Feeling afraid lately? Maybe you’re faced with a choice that seems risky, but you know it’ll get you what you want. Maybe you feel like you’re on the edge of something and you must decide whether to jump forward or retreat. If you jump, there’s no telling where you’ll land. But if you retreat, you’ll be right back where you started, dreaming about how things could be different.
So what do you do? Do you jump? Do you take the risk?
To make this decision easier, it may help to know that there really are no risks in life.
See, all paths lead to the same destination. Knowing the end result means that everything between now and then is just filler. Pretty amazing, beautiful, fun, and wonderful filler, but filler nonetheless. Sometimes our chosen pathways expedite our excursion, and sometimes we’re able to cruise for 70, 80, 90 years or more. Either way, we all end up in the same place eventually. So really, there’s nothing we can do here on this lovely Earth to jeopardize our journey.
Not pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down? Well then, let’s dig in.
All Drains Lead to the Ocean
Let’s begin by pondering our destination: death.
It’s important to think about death. Not in a morbid way, though. It’s not helpful to think of the drama, sadness, and fear that often surrounds death. And it’s not helpful to get too deep into what will happen when we die. For all we know, death might not even be a destination. It might just be another stepping stone on a grander journey. But since we have no idea what happens, it honestly doesn’t matter so much.
However, to cover our bases, it seems logical to be a decent person in case our Earthly existence determines our return or another fate. So, believe whatever you want about the afterlife and how to live accordingly (e.g., praying, being compassionate, working hard, showing gratitude, etc.). That doesn’t have to change.
But as far as what to do with our lives – what careers we pursue, what ambitions we follow, and what paths we venture down – it’s helpful to remember that the end result of any path we take is always the same. No matter what relationship we start or stop, no matter what work we choose, no matter what city or country we move to, no matter how we style our hair, no matter the food we eat or music we enjoy – we all face the same fate.
We Create Our Own Paths
Just like any problem that needs a solution, it’s helpful to work backward from the anticipated result. The destination, then, becomes more of a starting line than an endpoint.
Therefore, when we’re confused about or afraid of all the possible paths and actions we can choose, let’s first use death as the starting line and visualize our lives in reverse. Let’s track our steps backward from that point until now.
Go ahead and do it. Close your eyes or stare at a blank wall and visualize your life from the end til now.
What do you see? Do you see happiness and love? Laughter and fun? A prosperous career and comfortable lifestyle? A house, a beach, a family, or a farm?
Or do you see sadness and suffering? Anger and resentment? Loss and bankruptcy? Boredom and captivity?
Whatever you see, remember that you’re creating that vision. And though it all hasn’t happened yet, it certainly will so long as you continue to visualize and believe it to be true.
See, we often forget that we create our own paths in life. Of course, there are external circumstances outside our control that may whisk us around without our consent. But that’s just part of the gig. We still get to decide whether those circumstances define us and dictate our path. We still get to choose whether those circumstances have any influence on our journey whatsoever.
So why not visualize a lovely excursion through life where landslides and boulders, broken bridges and rainstorms, and bug bites and bee stings are all just part of the journey? Why not see life as a wonderful experience, where no one particular path is better than another, and no adversity, thought, feeling, or external circumstance will keep you from reaching your destination?
The reality is nothing can keep you from your destination. You’re headed there anyway. So, why not visualize and believe in a pleasant pathway between now and then?
Freedom Can Cause Suffering
One of the challenges to envisioning a happy, meaningful life, despite its temporal nature, is our freedom to choose. We often focus on choices that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. And we often forget to focus on our sincerest values and true nature.
Additionally, our freedom to choose how we think, feel, and act sometimes yields undesirable outcomes. Sometimes we feel disappointment and fear instead of joy and love. And sometimes our thoughts are so sour that our behavior hurts people and damages our shared environment.
But our freedom doesn’t give us a license to abuse anyone or anything. It doesn’t give us a green light to be the worst versions of ourselves. Our freedom to create and choose our pathway through life does not give us the right to inflict harm. And it doesn’t mean that our choices don’t matter.
Though we have the freedom to choose, we also have the enormous responsibility to make choices that reflect love and reverence for life.
Though we all have different beliefs about our existence and our role here on Earth, our ultimate responsibility is to not exploit the freedom we are granted.
Suffering results from the exploitation of our freedom. And when we let our gremlins (the egotistical part of ourselves) take over, they denounce our responsibility and desire to destroy the freedoms of others. Since they are manifestations of fear, they try to control everything and everyone around them so that they feel comfortable and assured that they are the most important creatures ever to exist. They want to be on top because they feel safer there looking down on everyone and everything. So, they leverage their granted freedom to their benefit and to the detriment of others. Yet, they don’t realize that they shoot themselves in their big fat feet by exploiting their grand gift of life.
Therefore, when you’re contemplating your life and the decisions you have to make, please know that so long as you keep your gremlins in their place and recognize your responsibility to not exploit your freedom (i.e., intentionally inflict harm), then you really can’t make a wrong choice.
What We Really Fear
Okay, so you can definitely make dumb choices in life. Like trying to shove 20 popsicles in your mouth at once or seeing how far you can shove a penny up your nose. Some thoughts and actions are just nonsensical (and can even jet-stream our journey if we’re not careful).
But aside from senselessness and exploiting our freedom, there’s no path you can possibly choose that will result in anything but death.
So then, why are we so afraid? If the end result is known, and we intentionally make sensible and responsible choices, why is it so hard to choose?
Here’s what I think:
I don’t think we’re really afraid of death. And I don’t think the length of our lives matters too much. It’s how our lives stack up relative to other people’s lives that takes precedence in our minds.
We care what people think. We care about our status. We care about how much we have.
We let those gremlins influence our thinking. And they tell us that we need to be better than other people, have more than other people, and be perceived by other people in particular ways.
And so, we fear rejection. We fear being unimportant. We fear that our lives might be meaningless unless other people acknowledge us and what we’ve done.
But that’s all silly nilly thinking. That’s our gremlins talking. That’s not love and appreciation. And that’s certainly not helpful thinking if we actually want to do something meaningful with our lives.
There Is Only One Risk in Life
Please know that there are no real risks in life. If you are a decent person with no desire or intention to inflict harm, there is nothing so horrible you could do that would result in anything else but death. Death is going to happen. It’s going to happen to all of us. And so, it doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks of you or the choices you make.
Don’t use death or a fear of rejection as an excuse to not chase your dreams, work hard, take chances, try new things, and make mistakes. Don’t use them as an excuse for needing to make the “right choices” at the “right time.”
Just make the choice. Do the work. Take the action. If things don’t go where you thought they might, change them. Learn to be graceful in that change, but don’t use fear as an excuse not to change.
As Gill from Finding Nemo once wisely said, “All drains lead to the ocean.” Whether you take a calm, known pathway or a rocky and wild ride – it doesn’t matter. People will probably judge you no matter what road you choose. And you’re going to die eventually, regardless if you care what people think of you.
The only real risk in life is not taking any risks. Not living. Not trying. Not choosing.
So, why not go for it? Hop on a different path. Give yourself the opportunity to evolve. Learn more. Love more. Appreciate more. Feel freer.
There are no risks in life. You got this.