Excerpt from the forthcoming book Redesigning Your Life.
“What would life be if we did not have the courage to attempt anything?” ~Vincent van Gogh
Picture this: You’re sitting on your couch, gazing out at the night sky, enjoying a nice cup of chamomile tea. Your mind is wandering, you are daydreaming. (Yes, at night!)
Your thoughts turn to something you’ve always wanted to do.
Skydiving, perhaps? Moving to Bali? Becoming a freelancer or starting your own business? Writing a blog about the meaning of life or your political views or about your adventures with cooking traditional Chinese dishes? You think: “It’s time to do something about this. What am I waiting for? I’m going to put together a plan right now and start letting people know that I’m finally doing it!” You feel excitement. Super-strong motivation. This is fun!
Then suddenly it strikes!
And you know it has, because your stomach feels twisty, your chest is tight, your palms are sweating. Your motivation level drops to an all-time low! You are suddenly overcome by…
Fear of the unknown, fear of being hurt, fear of being criticized, fear of exposing yourself. Fear of being vulnerable. I looked up the definition of fear this morning, and this is what I found:
- noun: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
- verb: to be uneasy or apprehensive about.
- reality: something that holds us back from doing the things we really want to do; often unhealthy and stressful; a great big annoyance.
(Okay, I made up definition #3! But it’s true, isn’t it?) Fear is an insidious thing. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and often disguises itself as logic or high standards. We think: “Oh, it doesn’t make sense to leave a job with benefits behind. That would be foolish.” Or: “I just wouldn’t be able to do it justice. I would need a lot more practice first, and where would I find the time?” Or, we feel it wouldn’t be fair to “others.” It would be inconvenient for them. So we shelve our plans till the time is right.
We all feel the fear at times.
It’s a more or less natural part of being human; the survival instinct is a strong one. If we feel in danger, our natural inclination is to back away slowly and then run to safety as fast as we can!
But what’s the real danger here?
Who is most likely to be hurt if we do not pursue our dreams? The first and most obvious answer is: we are. Be it a dull ache or a sharp pain, conscious or not, we will carry it with us throughout our lifetime. That’s how unrealized potential feels.
Beyond ourselves though, there’s a cast of thousands who will also feel the hurt. Aware of it or not, they’re waiting for us to share our gifts with them. Whether our gift is teaching or healing or crafting or building or inventing or guiding or inspiring. Or dancing or playing baseball, building a new social media platform, or horse breeding. Whatever your gifts, there is someone out there who needs them. Just as we need the gifts of others.
Consider the curious case of Vincent van Gogh.
Although he struggled personally and financially in his lifetime, his collective works changed the world forever. His legacy of beauty and inspiration is incalculable.
But he didn’t go instantly from thoughts of becoming a painter to being a one-of-a-kind artistic genius. Vincent had fears and obstacles, the disapproval of his father, and trouble putting enough money together for his paints.
He was not the most socially adept person on the planet, and this led him to painful relationship issues.
So, how did he capture the world and reflect it back so uniquely?
He learned from his failures.
He questioned his abilities. He feared he would never achieve what he had set out to do.
Yet, he kept trying.
He found a support partner and sponsor in his brother Theo.
He actively studied the masters, including his contemporaries.
He followed his passion.
He moved to Paris, the hub of his artistic universe, then followed the light to Provence.
He spent a great deal of time in nature.
He didn’t wait!
Vincent van Gogh died at the age of 37.
It’s hard to imagine a world without his Starry Night or Sunflowers.
What if he had waited?
You may be thinking: “Hey, he was a genius, he was born that way. Not everyone can do something like that.” But you know what? You have your own unique genius. You have something in you that no one else has or will ever have.
So when you feel drawn to pursue a passion, go for it!
It may be scary, you may stumble and fall. (We all do!)
But if you strive to follow the “Vincent Path” — moving through the fear, practicing, experimenting, failing, trying again; and most importantly, starting now — your gifts will unfold and develop in the most delightful ways.
And then…the excitement and motivation will return.
This is fun!