Someone once told me the definition of hell: “On your last day on earth, the person you could have become will meet the person you became.”
When I first heard this line, it sent shivers down my spine. Why? Because by the time I was 35, I had lost my entire adult life through fear: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of risk, fear of change, and most of all, fear of anxiety, which I medicated with heroin for 15 years.
This might sound like a sad story, but I was lucky. Pummeled into submission by the most painful night of my life, I received a gift. Call it what you will — a perspective shift, an awakening or simply dumb luck — it doesn’t matter. Life gave me a second chance, and I devoured every second of it.
That was in 2013, and with new eyes, and a fresh start, I began asking myself the question that changed my life:
Very few people contemplate this question, yet it can have a profound impact on your life. When I began leaning towards fear instead of running away from it, everything changed.
Since 2013, I’ve become a final year PhD student, a lecturer at the top two universities in Ireland, consultant to several leading corporations around the world, a radio presenter, and author of my recently published memoir, Bonus Time. Most importantly, however, I’ve reconnected with family and friends.
Fear plays a huge role in nearly everyone’s life. Unfortunately, for many, emotional pain from the past drives these fears. Because of this, most of us do whatever it takes to avoid those situations in the future, and it can have a huge impact on our actions.
We all have fears. To identify what might be holding you back, you need to reflect on this. Are you afraid to ask that person out through fear of rejection? Are you unhappy in your current job but you’re afraid of change? Do you know what lights that fire in your belly, but you’re letting your dreams slip through your fingers because you’re afraid of failure?
Sometimes it’s more subtle than this — but equally destructive. Are you afraid to sit with anxiety because you think it will overwhelm you? Are you avoiding uncomfortable conversations with your partner because you’re afraid of what they might say? Are you avoiding difficult conversations at work because you don’t like confrontation?
All of these fears are perfectly understandable, especially when they’re being driven by past experiences. But imagine how life might look if push through these fears. Imagine if you began asking yourself the question: “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”
By telling people how you feel, you might find the partner of your dreams. By sitting with your anxiety instead of avoiding it, you might realize that it’s not as scary as you believed it would be. By having those difficult conversations, you might save your relationship or get that promotion. And by embracing failure and shooting for the stars, you could be living the life of your dreams.
The best things in life are often on the other side of fear. That’s where true freedom lies: in our challenges, our vulnerabilities, our struggles and our fears.
If you want to get the most out of life, you need to ask yourself what you’d do if you weren’t afraid. That’s when you find true happiness, by pushing through your fears.
What would you do if you had a second chance at life?
— Brian Pennie
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