I was thirty-six years old and seven months pregnant when my father was diagnosed with cancer. A brilliant physician who valued certainty and comfort, my father raised me to pursue the same values. Like him, I was a skillful and intelligent physician who had become a full partner in a busy medical practice so I could guarantee myself job security. I had purchased a comfortable ocean-view house in San Diego, and I invested in my future by stocking away money in a retirement account. I was pregnant with my first child and had already started saving for her college fund. I had a comfortable marriage with a husband who was faithful and kind and a comfortable relationship with my family of origin. I had done everything I could to maximize the certainty and comfort in my life, and by all outward appearances, I was living the American dream.
Then my fifty-nine year old father got diagnosed with cancer and was given three months to live. Sure, we all know we’re going to die, but in that moment, I encountered my own mortality as if for the first time. What if I had only three months to live? Would I still want to live the life I was leading? I was shocked to realize that the answer was a resounding “Hell no!” I had crafted my life around what my father valued— a secure job, a stable, safe relationship, material comforts, money in a retirement account to guard against an uncertain future. But was I happy? Was my life brimming with joy, adventure, and a feeling aliveness? NO! This was not the life I wanted to live! For the first time, I understood this and was freed to claim my own life.
I began to wonder what was really true for me. What brought me joy? What didn’t? How would I live my life if I knew I only had three months to live? I was confronted with all the ways that my life was out of alignment with my truth, and this terrified me. But I was even more afraid of dying with song still left unsung within me.
My father’s death gave me the courage to begin living my own life.
I knew I would have to quit my job as a doctor, but I was afraid of how I would pay the bills. I knew I would have to leave my marriage, but I was afraid of hurting those I love and winding up alone. In the beginning, I woke up every morning scared of an uncertain future, but at some point something began to shift.
If you don’t know what the future holds, anything can happen. Even miracles. @Lissarankin
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Before my father’s death, fear had been running my life, but now I’m on a journey – and a journey that has required me to come into the right relationship with uncertainty. Learning to embrace uncertainty thrust me into a life wherein I have largely sacrificed the comfort I once felt when I bought into the illusion of certainty. But I have gained something far more precious, something I never could have anticipated back when I first made this commitment to live what’s true for me. I was beginning a journey, the same journey you are now invited to walk for yourself.
Is Fear Running the Show in Your Life?
Fear gets a bad rap in our culture. Fear is for sissies. We see it as a weakness, something shameful, something to hide. We dress up fear in its more socially-acceptable clothes—STRESS. But what is stress if not fear? We parade our stress as proof that we’re busy, productive, valuable people leaving our mark on the world. But for many people, being “stressed out” is just code for being really, really scared. When we’re stressed at work, are we not actually just afraid—of making mistakes, of disappointing our bosses, of harming someone we’re responsible for helping, of being fired, of setting boundaries with those we work with by unplugging from e-mail on weekends or turning off our cell phones after hours?
Many of us wear work stress as the most acceptable badge of honor, but we also liberally admit that relationships are stressful. Parents are stressed with the kids. Spouses are stressed by each other. We’re stressed-out about whether to get married or have kids or break up, and we’re really stressed when we’re hopelessly in love with someone who doesn’t love us back. Don’t we mean that we’re afraid our loved ones won’t stick around if they find out who we really are? Aren’t we truly afraid of betrayal, rejection, infidelity, divorce, getting our hearts broken, losing the ones we love, or winding up alone?
We’re stressed about money, too, but money is just a piece of paper that sits in the bank. Aren’t we really afraid of the loss of power, comfort, and safety we think money provides, afraid we won’t be able to pay the rent, keep a car, or have enough of a safety net? Fear is sneaky, and it shows up in all kinds of disguises, but until you see it for what it is, it’s hard to be in a healthy relationship with fear.
Not sure if fear is running your life? Here are twenty signs that it may be.
20 Signs That You’re Letting Fear Lead
- You’re always trying to score the next achievement.
- You give your power away.
- You find yourself striving in vain for an impossible-to-achieve standard of perfection.
- You settle.
- You say yes when you mean no.
- You say no when you mean yes.
- You distract yourself (with overeating, overdrinking, overworking, etc.)
- You procrastinate.
- You live in denial of your truth.
- You get paralyzed into inaction.
- You’re a control freak.
- You fail to speak up.
- You feel depressed and anxious.
- You get sick.
- You experience dark nights of the soul.
- You keep things superficial and avoid real intimacy.
- You sacrifice self care.
- You feel like something is missing but you can’t tell what.
- You blame, shame, and judge others (and yourself.)
- You feel lonely.
The Journey from Fear to Freedom
So how do you stop letting fear run your life so you can find the freedom on the other side? Our quick fix culture would love to promise you a magic bullet, but I’m not going to even try to pretend I have a quick prescription for you. What I can say is that it’s not about curing fear – it’s about letting fear cure YOU. In other words, it’s about coming into right relationship with fear and uncertainty, mining fear for all its gold, learning how to discern which fears are “true fears” meant to protect you and which are “false fears” that exist only in your imagination, and then choosing to let Something Larger than fear (call it God, your soul, or your highest self) take the lead.
Until then, fear not. There is a whole realm of freedom on the other side of the soul cage that fear keeps us trapped within. I trust that you will embark upon this journey when you are ready, and when you do, you will participate in the shift in consciousness that is sweeping our planet, helping us all wake up to the truth of who we are so we can serve out our purpose and uplift this planet. We need you and your bravest self. So take the plunge. We’re all here to walk this journey with you.
Lissa Rankin, M.D., New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine and The Fear Cure, is a physician, author, speaker, and founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, a training program for physicians and other health care providers. She is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual; it also heals the collective. Lissa also co-teaches teleclass programs about spirituality, such as Medicine For The Soul with Rachel Naomi Remen, MD and Coming Home To Your Spirit with Martha Beck, PhD. Read her blog and learn more at LissaRankin.com.
I wrote a whole book about choosing to let Something Larger than fear (call it God, your soul, or your highest self) take the lead: The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage As Medicine For The Body, Mind & Soul, but to get you started, I’ve created a whole guided meditation series of mp3s designed specifically to help you dissolve the fears that don’t serve you and help you boost your natural courage. You can get it free as part of the “Prescription For Courage Kit” at TheFearCureBook.com.