It seems that everywhere we look, people are riddled by fear. Fear of being judged, of voicing their own opinions (whether in line or against popular views), of living how they truly want, working the jobs that make them happy, and reaching for the life that they deserve.
Essentially, we’ve become afraid of truly being ourselves. The biggest testament to this is the fear that people have of working towards their dreams. As children we had no fear – we did what we wanted, until eventually we were conditioned to believe in boundaries, limitations and the importance of meeting expectations. Yes, there are rules to abide by as a society to ensure harmonious living, but if we’re not harming others, what’s to stop us from doing the things that are right for us?
So many people wish that they have the courage to change their lives, most often in their vocation; and this desire (mixed with a tinge of regret) becomes more evident as they age. “…I wish I’d started my own business five years ago. …I wish I’d kept up with my hobbies. …It’s too late now for me to start again…”
Where do these thoughts come from and how can we stop the cycle now, to diminish the growing pangs of regret? When we investigate a bit deeper, we realise that whilst these thoughts do come from influences around us (e.g. comparing what others are doing; or stumbling across the naysayers when we mention our goals), they mostly stem from deep within us; driven by two key beliefs:
- That we don’t deserve or aren’t good enough to have the life we truly want (also represented by a fear of failure and tendency to give up easily, e.g. we’re not competent enough to get this new venture off the ground, so why bother?)
- That we have all the time in the world. We live as though we always have tomorrow to do everything that we want or need to do, so that eventually we’ll have a happy life. But everyday we’re reminded in the news and through people close to us, that life is unpredictable and there’s no promise of tomorrow. When we truly realise this, we’re driven to create change right now. We see many people close to death suddenly seeking forgiveness for their past wrongdoings, or suddenly finding religion. But if it’s important when one is facing death, should it not be a priority during our living moments?
The true realisation of our limited time here helps us to face our fears. The average lifespan is currently around 72 years worldwide (wikipedia), which means most of us only have a few decades left in this world (if that). Remember how quickly the first decade or two of our lives went by? …And every year continues to fly quicker than the last. When we’re afraid to reach for our dreams or make significant changes to our lives, it’s because we often see the challenges and fears as insurmountable or overwhelming. If we start changing now, today, it could take us constant daily effort for a number of years to reach our goal – this feels too hard right now, so we’ll just leave it till tomorrow…
What if we start now, and we tell other people? This means that when we fail, people will notice, and they may judge us to feel better about their own lives (see our other blog piece on judgement). Everywhere we go we can feel the heavy burden of society’s eyes watching us and holding us down. We don’t want to disappoint everyone else and have to deal with the criticism that comes from doing things differently, so we don’t do anything….
But when we start looking at the bigger picture and the true insignificance of our lives in the scheme of the world, we can start to let go of our fears. We’re only one life in the billions on this planet at this very moment. We may be the most important person in our own life (and yes, it’s our responsibility to take care of ourselves first and foremost), but we’re not so important to the next person that we meet; and in 100 years time we really won’t be important at all. Our impacts, our mistakes, transgressions and failures will all but be forgotten.
Our failure today may seem like the biggest thing in the world, but in the long run, each one of us and our individual actions are just single drops in the ocean.
When we truly know this, we ask ourselves – what are we afraid of? What is the biggest impact if we fail or make a mistake? The answer is that, it’s okay…we’re just another drop in the ocean.
So what can we do to bring this mindset into our lives? Ideally we should be constantly undertaking activities that remind us of how short life is, in particular spending time with older people. We should speak to our grandparents and elderly friends/family about their lives, their dreams, hopes and regrets. If we don’t have older people close to us in our lives, volunteering helps us to gain this perspective.
On the weekends during my free time (not often enough at the moment) I volunteer playing piano at an aged care home for people with dementia. I do this not only to share my love of music, but also to remind myself that one day in the not so distant future, I could be the one in the audience. So whatever is going to be truly important for me in 30-40 years time, must be important for me today. Volunteering of course also helps us with building connection within our community, improving our sense of self-worth and inner value.
Every day we should seek to let go of our fears, and live a meaningful life for ourselves. The more that we can actively remind ourselves of our limited time in this world, the more clarity we’ll start to gain on what is truly important to us and the more we will be driven to action.
Chiara is the Melbourne-based founder of CIIARA.