When you ask a child "what do you want to be when you grow up?" You're going to get answers like an astronaut, princess or train driver. Children don't think how realistic their answers are. The world is full of possibilities, and we can do and be whatever we want.
At some point, this gets pushed to one side as we're 'programmed'. I've heard many analogies about how we have an operating system, like a smartphone or laptop. And you know what? I think it's true. We come into the world shrink-wrapped and 'clean' in a neat white box (yes, I'm an Apple fan) but then get plugged in and receive regular 'updates' from parents, teachers etc. We end up learning to fear. We end up asking "But what if it goes wrong?"
Many people try to stay the same - in the same town, the same job, marry your high-school sweetheart, and assume they're able to minimise uncertainty by applying routine.
There is a comfort in the known, the predictable and manageable. It enables us to run on autopilot - to run familiar operating systems, to return to the previous analogy. But life is fluid and uncertain and things, people, places change from one day to another. We cannot take anything for granted.
But very often what's on the other side of the scary door is nothing to be feared - we would benefit from asking “What’s the worst that can happen?” more often. Regardless of the outcome, you'll be fine, you'll pick yourself up and dust yourself off or just, just maybe you'll grow more than you could have imagined.
Start small. Noone starts training for a marathon by running 42.195 kilometres on their first day. Once a week, do one thing that frightens you. Smile and say hi to your barista, go to that club or class you keep thinking about, phone a friend or relative you've lost touch with. There… was it that bad? As you progress and realise that the sky doesn't fall on your head, you'll get braver and stronger and not let the fear of the unknown define you.
Probably the biggest reason we fear to push our boundaries is we've been conditioned (read 'programmed') to fear failure. Think of a time a teacher put you on the spot in front of your classmates or you fluffed that last-minute pass that led to your team losing. We've probably all got a memory of when we found ourselves on the spot, intense embarrassment burning our cheeks and urging the ground to swallow us.
But take a look - you're still here right? Did you survive? Yes, you did.
But if something doesn’t work out, what if you reframe it not as a failure but ask: What can I learn from this? What am I grateful for? Once you realise the experience has made you wiser and stronger, the negative association of fear is gone.
It's also worth remembering the old adage that life's a journey, not a destination. That once you've 'solved' one problem, you'll have just created a whole new set of problems. By embracing change and growth, you'll find that problems don't go away but that they (hopefully) become 'better problems'. Or as Mark Manson in 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck' puts it:
"Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and necessary components to creating consistent happiness."
Here's to 2019 and Fear - may it make us all wiser and stronger this year.