What is your greatest fear?
Don’t continue reading till you have an answer. Feel free to write it down. You can even show a friend if you so wish.
It’s a straightforward question; yet it always seem to catch people off guard when asked. It was an “identity identifier question” for the Bank I use back in the States. And every time I get to the question I stop and think about it.
- What is my greatest fear?
- What does it say about me?
- What should I be afraid of?
- What is acceptable for me to be afraid of?
- Should I be embarrassed of it?
- Why am I afraid of it?
- Is there anything I can do to eliminate it?
These are all things that go through my mind simply because I’m a sucker for introspection (wish more people were).
My first thought on my greatest fear was snakes.
I don’t like them (who does). They don’t like me (who doesn’t). Then I realized that I was being ridiculous because rarely do I encounter snakes, therefore it was a misplaced “greatest fear”. In short, it was a cop-out, a way of avoiding answering the question.
I then started thinking more abstractly and settled on death.
At the time, I thought this was a legit fear and one that I’m sure a few people would share with me. But as I got older, I dug deeper. Why was I scared of death? The answer I came up with changed my perspective on my life.
I realized that I wasn’t scared of dying persay, but I was scared of dying without living.
To some, this may sound simply, logically impossible, how can one die if they haven’t lived. And yes if you’re speaking physically it can’t be done. However, if you choose to see life as more than just physical attendance than you know what I’m talking about.
I was terrified that I was going to die before doing things I wanted to. Before I could travel the world, before I could see the 7 wonders, before meeting my wife, having kids, writing a book, moving to So Cal, going to the ESPYS, seeing the Huskers win another National Championship, be on MTVs ‘Real World’, seeing Creighton advance to the Final Four, dying before I had learned to surf, sail, or sky dive (at least I can check “scuba diving” off my bucket list).
And yes, at some point in my life I have wanted to do all of those things. But I digress. There are thousands of things I want or have wanted to do in this life that I hadn’t done yet.
I turned 23 and society told me that I had plenty of time to do all these things. Society and tradition told me to keep my head down, go to a prestigious college, get a first-rate job, meet a nice girl, have a few kids, keep working that ‘first-rate job’ then eventually I’d have the money to start living my life and following my dreams. That is the “American Dream” after all, isn’t it?
Now how do I put this gently?
To live your life like the ordinary American is to diminish the risk of failure.
When you minimize your risk for failure, you also minimize your potential for happiness- I believe the two to be directly correlated. However, when we minimize the risk of all failure, it sets individuals up for the most dangerous risk of all: the risk of spending your life not doing what you want to on the bet that you could buy yourself the freedom to do it later.
And I’m ashamed to admit it, but I fell in step with society and completely bought into the group think. I drank the Kool-Aid. And being from Hastings, Nebraska, it’s hard to avoid that particular drink (birthplace of Kool-Aid 😉).
So many of us blindingly chase that “dream.” We do exactly what we’re supposed to because it’s what is expected of us. We turn our brains, desires, ambitions, and goals off because they may not line up exactly with the expectations of others. But it’s imperative to understand that in order to fully experience your life, all you have to do is remember that you are not defined by others but by yourself and your decisions:
“In a society where the scarcity concept rules our self perception, success is valued through a system of competition. Personal success is made to be something extraordinary, uncommon and unreachable. You’re being told you’re not complete without other factors besides just yourself. And so we place power outside of ourselves. Whilst in reality it couldn’t be easier – all you have to do is exactly what you want to do and not let anything or anyone stop you. Be who you are. It’s that simple. By letting go of society’s expectations, you are free to live your own legend. Be your own hero.”
The Fine Print…
What’s right for me may not be right for you. And in no way am I trying to tell you what is “right” for your life. Only you will know that. But I am trying to make the point to actually examine how happy you are and if you’re going the direction you want to go. I’m not saying there is anything right or wrong with taking the conventional route and chasing the “American Dream”. Some people truly believe that’s for them. But it begs the question, why? The harsh reality of life is that some people aren’t capable of wanting more. But for me? No, it wasn’t what I wanted out of my one and only life. If you’re truly happy doing what you’re doing then feel free to stop reading here.
The rest of this post is about my experiences and the path I’ve taken to try and live my life for myself.
True happiness is my only aim.
Back down the rabbit hole we go. I realized my greatest fear was accepting complacency. I am terrified that I will live a life other people want me to live as opposed to the one I want to live for myself. That I will be defined by society’s and other peoples’ expectations instead of my own dream and goals. That I will settle; compromising what I need because what I have is safe and comfortable.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Many people die at 25 but wait until they are 75 to be buried.”
That quote shook me awake. I realized that I had done so much of what was expected of me that I had stopped asking what I personally wanted. I had fallen into the trap of the American Dream Routine. I was working a job just to collect a paycheck. I had no plan. No goals. I was doing nothing to achieve what I wanted and valued.
My entire life I planned on going to law school. I took the LSAT, applied, got in, and then toward the middle of my senior year decided that it wouldn’t make me happy so I decided not to go. Most people didn’t understand why I decided not to go. They only saw the prestige and money at the end of the tunnel. They couldn’t comprehend the fact that I got in and then said no. Why would anyone accepted decide to not go? Well, I’ve always tried to do things my way. It’s been almost two years now; I have no regrets.
Instead I took a job at a company in Omaha. It was a good company—up and coming. I was making pretty good money for a 22-year-old right out of college. As in, I had paid vacation days and a (401 K). I knew there were tons of people who would have loved to be in the situation I was in (especially with the economy being what it is). But I was miserable. And call me selfish, but my happiness has always been a top priority of mine.
I wasn’t being challenged. I had nothing to look forward to from 8 to 5 (apart from the friends I had made at work). I’ve always been the type of person who needs to see value in what I’m doing or else I can’t do it. One of my multiple flaws is that I can’t turn off my brain. I need to think. I need mental stimulation and human interaction.
I had neither.
And though I was working with great people every day, the job itself was not making me happy or adding value to my life in any way. I knew that I had two choices.
1) I could play it safe, keep working there, eventually (as in decades) make 7 figures, and then finally do what I wanted.
2) I could give up my comfort and find my own path.
Spoiler alert: I chose the latter.
I was sitting at my desk when I made up my mind. I needed a new job. The first things I asked myself were ‘what do you want to do, and what makes you happy.’ I came up with two things: working with people and traveling. So I started researching travel jobs. I kept seeing “cruise ship” and so I looked more into it. I decided that Youth Staff or Entertainment Staff would be good fits for what I was looking for and applied. I ended up being hired as Youth Staff (then 2 months later was promoted to Entertainment Staff) and haven’t looked back since.
Shocking Your Paradigm
I’ve been sailing around the South Pacific for 4 months now and my paradigm has been shocked by amazing places and incredible people from all over the world. I took the job to see new places and meet new people and both have been greatly achieved.
No, the money wasn’t as good. The benefits are non-existent (as far as the “American Dream” goes). At first glance, it may appear that I took a step backwards. But I’ll refer to Einstein’s judgment on this one, as he once said, “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life. All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”
But none of this would have happened had I played it safe. Had I given into fear or complacency.
Fear is not something people want to think about, and I mean, why would you? It makes people uncomfortable and nobody likes that.
People will do anything to avoid being uncomfortable.
They will avoid conflict, confrontation, change, or any challenge that may result in failure due to discomfort or embarrassment. They stay in jobs they hate or in relationships where they no longer care for the other person. The fear of the unknown can be both terrifying and paralyzing. This is the complete opposite of the way that life should be lived.
I once read, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and believe that it’s one of the greatest tragedies of life that so few people actually find the end of their comfort zone during their lifetime. They are too afraid. Too content. They settle for “good enough” instead of true happiness. They underestimate themselves, their worth, and fear their potential.
Fear has one of two affects on people. It either paralyzes or motivates. In life, we will all experience things that scare us; how we decide to react to the fear will dictate who we become and how far we go.
I implore you to examine your life. Your goals, desires, relationships, job, habits, and ambitions. Be honest with yourself and ask if you’re truly happy. If you are, great. If you aren’t, are you taking steps towards what you think would make you happy? It’s imperative to understand that without reflection and action there can be no improvement in any situation.
You must constantly ask yourself these questions:
Am I happy? Is how I’m spending my time worthwhile? Who am I around? What are they doing for me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay? Your life does not get better by chance.
It gets better by change.