Which fear is greater?

In my late 30s and early 40s, I was afraid to rock the boat. In so many ways my life was good, but I still wanted more success at work, more stability at home, more time for myself. I wanted a more rich and fulfilling life. But I didn’t know how to get that without risking the good life I already had.

I was afraid, although I didn’t really know it at the time. I had invested so much into my work and my marriage that I was afraid to lose either one. So I played it safe. I took small risks, but if they didn’t go well, I quickly retreated back to safety. In other words, I played small. I gave up a big life for a safe life.

I’ll be the first to tell you – that is not a good way to live. Playing small led to small results in my life. Years went by, and my longing for a richer more fulfilling life never changed. And neither did my life. I would look at others with envy, thinking they had a great life, so why couldn’t I? I was waiting for my time, for my opportunity, for something to change so I could move forward.

As happens sometimes in life, the change that came wasn’t welcome. My wife decided to get divorced. What followed was several years of tumult, grieving, pain, and most importantly… learning.

Reflecting on that time with more than five years of perspective, I see that I was choosing one fear over another. I was more afraid of failure than of wasting my life. I was more afraid of rejection than of giving up my zeal for life. I was more afraid of losing what I had than of giving up a bigger richer life.

I had to lose my marriage to break out of this cycle. I had to lose what I thought was a safe life to realize that it was really just a small life.

In the years that followed, I learned that growth is what makes me come alive. That it’s worth being uncomfortable in the interest of progress. That if we’re not growing, we’re shrinking. That we have only one chance at life. Each moment, each day, each year that passes cannot be repeated.

I want to make the most out of my life. I don’t want to be one who looks back at the end of it all, and wishes I had taken more chances. I am choosing to let my fear of regret drive me, not my fear of failure or rejection.

Fear is part of life. We can’t bypass it entirely – we can only choose which fear to listen to, and how to make friends with it. We can learn to be uncomfortable in the interest of our growth and development. We can learn to value each moment and each day enough that we don’t waste it. We can learn to step forward into growth, even when it’s scary or uncomfortable.

So which fear do you choose? The kind that keeps you small, or the kind that drives you to live your life fully and richly? Choose well. Because once this day is gone, it will never be repeated.

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