Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
- Mark Twain
I saw this quote today on the blog of a classmate of mine who died of cancer this week. Her blog chronicles the struggle of her last months. I cried reading it, remembering how vulnerable we all are, how fragile life is, how we can't take life for granted, and how 45 is neither old nor young. It is an age where mortality becomes a reality. We have to watch our cholesterol levels, accept our limitations, get regular breast exams, and get treated like old fogeys by our teenage children.
Somehow I am always collecting quotes to remind myself why fear can't be allowed to rule our behavior. I have let my shyness or fear rule me many times. Opportunities arise, I hold back, and the opportunity becomes a regret.
It's usually in relation to doing something publicly or calling attention to myself. Those things take a strong push of determination, and sometimes I can't do it.
Once, a favorite band of mine, Acoustic Junction, played at a party I attended, and the bandleader asked me if I wanted to sing my favorite song, "Desire," onstage with them. Yes, I wanted to! It could have been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. But I said no, because I was afraid I'd forget some words, miss musical cues, look stupid, be embarrassed.
Here is a quote I heard around that time and wrote down in my journal. Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who has studied cultures over the world and throughout time, says the secret to a good life is, "Follow your bliss." I didn't take it to heart at the time. Pithy quotes can't teach the way experience can.
There were times I didn't let fear rule me and that resulted in remarkable experiences and memories that I can file away and ruminate on someday when I'm an old lady.
I was in a couple of plays, for example, in Garberville back when Pure Schmint Theatre staged productions regularly. I was so scared, and waiting in the wings before going onstage, I really thought I might have a heart attack. But I survived and now I get to say I've done it. I know the feeling of stage lights and the dark, breathing presence of the audience.
The Indie was like that. Although it was my idea and I rounded up interested, capable people, I never envisioned myself running the operation. I just wanted a decent local paper I could report for. After the first issue, I wasn't even involved.
But after the second issue, the guy in charge walked away. I remember someone came over to my office at Trees where I worked and told me it was all over unless I came back and was in charge. There was a moment when I stood at a crossroads, walk away or give the project my all. I had to conquer my fear to be in charge of the newspaper, because I had little experience, no training and had never owned a business.
That experience was a mixed blessing, because as a single mom, I really wasn't capable of giving the project enough time. The paper was more demanding than two children, and many times I have looked back and wished I had just walked away. Nevertheless, the Indie is something I can look back on with a sense of accomplishment. Here is a quote I had on the wall of the office then:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Nelson Mandela is another person who put into words this struggle and the reminder why it must be overcome to have a full life:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.