So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. –Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the event of his first presidential inauguration.
I am not a huge FDR fan, but his famous quote from his first inauguration is one that I carry close in my mind as I deal with the events of my life and lifetime. Caution, aversion to risk, and trepidation are far too common human traits that I believe stifle creativity, drive, and rob too many people of success they could achieve with just a little less fear about what might happen.
So, when I came across an essay by Lenore Skenazy on why she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City public transit system home alone, I was happy to see that there are more people out there who think like me than I first expected.
You see, I believe that our culture has collapsed beneath the weight of the “what if” boogie monster, and to see that two conscientious parents knew their child and their city well enough to know that he was ready for something that seems to otherwise paralyze even lifelong adult residents of New York City gives me hope that we can recover from this ubiquitous fear of risk. Of course, in the mean time, Skenazy must face the self-righteous scrutiny of a fear-paralyzed nation that is convinced she has doomed her son to some imagined heinous crime that has not occurred.
I am not suggesting that every nine-year-old kid is ready to ride the subway, nor am I suggesting that recklessness–which I do not believe occurred in this case–should be applauded or encouraged. Instead, I am saying that there are far less scary things out there than people imagine and that there are huge rewards out there for people who stop being afraid.
I am not suggesting this without knowledge either. Five years ago, I quit my $70,000 per year job as a network architect for the Air Force to pursue my dream to become a writer and, as it turns out, a sustainable farmer. In the past five years, I’ve been so poor that I spent an afternoon gathering change from piggy banks and my cars with my wife in order to have enough money to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on. I got rid of my TV and my cellphone so that I could have enough money to pay the bills. I’ve worked harder and longer at this thing I am trying to do than I have at anything in my whole life with the huge chance of failure constantly staring me in the face. Yet, I do not doubt that what I am doing is worth doing because there’s no point to life if I don’t at least try, even if I do fail.
What I want people to learn from all of this is that it’s alright to take informed risks. It’s ok to do things even if there is a possibility that something might go wrong. It’s good to invest in the future, in hopes, in dreams even if things don’t work out exactly as you thought they might. It’s ok not to be afraid because most fear is paralysis that prevents us from moving forward.
So, I encourage everyone who reads this post to look at what they fear in their lives squarely and ask “why am I afraid?” Then, push that fear aside and get on living. You’ll never feel more alive than the moment when you do that thing.