Increasingly, our society is riddled by a sense of pervasive fear. We are afraid to fly, especially if the other passengers look different than we do. We are afraid of trusting our banks or financial advisors with our money, lest they put it into a vehicle that serves to increase their wealth and not ours. We worry about the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Each decade seems to bring a new realization that what we once thought was healthy is actually carcinogenic or promotes heart disease. So I was taken by a little book, written by Gerald Livingston, MD, a former military psychiatrist who served in Viet Nam, entitled The Thing You Think You Cannot Do: thirty truths about fear and courage.
One of Livingstone’s “truths” is that “life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
As I considered whether I could accept that as one of my truths, I remembered a time in high school when I was devastated after losing an election that I really thought I would win. I was involved in an international organization and had served successfully as the vice president of my city’s chapter. In my mind, I was the most qualified person to become the next president of our chapter. I couldn’t believe when they announced the winner – and it wasn’t me! It felt as if my work from the past year had not been valued – that it meant nothing to the people who voted for my opponent. I felt rejected and completely humiliated and spent the entire night wanting to crawl into a hole and give up.
To this day, I’m not sure where it came from, but something in me wasn’t about to do that. There was more work to be done and other opportunities to consider – the world was definitely bigger than the city I lived in. Knowing this allowed me to look for other situations where I could continue to be involved and useful. One month later I ran and was elected to an even bigger office, in which I was able to coordinate the efforts of 4000 girls in 8 states and 4 Canadian provinces. Together, we volunteered thousands of hours at prenatal care centers and made a real difference in the lives of so many people who needed our help. For me, personally, this was one of the grandest years of my life – I stepped over my fear and was rewarded with a year of incredible friendships, the experience and excitement of planning and executing a program on a huge scale, and the satisfaction of knowing that we did something really good in the world.
So my question is…what are you afraid of? What would you do if that fear weren’t there? I urge you to use that dream to build your courage and watch your own world expand. Think big – the world is in tremendous need of so many acts of kindness and assistance.