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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Would You Do if You Weren't Afraid?

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

I love this quote from the book Who Moved My Cheese?. This little book presents, in simple terms, a guide to dealing with unexpected change and the fear of the unknown that often paralyzes us and keeps us from reaching our goals.

I usually don't let fear or the 'what ifs' deter me from doing something I want to do. When I was offered the opportunity to live and work in Moscow for 3-1/2 months, some people I know worried that I would be taking too much risk, that I would be beset by Gypsy children, or that something else terrible would happen to me. Sure, I had heard stories about Westerners being mobbed by Gypsy children; I know a guy to whom this happened. But I wasn't going to let the fear of something that might happen rob me of the chance of a lifetime. So I accepted the invitation and I had a great time. I had experiences few will ever have: working in the Russian Mission Control Center, visiting the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center and a space museum operated by one of the Russian space powerhouses and not open to the public. This wasn't just a 2-3 week business trip to Moscow, which I made both before and after the more lengthy trip. I actually lived in an apartment, shopped in local stores and talked with average Russians. I was careful and used common sense when I explored Moscow; I didn't walk alone at night, I walked with confidence, I kept my camera and money out of sight. And of course, the fact that I speak Russian increased my comfort level. If I had given in to the 'what ifs', I wouldn't have taken advantage of this great opportunity. And I would have missed so much.

Last September, while looking at houses on the Internet, I spotted a house in New Mexico that had everything I was looking for. I couldn't believe my eyes. After a hastily arranged 1-day trip to Albuquerque, I returned to California and a few days later made an offer on the house. My offer was accepted, and I soon found myself the owner of two homes. After an initial bout of panic at the thought of paying mortgages, insurance and property taxes on two properties, I realized that I was meant to own this house. It was just too perfect to pass up.

I didn't let fear stop me from pursuing my dream house. Although I had to postpone my retirement by six months, everything fell into place. I qualified for a 'buyout' offer and I was paid for more than 250 hours of unused vacation time. I had to dip into my savings, but when the dust settled and I finally sold my house in California, I had a nice bit of money to add to my savings. Best of all, I got the house I wanted in a place I love.

Perhaps the most notable thing I did despite my fear and the warnings of others was to adopt my daughter, at the time an 11-year-old orphan from Russia. I was single and had no other kids. I had no idea how I would raise a child, much less one from another country. There were times I questioned my sanity in adopting her. We went through some very rough patches for a couple of years. But I felt that we were meant to be together. We both knew it within a couple of days of our first meeting. So, despite serious fears on my part and misgivings from family and friends, I decided to proceed with the adoption. To my surprise, the adoption process that typically took 6 to 9 months took fewer than 4 months. I believe this was meant to be. Had I let my fear of the unknown or the 'what ifs' hold me back, I would not now be sharing my life with my beautiful, sweet, kind daughter.

There was one time when I let fear hold me back. I wanted to become a veterinarian, but my fear of the required math and science courses kept me from even trying. That is a decision I have always regretted.

How many opportunities, how much happiness, how many new experiences, do we miss out on because we let our fear control us? I don't make major decisions on a whim. I do a lot of research, and I give these decisions a great deal of thought. I gather facts, figures and information. I ask questions. I certainly consider the possible downsides and pitfalls. I listen to my gut as well. What does my intuition tell me? Then I make an informed decision. One friend has said she enjoys watching me work through everything to reach a decision, and she is impressed by the speed with which I decide on something. I never set a deadline for myself; I decide when it feels right. If saying 'yes' doesn't feel right, I don't proceed.

I don't let fear rule my life. It bothers me when others dwell on the 'what ifs' and things that could go wrong. I can't worry about everything that might happen. If I did that, I would be paralyzed with fear and inaction. I would miss wonderful opportunities. I would be too afraid of life to actually live.

So ask yourself, What would you do if you weren't afraid? Allow yourself time to reflect on this question, and on your answer. Life is short, too short to waste it in fear.