Fear Factors
June 23rd, 2010

With apologies to Dr. King, we all have dreams.  Our dreams may not be as noble as his (likely not), but they are our own and they are meaningful to us.  Perhaps we dream about becoming a writer.  Or having the time to take a vacation for two full weeks.  Or becoming an Olympic athlete.  Or not living paycheck to paycheck.  Or finding a spouse.  Or not being overweight.  Or owning a lavish apartment on 5th Avenue. 

Sometimes our dreams are well within our control.  We know we have the power to harness our futures and transform them to match our vision.  But sometimes we look at the horizon in front of us and watch it remain out of our reach, no matter how quickly we move toward it.

We doubt ourselves, or our circumstances, or our ability to change our lives.  We believe that in spite of our most ardent hopes and efforts we will never make it to the destination we so earnestly (and oftentimes secretly) desire.  So we find faults with our dreams.  We convince ourselves that we don’t really want the things that we want. 

“A two week vacation is so long that I’d just get homesick and not really enjoy it.”

“Freelance writing provides such spotty income.  If I ever made a career of it, I’d probably end up wishing for my regular salary back.”

“Olympic athletes spend every waking moment training.  They really don’t have lives outside of their sport.  And once the Olympics are over, then what?”

When your reach exceeds your grasp sometimes it is easier to rein in your reach than to extend your grasp.  And that is how we come to settle. 

But why do we do this?  Whatever does it accomplish to move the finish line in order to spare our egos?  Why don’t we all indulge our big dreams, mull them over, strategize around them, and find ways to realize them?  We get one life on this big rock.  We have no choice in how we enter it.  But we have a great deal of influence over how we live it and how we leave it.  So why accept your own status quo, when you know something bigger could be yours if you were willing to take the risk?

As part of a New Year’s resolution I’ve been reading nonfiction almost exclusively this year.  From Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle, to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, to Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, I am encountering one after another story of people who have pursued a big dream and realized it.  In some cases they were fortuitous enough to stumble into astoundingly lucky circumstances.  In others they overcame astounding odds and were successful in spite of their circumstances.  But either way, at some level each of the people profiled in these books chose to pursue the dream – to risk the dream – rather than to settle for the well traveled and familiar path.

And so I am prone to wonder to what extent the well traveled and familiar path is a sabotage of your dreams disguised as something more palatable.  In some cases, I suspect it’s a great deal.

So why this little pep talk?  Is it for you?  Maybe.  Is it for me?  Probably.  My head is all over the map these days, but I keep coming back to the parameters of success.  What does it look like on an absolute scale?  What does it look like relative to me?  What are my fear factors?  How much do they govern me?  How much often do I conquer them?

I have no answers today.  But as long as my head is spinning with these questions I figured I’d might as well have some company on the ride.

6 Responses to “Fear Factors”

  1. Jeanna Says:

    I’ve been struggling with this very issue the past year. I’ve found a job that I love (on most days). However this job does not provide potential for moving into management anytime soon. I’ve found myself saying that I don’t want to be in management anyway because it’s too many headaches, too much overtime, and not enough extra pay. I’ve been wondering if I want to change my planned career path into management and why I would want to make the change … is it because my priorities have changed (I want more time with my family), is it because I found a job I enjoy, or is it because of my ego? It’s probably a combination of all these reasons.

  2. BigLittleWolf Says:

    A terrific piece, Gale. And I think you know this is a subject close to my heart – going after dreams, the issue of making excuses, self-sabotage, and very harsh realities that some of us must deal with – single parenting, money troubles, health issues, no family.

    I do believe we need to turn away from a narrow set of “success parameters” to a more open, personalized view of what success means to each of us. I believe the pursuit of dreams is part of the vibrancy of life, but as we age, as mitigating factors pile up, dreams are often sidetracked, even if they still hold sway over our heads and hearts.

    My question is – at what point do we give up, after trying? Do we ever give up, even if we’ve risked and risked again? Will life make that decision for us?

    I don’t have answers. Only more questions. But I will say this – don’t wait until you’re 50 to go for your dreams. Find some way to ease them into your life sooner, even in bits and pieces. The odds of eventually attaining them are greater.

  3. Jane Says:

    What a wonderful reminder to me! Thanks for helping me shake the cobwebs off of my dream. Now, if those pesky kids could just go back to school so I could have the time to pursue it!

  4. John Says:

    It’s called life, Gale.

    Often the first big reassessment after college occurs at about your age. Your [relative] went to the bank at age 31. I left sportswriting at 33. [Another relative] chose to go into the ministry at 32 or 33. [Another relative] left [her transit job] at about age 34. [Another relative] decided he wanted to be a cardiologist rather than a family doctor at age 33 and moved to [the town where we grew up].

    Oh, by the way, metabolism tends to change at about 33 (although for mothers it may happen earlier).

    John

  5. anne Says:

    I’m so with you. Sometimes the best thing to do with those questions we’re batting around is to voice them (or write them.) Fear can be useful AND limiting. And I don’t always think changing your mind about something means you’ve “given up”. But I also hope you find the courage to do whatever you think you need to do so you can say, “I tried.”:)

  6. Eva @ Eva Evolving Says:

    This is such a nugget of wisdom, Gale: “When your reach exceeds your grasp sometimes it is easier to rein in your reach than to extend your grasp. And that is how we come to settle.” Indeed.

    I’m all over the place lately too, so take my comments with a grain of salt. On one hand, I wholeheartedly agree with you. And I’ve had conversations in their same vein with my husband recently. About dreaming big, going for it, doing something radical. Yet on the other hand, my cynical voice says, “Of course you’re reading stories about people who followed their dreams and succeeded big. They don’t publish the stories of all the thousands of people who followed their dreams and crashed.”

    So I hear you. I do. And I agree with you, in my heart. It’s my mind that is resisting!