Fear is one of the most universal and powerful human emotions. It starts wars, inflicts pain, ignites violence, and causes great divide. Fear also works on a much more personal level. It can keep us from forming deep relationships, learning about other cultures and points of view, embarking on life-changing adventures, and chasing our dreams. Fear-based decisions rarely work out in our favor, so why do we so regularly allow them to take the wheel?
In our perfectly curated world of the internet and social media, where everyone seems secure, successful, and confident in their every move, it's easy - and tempting - to tell ourselves the lie that those people don't feel fear, that they're different from us. They aren't. Everyone feels fear. The difference between the truly happy people and the rest of the world isn't that the happy ones have learned how to not be afraid. It's that they've learned to recognize and embrace fear, and then make decisions from a place that lies just beyond it: love.
I have a tendency to worry, and it's something that, in the past, I've let consume me. My uncanny and vexing ability to imagine every situation's worst possible outcome has also led me to believe that I can do things to prevent it from coming to fruition. How many times have my irrational fears saved me from a devastating disaster? Probably not once. But how many incredible opportunities have I missed out on by giving those fears more weight than they warrant? That's an answer I'm not sure I want to know.
But fear doesn't only arise in those moments of big choices and even bigger consequences. Sometimes it's much smaller, a little nagging thought about an outcome that would be less than ideal. That tiny voice slowly eats away at our happiness, and eventually completely takes over our inner monologue. It prevents us from being in the now, and instead guides us towards actions and decisions that have more predictable results. The known, we reason, is far more comfortable than the unknown. What we ultimately lose sight of, though, is that the unknown is where all the magic happens.
Living from a place of fear might be more recognizable, but it's a dangerous road to travel. When we let fear do the driving, we run away from, rather than toward, goals. We create false narratives and then concoct ways to reinforce them. We avoid and procrastinate and put off until the choice is either made for us or off the table completely. We stand upon a shaky ground of incessant questioning and flip-flopping. We make sacrifices big and small with little-to-no return or benefit. We rationalize and justify ad nauseam, and ignore our gut instincts. Fear becomes a cloak of safety, where everything is always as it was before. And at first, it works. Until it doesn't. Until one day you wake up and realize that the devil you know isn't always better than the devil you don't, that life has happened without you. Your shield of trepidation did exactly what it always promised to do: it kept out the bad, the unknown, the unpredictable. But in the process, it also kept out the good, the possibility and exhilaration of flying instead of falling.
No one can predict the future. The people who refuse to let fear decide for them know that bad things can happen when we take risks, but also when we avoid them. They learn from their past, but don't allow it to dictate their future. They know that mistakes are inevitable, and although painful, they are some of the greatest teachers. They make the subconscious conscious by getting to the root of their fears, examining them, and then forcing themselves outside their realm of power. And, most importantly, they wholeheartedly believe that if they jump, the net will appear - and it's often that belief that makes it so.
Every decision we make is another brick laid in our unique path. We mold those bricks with security or growth, but not both. With denial or empowerment, but not both. With fear or love, but never both. Which will you choose?