You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Fear and anxiety have felt like constant companions for me recently. I should begin by saying that they are not entirely unwelcome. Rather, I am beginning to learn how to face them head-on and use them to my best advantage. They surface on a daily basis now because I am seriously considering going back to school for an MA and/or PhD in Philosophy to teach and do research at the college level. Just writing that feels good, and this tells me I’m on the right track.
I have had a passionate love affair with philosophy ever since we met my Sophomore year of college, but I admit I have been neglectful of our relationship in recent years. Exploring entrepreneurship and other intriguing (and distracting) endeavors caused me to frequently forget what a good thing I had with philosophy. The beautiful thing is that it has just been waiting patiently in my back pocket to be rediscovered, and appears overjoyed to see me. That is the wonderful thing about ideas – they are never resentful and are ever-so patient. Thanks to my husband’s natural intuition and persistent questioning, I recently discovered (in Ikea of all places) that the life I envision myself living over the next 10, 20, 30 years even, involves a deep study of and contribution to the world of philosophy, specifically in the area of ethics.
I have always had a drive to “make a difference” in the world, as many of us have. But for awhile after college, I became obsessed with the search for how I would make that difference and temporarily forgot about actually making a difference. As I do more things in my life now that come naturally from my being, rather than doing or having, I find I am closer to feeling like I actually am making a difference. The ways may be small, but what matters to me most is that still, small voice, that quietly shouts, “Yes!” whenever I do in fact, make a difference. It’s shouting has gotten increasingly louder recently, and I simply cannot ignore the vibe of pure joy that races through my veins when I contemplate being Student, Researcher, Professor, Writer, Philosopher.
As I toss and turn at night, debating the how’s, why’s and where’s of this new-old-found love of mine – studying philosophy – one fear after the next jumps over my tense body like a long arc of angry sheep, frustrated that their shepherd can’t decide which way to go. And that is the way fear is: directionless, aggressive, and in reality, completely harmless. It is an indicator of something deeper. That’s all. So I’ll share with you a technique for facing fears that is no secret. It is used by life coaches, teachers and parents worldwide. Most likely, you have used it at some point or other. But sometimes the best tips are the ones that remind us of what we already know.
When fear leaps over you and stares you down, tie it down forcefully and stay focused on it. Make eye contact. And ask yourself 2 questions:
1. What is the worst that can happen if this fear materializes?
2. What is the likelihood that this will happen?
My husband drilled me on these two questions the other night and finally calmed down my sheep while I figured out which direction I was really headed. I had been spun about by my fears so much that I was dizzy and on the verge of tears. He patiently asked me each of these two questions about every one of the fears I could think of regarding going back to school and my future in the world of philosophy. And you know what? Those angry sheep started to look pretty docile and fluffy. They lined up nicely, and I realized that the ratio of risk:reward for every single fear I listed was approximately 2:9, meaning that for a minimal risk, I would reap a life-changing and profound reward. I almost laughed out loud after we got through the list. I might have been embarrassed at how I had let my nerves get the better of me for days on end, but I was too at peace to feel anything else.
That has been the defining factor for me in this whole facing-my-fears-and-thinking-it-through process: peace. I am learning that the ever-fleeting human “happiness” that we all seek is often overrated and tragically disappointing. (It also happens to be the thing that most of our fears revolve around – losing it, not finding it, botching it up, and so on.) But peace, now that is something worth seeking, moment to moment. Not in the traditional “seek-and-ye-shall-find” way, but rather in a sort of “observe-and-it-shall-find-you” way. I am doing a lot of observing lately of how I think, feel, connect, act, live, love. And the more I observe and listen, the more I am blessed with a quiet inner peace. It is in this space of inner peace that the philosopher within has found me. The direction is clear, my confidence sound, and the only thing I hear is the soft “yes” of the wind whispering over my sleeping sheep.