I don't know about you, but every now and then when I'm highway driving at night I slip into a strange type of reverie. The black sky with the stars visible through my sunroof. The wash of white light from the headlights on the black road, illuminating my path as my car charges through the darkness. The looming shadows of trees along the road. The drone of the tires on the pavement. My own thoughts -- the thoughts I don't have the time or peace to indulge during the day -- swirling in my mind. All of these things combine to create an aura that borders on the spiritual. At least for me they do.
I was enjoying such a drive the other night when, finally wanting to break the silence, I pressed 'play' on whatever CD was in my husband's car. In an instant, I was surrounded by the rich swell of Awolnation's Kill Your Heroes. Here's the line that snaked straight into my consciousness: "Never let your fear decide your fate."
Why did that sentiment strike such a chord? Well, coming from an atheist background, I was at one time very fearful to be open about my experience with the Flamma Vesta. After all, we live in a world of sanctimonious haters and huffy know-it-alls...what would they say? What would my friends and family think? What would total strangers think? It was only when I could authentically say, "I don't give a **** what they think," that I was able to "spread the flame" of an important ancient tradition. And guess what? The sky didn't fall. Life only got freer, better, brighter.
I know I'm not the only one who has sometimes let fear decide my fate -- or at least heavily influence the decisions I make in life. During my "day job" as a couples conciliator, I work with people, both women and men, who are letting fear dictate their lives. The twenty-eight year old man who won't tell his wife to leave her extra-marital lover for fear she will leave him instead. The fifty-five year old woman with the unloving husband who won't ask more from him for fear of being alone "at her age."
If we let it, fear will make many decisions for us. The decision to attend a local college when what we really dream of is walking the halls of that big city university. The decision to stay in a job we hate instead of making a change or following a calling. The decision to buy that new cookie-cutter house because the realtor says it's more salable than the character home we fell in love with. The decision to ignore that cutie beside us on the train because striking up a conversation would seem weird.
In many cases, fear teams up with a twisted type of rationality. Unmarried middle-aged women never find happiness, right? A boring job is better than a risky one, right? A new house is better than an old one, right? A local college is safer than a faraway university, right? People who strike up conversations with strangers on a train are weird, right? Why risk it. Maintain the status quo, even if it isn't making us happy.
When we think like this, our fear convinces us that happiness is unachievable or irrelevant. Fear bullies us into believing that taking a risk, making that change, is too dangerous. We're safer "settling."
To be clear, I'm not talking about healthy fear here: it's wise to fear things like financial debt and grizzly bears. I'm talking about the kind of fear that hijacks our decision-making and clear-thinking, and tends to hold us back in life rather than encouraging us to move forward. Unhealthy fear-based decisions rarely reflect our heart's desire and are seldom in our long-term best interests.
And as if that isn't bad enough, fear always leaves something in its wake -- regret. You might buy that new house, but you'll always long for the creak of old hardwood under your feet. You might make a decent living at that boring job, but one day you'll wish you'd have had the grapes to try something more exciting. You might manage to stay married, but one day you'll look back and regret the years and self-dignity you sacrificed for someone who treated you like something stuck to the bottom of their shoe and who refused to change their ways. You might hold your tongue on that train, but one day you'll kick yourself for not speaking up.
How is fear deciding your fate? How is it affecting the decisions you make, the paths you take or don't take? Light a candle and reflect. Or take a night drive and think. It's funny -- as soon as you start to see fear clearly, it looks a lot less scary. So take a deep breath and stare it down. The sooner you can get behind the wheel and steer your own fate -- and banish fear to the backseat -- the sooner happiness can light your path.
Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B., is a couples conciliator, relationship author-expert and classicist.