Not starting a job search or dating someone or learning a new skill because you fear how it might turn out is missing the point of a life full of opportunities and free will. If you find yourself wanting to do something that won’t maliciously harm someone else, you should do it.
Let’s take apart the fear.
First of all, I believe fear is an emotional response due to the mind assessing a danger and trying to tell you to avoid it. But that emotion didn’t originate in the 21st century, it didn’t start with existential or philosophical conundrums, and certainly wasn’t born in a city full of resources and methods of recovery like hospitals and bars.
You should feel fear when a bear is in sight, or a gun, or a tornado. We’re not prey and we’re not usually being hunted by motion-detecting carnivores, so our response should always be fight or flight in the presence of potential harm. We needn’t freeze for any fear and we shouldn’t be afraid of anything that can’t literally harm us.
But we do get scared by concepts. I wonder if, at some point, we stopped learning the lessons we’re supposed to teach children. If a child is afraid of going to sleep because he thinks there’s a monster under the bed that will get him, the correct response is not to tell him that his terror is valid and he should just try to lie still. Imagine what a shambles of a person would grow from that sort of lesson! Instead, kids should be told that there’s no monster, they should be shown evidence of that truth, and they should be reassured that they will not be harmed.
When a child’s taught that fearing the unreal isn’t necessary and leaving that pointless fear behind won’t cause them harm, they can learn how to accept and deal with reality. Right? So adults shouldn’t fear unreal things either! Unreal things like not being the best or looking foolish. That stuff doesn’t really hurt–they’re just monsters under the bed.
Secondly, the big fears only seem to manifest for most of us when the payoff could be just as big. Not the danger, since again there isn’t really any there, just the potential reward. We don’t get nervous about applying for easy jobs or asking out someone bland or microwaving a new food. We feel the chills when we shoot for the dream job, get asked out by someone who seems great, or consider performing in front of a big audience.
If anything, the fears in those situations are mis-wired signals really telling you to GO FOR IT!
And finally, let’s say I’m wrong about my first two points. What if you don’t want to climb that mountain because you might fall to your death, even though it’s one that numerous other people have climbed readily? That’s kind of an example of something where the fear is valid and the payoff isn’t that big, right? Except there’s another factor to tackling the opportunities that scare us.
There’s the thrill of adventure. It’s not in all of us to the same degree nor in the same situations, but I’m positive that everyone can feel that thrill. It’s the sort of feeling that can shake you to your core and remind you what life is for. Life is for living.
Whether you get the thrill from dating someone with whom you see no future, or taking a temporary job on the other side of the country (or the planet), or moving to a new city that calls to you with no job prospects — do it! The worst that can happen is that your life will shift to a different track from where you started. I’m not saying, of course, that you shouldn’t take precautions. Use condoms, tell your family what you’re going to do, research your new city on the internet before you board the plane, and so on. But you can only prepare so much and the best times you’ll have in life are gambles before you start.
Even if you fail and even if you get hurt, you grow. You’ll become a greater person with more experiences to make your life more meaningful.
So even if it makes sense to be afraid and there’s a real danger, either to your body or your heart, if the thrill is there, chase it. Stop telling yourself reasons to avoid making your life a thrilling adventure and just have as many as you can!
* featured image from flickr