At some point in your life — probably when you were unhappy — you have found something which you suddenly realized was everything you had been looking for.
It might be the most beautiful place in the world to live. It might be the perfect career which you didn’t know even existed. It might be the perfect romantic partner. But whatever it is, something changes when you discover this thing.
Your heart sings. You’re willing to do whatever is necessary to make this thing a part of your life. Your new realization or understanding suddenly changes everything for you. The future looks different. This is what you’ve always wanted, even before you knew it existed.
But then a moment of doubt creeps into your mind. Fear starts whispering to your heart. You suddenly realize the price you might have to pay to have what you want. The fear paralyzes you.
One moment, you’re ready to quit your job, change your career, move to the other side of the world, leave an unhappy marriage — or a million other things — in order to have this thing which you know you need.
But after fear sets in, you panic. You can’t change your life. You can’t move. You can’t leave your unhappy marriage. You can’t take any risks — because your fear has convinced you to focus on the scary parts of the trade-off. Before you know it, you’ve lost sight of this once-in-a-lifetime thing which had seemed so important.
Because you’re scared, you do nothing. You don’t even make any decisions. You just accept whatever comes your way. You’re no longer in charge of your life and actively making decisions to get what you want. You are a scared person — whether you want to admit it or not — who is too paralyzed to make any decisions.
What do you do? You lie to yourself.
You keep saying, “Well, I know I want this thing, but if I just keep thinking about it, I’ll figure out some way that I can have everything — and some way where there are no risks.”
But there is no path without risks.
Security expert Bruce Schneier has said, “People make bad security trade-offs when they’re scared.” I think that applies to life in general. When you become frightened of potential change, you make bad decisions — and you often end up with nothing that you actually wanted.
I once knew someone who discovered her perfect career when she saw someone else performing at a professional conference she attended. She had no idea that it was possible to make a living this way, but everything in her connected with what she saw this man doing.
She was so blown away by what she saw — and so eager to do it herself — that she talked her way into meeting privately with the man that night. He carefully walked her through what she would need to do and explained exactly how she could make this happen. She was very excited — and she was ready to change her life to pursue this thing which her heart told her was exactly what she had been looking for.
In the days and weeks and months to come, she started realizing the trade-offs she would have to make. She started thinking about needing to move. She started thinking about the new training it would require. She still wanted to do the thing — it still seemed like what she had been looking for — but she got scared about the trade-offs involved.
She never did say, “No, I’ve decided I don’t want this.” Instead, she just tucked this beautiful dream into a corner of her heart and nailed the door shut. She continued a mediocre life that wasn’t really what she wanted — but it was a life with fewer risks. I doubt she has thought about this beautiful dream in a long, long time, because thinking about it would remind her of what she had truly wanted — before she became too scared to pursue it.
You have probably had that moment of intense happiness when you’ve found what you wanted — the place you wanted, the person you wanted, the change you needed. If you haven’t experienced this yet, you will.
When you experience that beautiful epiphany, you can either start making some trade-offs — and taking some risks to pursue what you’ve found — or you can get scared and lock your passion in a dark part of your heart where nobody will ever know about it.
Everything in life comes with risks. There are no perfect plans or perfect people. We can’t have everything.
But if you find what you really need — something that will satisfy your heart and lead you to a deeper understanding of why you’re living this life — it’s something to pursue, even if you’re scared.
The alternative is knowing what you could have had. That’s a path of bitterness and unhappiness which will leave you constantly wondering why you didn’t accept what life offered when you found it.
That sort of regret is difficult to live with.
Note: The photo above is of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, which is considered one of the most beautiful places on Earth.