I have a reputation for despising platitudes. You know, those trite expressions people offer you when they hope to make you feel better or coerce you into doing them a favor. Yes, those.
I don’t know when my disdain for clichéd quotes and banal truisms began, but I often bite my tongue when someone utters such a phrase. It may have started as a young child when someone would say something that’s obviously true, but in no way helpful: “Tomorrow is another day.” “You can’t take it with you.” “It’s not the end of the world.”
But what’s even worse are statements that aren’t actually true at all. “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” “You’ll never know until you try.” And my personal nemesis: “You can’t live your life in fear.”
Guess what? It’s not darkest before the dawn. Scientifically or emotionally. I know I can’t physically fly like a bird. I don’t need to try it to know it’s true. And everyone lives their lives in fear.
Some people focus a great deal of energy on tackling their fears. They can’t stand the idea that there is something out there that makes them feel afraid. So they attempt to conquer it, tame it or at the least, confront it. To them, fear is an enemy that only robs you of ambition.
And perhaps that’s true for them. I’d argue that no one lives without some fear and one fear will always linger over their heads: being afraid that you’re afraid.
On the other hand, I accept that fear is a natural part of life. Everyone’s afraid of something. I fear spiders, insects, and separating completely from a financial safety net. But the difference is that I acknowledge those fears without allowing them to limit my ambition. I don’t attempt to conquer or subdue them. I merely draw the line in the sand until something that truly matters dares me to cross it.
For instance, my severe entomophobia can make the summertime difficult to enjoy. Yet once I set my sights on a dream camping trip to go whitewater rafting and horseback riding, I didn’t hesitate one bit. I just stocked up on plenty of bug repellant, citronella candles and wool socks. My phobias didn’t disappear; my desire to try something new was simply stronger.
Another example: When I was offered an opportunity to relocate 2,000 miles away to California with little more than $600 and my Saturn 4-door to my name, I packed up everything I could carry, placed the rest in storage and moved west. I wasn’t fearless. Good heavens! I had 2 panic attacks and my voice shook for a week. But I did it. Fear and all.
Fear is made out to be this horrifying boogeyman who will devour us if we don’t constantly challenge it. Yet I think fear has its positive influences as well. Whether it’s paying our taxes on time, exercising 3 times a week, or starting our own business, fear can keep us on the straight and narrow, as well as remind us that there’s more to our lives than sitting in a cubicle.
When I made the decision to relocate 8 years ago, it was because I was afraid that I would wake up at the age of 45 and feel that I hadn’t lived beyond what I had achieved at the age of 25. So I made a plan, worked hard, and to be honest, got lucky. But it was fear that told me to act.
I may not be where I want to be, but fear continues to spur me on. I don’t ignore my trepidation or behave as if it doesn’t matter. I acknowledge it and pursue what I want in life anyway. I dodged those rocks in the whitewater, I traveled across the country alone, and I started my own business.
You can set out to conquer your fears, but if you’re like me, you accept that fear is understandable and only limiting if you let it define you. The courageous moments in your life will not be the times you lived without fear; it will be the moments where you decided there was something else more important than fear.
What have you pursued even though you were afraid?