Afraid to Begin
If you’ve sat under Dan Allender’s teaching for any length of time, you’ve likely heard something to this extent: better to be a fool in the eyes of the world than to be a coward who shies from the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness. Yet so often our fear—of re-entering our stories, of speaking hard truths, of risking the vulnerability of relationship—feels like the loudest voice in the room, and we find ourselves retreating from it. Here, Mandy Hughes offers a new approach: listening to our fear with a curiosity about the stories that formed it and the insights it might offer. A version of this post originally appeared at mandyhughescoaching.com.
Lately, I’ve been noticing this: I’m often afraid to begin.
Some months ago, I decided to end the familiar life I’d been building for years, relocate, and start something new. While this might sound scary (and it was), I felt mostly relieved, even thrilled. I knew I was pursuing a life that would allow me to be more free, more alive—more me. Despite the many endings I faced, I was ready to say goodbye.
On the other side of goodbye, though, I’m learning that embracing my new life each day takes just as much courage as letting go of my old one. While I know what I must leave behind, I don’t much know what lies ahead. The truth is, I could fail. But just as scary—I could succeed. What would become of me then?
You see, lately I’ve been learning this: Though I’m prone to fear death, it’s the life I want that scares me most.
Have you ever been reluctant to take the first step toward the life you most want to live? Is it easier to keep choosing death in some way than to risk being fully alive?
If so, what do you do with your reluctance? What do you do with your fear?
As I’m longing to live but afraid to begin, I keep remembering this: The way to move beyond reluctance is not to eliminate fear but to listen to it.
The way to move beyond reluctance is not to eliminate fear but to listen to it.
In a world that prefers action, resolution, and destructive power (archetypically masculine virtues) to receptivity, nurture, and creative power (archetypically feminine virtues), it takes incredible courage to allow ourselves to be still long enough to listen to and learn from our fear. Instead, most of us are conditioned to overpower our inner resistance by means of sheer will and aggression. We’ve embraced the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” to such an extent that when our fear fights back (it turns out fear can be willful and aggressive, too), we inevitably surrender to one of two false conclusions: “There’s something wrong with who I am” or “There’s something wrong with wanting more.” Either way, we relinquish our power. And that’s how our fear overcomes us.
But here’s the truth: You’re made to be you, and you’re made to want a life worth dying for. If you’re reluctant to pursue the life you want, that’s because life can be scary. In fact, many of us have stories that reveal just how costly the pursuit of life can be. Yet it’s in listening to our fear that we uncover what keeps us bound to those stories and unable to embrace the person we’re made to be.
The truth is, your fear won’t transform when you treat it as an enemy. Your fear will transform when you treat it as a potential ally—an ally who holds the key to your freedom.
Can you imagine what might happen if you approached your fear with neither violence nor submission but with curiosity instead? What if you gave yourself permission to procrastinate long enough to learn from the part of you that’s holding you back?
You see, our fear can teach us what needs to happen before we can take our next step. Our fear can tell us what agreements we’ve made that keep us bound to our old life. Our fear can show us what promise we must break before we can make any new ones. Our fear, however misguided, can actually guide us forward.
As you pursue the life you want, does a part of you get in your way? Listen to it. You might be surprised where it takes you.