I know you’re afraid. So am I. And it’s ok. We all are. And there’s so much to fear. Will the interview go ok? Will I like my new job? Will I still love her in a year? What happens if I don’t? What if they see all of me and don’t like what they see? What if he reacts in a way I don’t expect? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I so desperately want it to? Life is constantly throwing us curveballs and testing us in ways we just don’t expect. But you can either face them and hit them out of the park, maybe even strike out, or you can refuse to swing the bat. I’d much rather swing and strike out than not try to hit it at all. Do you make your decisions out of fear, or out of hope and positivity?
I spent so long allowing fear to rule my head that I can safely say that I have some authority in this area. I have made so many decisions based in fear that I simply can’t remember them all. But they’re there. The thing that really sticks with me though, is that fear also breeds indecision. Fear can be absolutely paralysing. Because for most of us, it really is better the devil you know, than the one you don’t. So we stay in jobs that don’t give us intrinsic satisfaction. We stay in relationships that are toxic or don’t commit to new ones. We chase friends who never make the time to call instead of letting them go. We hold on to routines that don’t serve our physical and mental wellbeing. I’m sure most people can relate to one of these and even find an area in their life where this is currently the case. I know I can. We are afraid of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and try to hold on to the known quantities, even when they don’t work for us.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that fear is a bad thing. After all, it is a natural response to danger. Without it our ancestors would never have survived life on the savannah surrounded by predators, and fear led to many ingenious inventions to defend ourselves. But for me, these kinds of fears are a rational response to a real situation. Many of the fears we hold in a modern, developed society are based entirely on perception and on an imagined outcome. As someone who believes we only get one shot at this life, I think it is important to minimise the impact fear has on our life decisions. I believe absolutely in being cautious, but much like guilt and shame, fear is so often based around our internal narrative and not in reality. Decisions made where fear is acknowledged, but not central, seem likely to me to open opportunity for the future, even if there is a hard road in between. Decisions made in fear will often close off that opportunity – for growth, for something new, for excitement, for experience.
So what’s the solution? I don’t think it’s simply a matter of waking up one day and saying to yourself that you’re going to stop doing things out of fear. Often our fears are so rooted in our subconscious that we can’t control them or reason with them. I think it’s a process. Firstly, we need to know what our values are. Know what those concepts are that you hold so close to your heart. These are the things that help us make decisions that sit comfortably in our lives. So if you value true intimacy, then it’s probably not going to work out if you decide to seek out one night stands. If you value connecting with people, then it might not fly if you work in a job where you’re solo and behind a desk most of the time. If you know these things, then when decision time comes around again and again, you can ask yourself: which path would best match with my values?
Secondly, we can ask ourselves why we’re making a decision. We can ask ourselves if we’re making the decision (or non-decision!) out of anxiety around the outcome. Some fears may be very real. In recent times I have been weighing up my future as a teacher. I spent so much time considering whether I stay where I am, change jobs or take steps to a big career change. I’ve felt this coming for a number of years, but fear had led me to just maintain the status quo. Then I began to explore my options, becau
se a close friend encouraged me to start moving forward. I set some goals, but I still acted a little out of fear because I didn’t take any big strides. I stayed in my job until I actually became more anxious about staying in it than taking the leap. So now I’ve resigned. I put a plan in place for when I finish (not far away now!) and I’m moving forward. Because I am no longer acting out of fear on the work front. I’m acting out of hope and positivity. Out of a belief that there is something better out there for me. So if I examine that process in hindsight, maybe I could have asked myself three years ago if I was acting out of fear by staying in a job I was no longer enjoying. It may still have taken some time, but perhaps understanding why I was choosing job security over happiness would have kicked me along.
What has this all got to do with my quest for a balanced life? Well, I’d like to get to the end knowing I made my own choices and have no regrets around them. To know that I gave it my all. I know that I’ll never achieve the life I want without making some hard decisions, getting out of my comfort zone and quelling my fears with commitment and determination. So yes, I’m afraid. But I’m ok with that. I recognise now that some of my decision making can be impacted by fear and I try to take steps to minimise this impact. Fears are just our minds telling us about a worst case scenario – a narrative about what could happen if the decision is the wrong one. But the narrative is made up. As the incredibly insightful Eckhart Tolle would say, you are not your mind. The only thing that matters is right now. So be kind to yourself. Don’t dwell in the imagined stories. And don’t allow fear to rule your heart.