I have lived a pretty unconventional life so far. I have a tendency to aim for goals that seem way out of reach, making me show up in situations you wouldn’t always expect. I have started many projects and pursued innumerable passions. I have chosen directions and strayed right off those paths. I have traveled when it made more sense to stay home and study, and I’ve spent my hard-earned money where it made more sense to save it up. I have succeeded and failed, but most of all I have tried to chase every dream I had – and I still do.
The reaction I get most often…? ‘I wish I could do that, too’ – with a big sigh.
This is rather peculiar, since I have no advantage over the people saying that. I have neither more money, nor more time than they have.
So how do I do al these things, while most people are watching their dreams drift away? Why am I going on one adventure after another, while so many people feel stuck where they are? They spend their lives in inertia, passively hoping for a sign that tells them it’s time to start living the life they want to live. Plans get set aside, ambitions neglected, security prioritized, and dreams become background noise.
Some people don’t truly wish to change their lives, of course. But I see some people’s eyes light up when I talk about what I’ve been doing lately, so some must truly mean it when they sigh their response. What is the difference between them and me?
The secret is that I am not afraid of the future.
This is a lie, of course. Everybody is afraid of what lies ahead. We worry about whether we will have enough money, whether we’ll be happy, healthy, successful, liked. We worry about whether we are doing the right thing, and how we’ll know if we aren’t. Even though they have gotten less over the years, I still have those worries, or fears, like everybody else.
The difference is that I deliberately choose to not make any decisions based on those fears.
Why? Because I don’t want to live a life led by fear of the future. Simple.
Let me illustrate this by taking you along a decision making process I go through quite often, which is of the decision to quit my job. Even though I would love to simply take a three-month holiday during high season, most companies unfortunately rather see you leave. So, whenever I’m planning on going on a trip, I have to think about quitting my job.
As soon as this choice comes up, resentment against it arises. Maybe you recognize this feeling when you think about quitting your own job, or another scary choice you consider making. When you investigate this resentment, by minutely looking into the parts it entails, you realize most of it is fear.
After looking into my thoughts and feelings, I saw that in this case, my resentment against it was made up by the following feelings:
- Worry about what future employers will think of my scattered résumé
- Worry about not being able to find a job immediately when I come back
- Worry about not finding another job that will be as much fun
- Sadness over leaving awesome colleagues behind
- Dreading having to tell my boss that I quit/worrying I let him or her down
- Worry about not having enough money, even though I have saved up for this trip
- (bonus meta-worry:) Doubts about whether I will be happy with my decision
Most worries are essentially about money, and worries about money are almost always fears of the future. It hardly ever involves your unhappiness with how the situation is right now, unless you’re out on the street. It mostly regards the fear of not being able to pay the rent next week, worries about how much that bill will be next month, or fear of not being on the right track when it comes to your scary things like student loans and retirement.
In other words: Fear of the Future.
When you conscientiously look at the above list of feelings, you see that all of them are essentially me being afraid of the future, except for the dread to tell my boss, and the sadness over leaving my colleagues behind. If you were to investigate that further too, you would maybe see that part of that is that I’m afraid that I would never see them again. Or perhaps the fear that I won’t find such nice colleagues on the next job. In other words: more Fear of the Future.
Now take all things we’ve labeled as fear of the future, and eliminate them from the decision making process. Why? Because we decided to not live a life led by fear of the future, remember?
It’s suddenly much more clear. When I look at the left-over feelings, my decision has gotten a lot easier. All that’s left is a tough goodbye, both to my colleagues and to my boss. And yes, I will still be sad over leaving them, but not so sad that I will chose staying home over going on a phenomenal three-month trip to someplace incredible.
Eliminating fear does not always lead to saying ‘yes’ to whatever opportunity you’re contemplating.
I once turned down a chance to study at a prestigious university in South-Korea. After getting rid of all the fear of the future, I was still left with not wanting to be so far away from this great guy I just met. (That guy is now my amazing husband, so needless to say I’ve made worse judgement calls in my life.)
Very often, however, this way of making my decisions has made the difference between being stuck in an unhappy situation, and going on a life-changing adventure.
That is my secret.
I don’t make decisions based on fear of the future.
This is how I try to live my life. Does that mean that I am an audacious, resolute, fearless globetrotter who never doubts her ways? No. I’m more of the sensitive, emotional, and impulsive side with a tendency to overthink things. But I do try. And it has gotten me very far as yet.
Take a look at your worries, and try to find out how much of it is pointlessly being scared of what is to come, things you cannot know anyways. See what feelings you are left with after eliminating these worries, and then make you decision. Are things easier now?
I’d love to hear about your experiences. What was a tough decision you’ve made recently? How do you make sure you choose happiness over being stuck? What’s your biggest fear of the future? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear about your thoughts.