Fear is a complex emotion. Though traditionally seen as a negative feeling that makes us worried and unhappy, the truth is that fear takes many different forms. A fear of losing your job, for example, is wildly different to a fear of spiders. Indeed, horror is a genre of fiction specifically made for those who enjoy fear, who love the adrenaline of being scared. In that sense, fear is a positive emotion, something people like.
Of course, fear isn’t meant to be enjoyed. It serves as a natural warning, an instinct that tells you that danger is ahead. This is what makes it so powerful and so easy to give in to. It’s easy to trust fear, to think that it is always correct to take the cautious route. Sometimes, it is right. After all, instincts evolved for a reason.
But fear becomes a problem when it starts to dictate and negatively impact your life. Experiences and opportunities are so often there to be had but the fear of what could happen if it all goes wrong holds us back, leading to consequences which later come back to haunt you. These consequences are often long-term, with little in the way of immediate impact. In the short-term, this can trick us into thinking we’ve made the correct decision, until events that occur months or even years down the line show us the true cost of our decisions.
For example, after completing a course in Music Technology at college, I had the opportunity to go to university. I didn’t go and it wasn’t because I didn’t think I could hack it. Rather, it was down to a fear of the culture. As an introvert who doesn’t drink, isn’t particularly fun at parties and had never really fit in that well back in school, I was afraid of things like “fresher’s week” and the whole idea of going clubbing, getting drunk and whatnot. This, in turn, led me to assume I’d make no friends and I was afraid of being alone. The fear of the social culture that comes with university stopped me attending one and looking back, it’s a pretty pathetic decision.
There was also the case of my long-distance relationship. My ex is a German who, at the time, was living in the Netherlands. She was attending university there and we discussed the possibility of me moving there. It would finally take the distance out of the equation and we could start a new life living together.
But I didn’t go. Was it because I didn’t love her enough? Absolutely not. It was because I, like many English people, am monolingual and I didn’t know how I’d fare over there. I was afraid my lack of Dutch would prevent me from finding a job, hold me up when going shopping and would essentially render me useless when I got there. Furthermore, I was comfortable here. My family, my friends and the few social activities I do take part in are all here. Why would I leave that behind to go somewhere I’m not well-prepared for?
Well, here’s why: that relationship is dead now.
Make no mistake: fear is an important emotion. It holds its own amongst the pantheon of human feelings and a healthy amount of it is necessary even today; it stops us stepping out of the car to get a closer look at the lions at the West Midland Safari Park.
But the ending of my relationship was the first time I experienced a big consequence of living my life in fear. Remaining where I was “comfortable” finally came back to haunt me as it played a huge part in killing a relationship with a woman I dearly loved. This, plus the dull groundhog days of lockdown, made me realise that 80 years (ish) simply isn’t a long enough lifespan to allow fear to dictate my life.
For years I’ve felt too comfortable, with no real desire to leave. Now, however, there are new alarm bells going in my head, signalling a new, different fear: a fear that, come the end of my life, I won’t have lived it. The clearest change in my mindset is that I used to utterly adore my hometown and to an extent, I still do. But I’ve been here for 24 years now and I’ve seen every inch of it. On my latest walk it just hit me: I’m bored. I’ve done all I can here and I need to go somewhere else to discover new things.
This epiphany came too late to save my relationship, something I’ll always regret. Given the option now, I’d be moving to Maastricht at the earliest possible opportunity. But that doesn’t mean the lesson has to be wasted.
Right now, it is still far too early to do anything drastic; a pandemic is still going on and that is a legitimate thing to fear. But come the vaccine and a return to normality, I’ll be starting afresh. We all love to do the annual “new year, new me” shtick, but prior to now I never meant it. This time, however, a fog has lifted, a fog I never even knew was there. It’s time to stop living in fear and take a leap of faith. Maybe even two. I could go to Australia, a country I’ve been fascinated with since my earliest days. I could take singing lessons; I’ve always been too scared to do so in case my currently awful voice was mocked. I could write a book, which wouldn’t necessarily be a leap of faith but it’s a goal of mine and there’s no time like the present.
A few years back, the term “yolo” went viral. “You only live once” was what it stood for and it became a popular way of justifying stupid stuff people do in videos. But take away the meme factor and there is a message there. Yes, sometimes it’s good to err on the side of caution. But equally, sometimes you should step into the unknown. Living a life completely free of risk isn’t really living a life at all. It may not work but you’ll always be glad that you tried instead of regretting that you didn’t.
Don’t become regretful. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and take the advice of Emperor Palpatine.
Words by Benjamin Hobson
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