I recently opened a fortune cookie that said, ‘Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.’
Sure, it’s not necessarily a ‘fortune’ per se – neither was the one that read, ‘It will be sunny.’ – but what it lacked in soothsaying it more than made up for in inspiration and cause for pause.
Because once upon a time, we had dreams. Big, impossibly lofty dreams, of transspecies morphing (see: bald eagle), of transobject morphing (see: firetruck), of transatmospheric pioneering (see: astronaut). And small, unimaginably humble dreams, like my grandfather’s dream to have a can of tuna to himself.
Born the 13th child to an impoverished family in a small Cuban town, my grandfather quit school in the 4th grade to work in construction with his father and brothers to help support his family – and a can of tuna, something so small and seemingly single-serving, was, in fact, a communal family protein.
But he dreamed. And a small dream of a can of tuna became a big dream, an American Dream.
With a young wife and two young sons, he left the only life he had ever known – a life now rife with the impending onslaught of a suffocating and merciless dictatorship – with nothing but change in his pocket and legendary chutzpah in his guts – defying the naysayers, the pessimists, the Communists and all of his friends and family who advised him otherwise.
He had a 3rd grade education. He didn’t speak the language. He knew no one. And he came alone.
But he succeeded.
Read that again. ‘But he succeeded.’
And still, even knowing how his story would end, as a family, we’ve marvelled in what would have surely been paralyzing fear in a lesser man; we’ve wondered if we could’ve done the same.
“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.”
Oof. That one hits just a little too close to the mark for comfort.
So our impossibly lofty dreams, and even some of the smaller dreams, fall to the wayside as fear takes up residence where optimism once resided. And we let fear live rent free; fear is the emotional squatter that eats all our courage and never replaces it, no matter how many times it promises us that it will.
But where does the fear manifest? Why were we once able to live so intrepidly and now, are suffocated by the intrusive thoughts of ‘What If?’
Biologically speaking, fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger – focused on a specific object – and serves to alert and protect us from legitimate threats. But too often we trip the fear wire in situations far from life-or-death, so often awakening the fear beast or its equally disturbing cousin, anxiety – the unpleasant feeling that teems with apprehension, dread and distress.
‘Oh welcome, fear and anxiety. So nice to see you,’ said no one ever.
That report you flubbed at work? That presentation you forgot to prep? That birthday you forgot? Those are one-way tickets to the sleepy little town of Fearful Falls, where hope is lost and peace of mind is found only in fairytales.
And is it worth it – really?
Because if history is any indication, the common denominator of success and happiness is painfully simple – it’s your fuel of purpose.
If life is fueled by a purpose of fear, it will always create more fear. Fear begets fears; negativity begets negativity.
But a life instead fueled by a purpose of passion will always create more passion. Passion begets passion; positivity begets positivity.
See the pattern here?
So in those dark times where fear lurks ever menacingly around the corner, those times when anxiety threatens to keep you awake at night with worry, question your fuel – but never your purpose. Fear, ever manipulative and insidious, will lie to you. But if you know your truth and your purpose, question only your fuel. Because the right fuel will yield success and more importantly, it will yield happiness.
So flub that report. Bomb the presentation. Forget ALL the birthdays. Expect failure. Accept failure. It happens. All. The. Time. Then … own it, learn it and – this is where it gets real tricky – dare to fail. Again.
Just don’t quit your daydreams.