I had lunch this past week with a good friend. After a while, our conversation turned toward major life choices that he was considering. They were bold choices that, if taken, would likely change the trajectory of his life and his family’s life. As we envisioned all of the ramifications of these big decisions, our talk turned to fear. He asked, “what am I afraid of?”
I mulled on that question for a long time after our lunch and became aware of how often I stay stuck in the inertia of the status quo because of undefined fears. Somehow, I have convinced myself that doing nothing protects me from the risks that are inherent in simply being alive. I began to make a list of the fears that hold me back. These are not exhaustive, and they bleed into one another, but naming them helps me have the courage to decide I don’t want to live my life ruled by fear. Here are a few:
- Fear of Being Wrong
- Fear of Failure
- Fear of What People Will Think
- Fear of Disappointing People
- Fear of the Unknown
- Fear of Change
- Fear of Catastrophe
As I look at this list, knowing that each of these fears has played a role in holding me back at various times in my life, I am aware that the alternative, maintaining the status quo, is also a decision. Nothing is inherently wrong with the status quo. The problem comes when the status quo goes unexamined. The unexamined status quo keeps us in jobs that stifle us. The unexamined status quo lures us to choose directions for our families, whether it is schools, technology, or youth sports, because everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to be left behind. The unexamined status quo allows us to muddle in mediocrity in our personal growth, spiritual habits, and even how we take care of our body since it doesn’t take much work to stay slightly above average.
Change is scary. Choosing to be different from others is unnerving. We are unlikely to be criticized for doing what everyone else is doing, and yet, deep down, we know that there is more to life than climbing culture’s ladder, feeding our online obsessions, and numbly, like sheep, doing the same safe thing day after day. Katherine Hathaway wrote, “If you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, your life will be safe, expedient and thin.” The real challenge is to get in touch with our deepest instinct, which requires facing our unnamed fears.
What fear is holding you back from living the life you were meant to live? Name it. Too often the excuses we concoct for making bold changes are just disguised fears. Learn to ask yourself regularly the question, “What am I afraid of?” If I were to think of one fear worth facing, it would be the fear of wasting the one precious life I have. We all have limited days in front of us. The past is behind us, but the future lies wide open in front of us. Live boldly!