for a long time but never bothered to talk to. If you’ve always given in to the temptation of eating sweets, resist it for once. Experience what it’s like to make a courageous decision. See how proud you’d feel afterward.
It may look scary and stressful from the front end, but once you see how green the pasture is on the other side, you’ll start to relish these challenges.
One effect I noticed of this change, was that I began to be much more honest about saying and doing what I really wanted. Often I was afraid of asking for or speaking up what I truly wanted, for fear that I was going to get judged or rejected. I wouldn’t ask for time off from work or from my family. I wouldn’t speak up for my needs.
But I’m now trying harder to gather up my courage to speak up for my own needs. And as the result, I feel more taken care of, somehow. I don’t feel quite as victimized or neglected. There’s a much more stable sense of peace inside.
Fear raises a red flag in our minds — but what it meant was not “avoid this at all cost.” Fear points us in the way of the things we must face and overcome.
And a person who makes a habit of doing so can achieve the greatest heights, truly go on to fulfill their potential.
I was deeply lost, but now I’m on my way. I hope you join me in this path.