Monday, April 15, 2013

On fear

What makes us afraid? I suppose there are as many answers to this question as there are people in the world. Right now, I am not talking about spiders or test results or any of the horrific events of war; I'm working to understand the First World "elitist" fear of making the wrong life decision. Currently, this fear is endemic in the US, be it a lawmaker who cannot vote on gun control, all the way down to my children's generation, wherein they cannot decide on a college major. Since I have absolutely no frame of reference regarding a congressman or senator's career; I join in the mass bafflement as to why our professional "deciders" are unable to make any forward progress. Anyhow, I think I can take a stab at figuring out why fear often interferes with life decisions.

For one thing, I think we live in a culture with a delusion that life can be perfect or a good person/student deserves more.  The words perfect and good tug at the virtuous cliches of "do the right thing, don't let me down, we expect more from you" which simply do not help anyone find an independently walkable path. Moreover, these moral judgements are directed at everyone in our society, no matter what your age.

Fact, we all make choices, every day, all the time. Those of us who are older have decades of consequences, stupid or intelligent that worked out or didn't from our previous life experiences to draw upon. We also have the luxury to look back upon those decisions and see wisdom in both our successes and failures.

Today, students are told through their schooling the mantra, go to college, yet many have no idea what interests them or what they even want to do. Given our economic slump, since 2008, many of these same kids have seen parents lose jobs, homes, financial security and marriages. So they try to float through life, not making any bold (scary) decisions to possibly backfire, derailing any success they have already achieved or that floats nebulously out there for their futures. These kids are paralyzed in the process of decision-making because they are afraid. The  imaginary specter of a wrong decision wreaking all sorts of havoc from no job opportunity, to not earning enough to support oneself or even homelessness. Thus, many kids are going to college just to get a bankable job, be it as a business major, IT master or nurse, not because it's their passion but for the money.

The thing is, life is messy, nothing is guaranteed. Ironically, if you have a passion for something it will probably be your ticket for success ( think Bill Gates). The trick is to evaluate your options and then choose as wisely as you can. The important piece is to just decide, to take a step, any step and see where it leads, because truly almost every decision can be changed if it proves to be a dud. And no one can say they haven't had a few duds in their life, it's what makes us unique. Deciding is a skill which must be learned by trial and error.

Whenever I am agonizing with life changing decision, I visualize the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie. Remember when he is balanced at the precipice of the ravine, fearful his father is dying behind him and terrified he cannot cross the chasm before him to reach the grail cup? Finally, he takes that leap of faith and steps out into the air, not plunging to his death but onto a hidden bridge; one he could not see until  he stood upon it and scattered pebbles. That is what decisions are about. You can avoid them and stay with your life status quo and watch it die or you step into the unknown, adrenaline pumping and change your life. We cannot stay poised at the edge. We must let go the comfort of the known, for the wildness of the unknown; hidden bridges abound.

I am in the process of sharing my past life scary decisions like fables, recounting those hidden bridge moments. Hopefully, my college-age daughter will get more comfortable about big decisions from hearing my humorous, scary, but mostly successful decision opportunities past and present. We learn about life from the footsteps of others.
Emma & Wendy need only to decide on which dog bed to use.

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