On the 4th step of the 12 step process, there's an exercise you're encouraged to do that I liked to call "finding your fears." I'm sure it had a better name, but that's how I remembered it. The exercise went something like this (to be fair, a very simplistic explanation):
You would make 3 columns. In the first column, you would write the names of the people in your history that you held some kind of resentment toward. In the second column, next to the names, you would write the reason you resented that person. In the third column, you would write the fear you had that was triggered by whatever action that person had done that you resented. Once you finished, you would inevitably find a pattern of 2-3 fears that tied all of your resentments together. These were the fears you needed to tackle, because these were the fears that, subconsciously or not, dictated your decisions and your life. And the premise, while unstated, was that once you were free from fear, you could be free of resentments.
Perhaps your fear was that you wouldn't be accepted (this was a big one for me). Any time a person or group would do things to make me feel like an outsider, "Boom!" a resentment was born. Maybe a fear of your's was that you wouldn't be in control. Any time there was person or scenario that pushed you toward spontaneity or the unknown, "Wham!" you start think "I can't stand that guy."
Identifying the fears that tug at your decision making is the first step toward living in freedom. If you're a hypochondriac and are afraid of an impending health scare, you can take steps to getting your body in the best health possible, combining exercise and responsible eating. When your levels come back from your doctor and you're declared "perfectly healthy," then that loosens the grip of fear of health concerns on your everyday decisions.
Two Christmases ago, my family went to Toronto on a family vacation. When we do family vacations, we try to go "full tourist", and our Toronto trip was no different. We scoped out the Ripley's Aquarium downtown. We visited the historic Casa Loma, a site where, among other things, dozens of movies filmed well known scenes. And, of course, we visited Toronto's CN Tower.
At it's peak, the CN Tower is 1815 feet tall. We took the elevator to the top part of the tower, and could see far beyond the city limits, across the bay, and into the countryside surrounding the tower. There was one part of the catwalk at the top of the tower that had glass flooring, where you could stand and look directly down all the way to the ground.
Now, I don't have a serious fear of heights, necessarily, but in extreme cases, I definitely get the weird feeling in my stomach when I look over a ledge. I came up to the glass flooring, and it became a little challenge I gave myself. I know, cognitively, that the glass floor is very thick, and has no chance of cracking or letting anyone fall through. But the moment I had a chance to start to walk on that glass floor, I could feel my legs get all jelly-like. My stomach immediately got queasy, and I felt like I was walking like Bambi on the ice. After getting a picture (of course), I got back on the carpet and breathed a sigh of a relief.
Why did my body go into panic mode? I knew I was in no danger in my head, but I didn't know it in my muscles. I wasn't certain of it in my bones. I had to put myself in the position to be afraid so that I could teach myself to not be afraid.
And this is a lesson I'm still learning today.
You have to fake fearlessness in order to become fearless.
My confession today is, though I want to be, I am not fearless. I feel like I've conquered quite a few fears, and plenty of demons, but my deepest fear still haunts me. And in every decision I make with my relationships, my job, my family, and my marriage, I can still feel the fingertips of fear trying to pull at me. But I know, by naming it, I'm taking some of its power away.
My greatest fear is insignificance. My greatest fear is that nothing in my life will have mattered.
Maybe I'm the only one who gets haunted by this thought, but I have my doubts. I know this life is a gift, and I don't want to treat it like I do some gifts: put away in a closet to be forgotten, until it's transferred from closet to garage, from garage to storage, from storage to garbage/recycling. I want to use it for something meaningful, and have it be meaningful to others.
So I fake fearlessness, and try to have the same certainty in my bones that I do in brain, but that certainty doesn't always translate.
In my head, I know that the job I do with the charity where I work can be meaningful.
In my head, I know offering opportunities/internships and speaking to students about important things, about serving others, can be meaningful.
In my head, I know "being the sappy guy," telling people how I feel about them, trying to go above and beyond for them, can be meaningful.
I'll be honest that my bones don't always have the certainty. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and while my faith in God is rock solid, I still play tug of war with my role in it. I do think I've loosened the grip that this fear has on my intentions, but I'm not fooled into thinking it's gone for good.
So, maybe you're like me.
Maybe you're guilty of occasionally thinking to yourself, "Does what I'm doing even matter?"
Maybe you're a parent who's said the same thing to your child over and over, and you feel like you'd get more of a response from a boulder.
Maybe you're later in life, and you feel like you're keeping busy just for the sake of keeping busy.
Maybe you're getting started in a career, or studying for one, and you feel like you're going nowhere, while your instagram friends keep posting stupid beach pictures.
Or, maybe, you find yourself in a hollow relationship that resembles a hamster wheel.
If you're someone who's afraid of insignificance, I feel you.
But let's not let our fear dictate our lives. Let's pretend to be fearless, until we teach our bones, our muscles, and our souls to ACTUALLY be fearless.
Because when we're free of fear, we're free to really live.