What is the greater fear to have, looking back on a lifetime of missed opportunities and unrealized potential, or being faced with choices with uncertain outcomes requiring a “leap of faith?” Both can be nerve-racking in their own right, but I think the obvious distinction to make here involves which tense we’re talking about.
Suppose for a second that you are seventy years old and reflecting on a long life of decisions, choices, attitudes, etc. How would you want that to go? Certainly I would think of how those missed opportunities and failed attempts would be biting and wrought with anxiety: “Oh I should have quit my job and pursued my dreams when I had the chance,” “why didn’t I make time for a family,” and “If only I could have made my marriage work” are just a few of those sorts of thoughts that might come to mind. Ultimately it is a fear of the past, a fear of not living up to our own standards that drives this sort of thought, and I cannot think of much worse than being at the end of ones own life and having only regrets.
Now imagine you are a vibrant thirty year old working at a decent job with security and the possibility for some sort of growth. It’s not your passion to be sure, but it’s alright, gets you by, pays the bills, but lacks in any sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. An opportunity exists to leave the comfort of your job and pursue something you’re passionate about (whatever that may be), but it’s by no means certain that you will succeed. What do you do? Sure, taking the leap and following your dreams sounds wonderfully adventurous and has a sort of storybook quality, but this is the real world and you have bills to pay and (possibly) people to support. This is the fear of failure, the fear of going for broke…and becoming broke, it is a fear of the future and not knowing what it holds, and (perhaps most importantly) it is the fear of letting yourself and those around you down.
Here is where we find ourselves, sitting on this point we call present while being stuck between these past and future oriented fears. Whatever are we to do? The title of this blog lends itself to a sort of pessimistic denial of action/inaction that could leave a person bitter and defeated by the end of their journey. On the other hand, it would seem almost silly if someone were wholly optimistic over the notions of possible failure and regret. Perhaps the problem is that we are faced with a false dichotomy between leaping into the unknown and the roads more safely traveled; the actual solution to the problem is to live only for the present. Unfortunately, to only live for the present would negate knowledge gleaned from prior mistakes and successes which could help navigate us better through the opaque waters of the future. Perhaps the real culprit here is fear. Instead of regretting past mistakes we should embrace them as learning tools, and instead of fearing the unknown of the future we should embrace the exhilarating freedom we feel as we venture down our own paths to greatness. Living our lives without fear, now that is a truly anti-American concept.