This morning, as my car came to a screeching halt as someone haphazardly cut in front of my vehicle and then slammed on their brakes, I was jolted back to a childhood memory. I had been riding in the front seat of my dad’s silver Honda Accord; the same car in which I learned to drive and that I proudly drove to my first job as a lifeguard back in 2011. My dad had just turned into the bank near our house when a car pulled out directly in front of us. In remarkable speed, my dad slammed on the brakes and flung his arm across my chest. I was pushed back against the seat as everything else around us was pulled violently forward. We nearly escaped collision, and my dad’s impulsive reaction is something that has stuck with me since.
In that gut-wrenching moment, when our world came to an aggressively abrupt halt, my dad thought of nothing else but my safety. Later, as I was reflecting on the following years that consisted of slamming doors and tossing insults because he did something responsible like veto my request to travel alone to Chile at the age of 16, I came to the conclusion that he was only acting out of the same love that held me back against that passenger seat.
We have this innate instinct to protect the things we love, including ourselves.
Life itself is a risk. Navigating any environment, regardless of whether it’s within your neighborhood or beyond the borders of your country, is navigating risk. We spend so much time trying to avoid risk, to create a comfortable and predictable life, that we forget we are never safe. And no, I’m not saying this to make you question the locks on your front door or instill a sort of anxiety only cured with Xanax. The fact that we are constantly surrounded by risk should theoretically make us less afraid to face our fears.
The truth is, we face our fears every day, often times without even knowing it. There are risks we take every day simply because to not take them would eliminate the quality in our lives. It could be confrontations with your boss, dealing with an angry client, or even sending mass emails in fear of everyone knowing you misspelled the word, ‘Neccessary.’ To give into even our most insignificant fears would mean hiding away and resurfacing only for food (unless of course one of your fears is someone poisoning your oatmeal). There is a time and place for listening to fear, but the majority of the time we must ask it to step aside while we keep going.
We seem to use fear most often as an excuse to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
The first thought in my head when offered the opportunity to move to Asia, “What if something happens to my family and I can’t come back in time to say goodbye?” When I found myself stuck in a job I hated working for a man who made me feel like dirt, the only thought in my mind was, “I’m afraid of quitting because of what it would mean for my career, my finances, and my reputation.”
So where is the balance? When do fear and risk become courage and resilience? When is it okay to take the leap, instead of press ourselves back against the wall in hopes we might be swallowed by the surface? When do we begin to recognize our fears not as debilitating anxieties but as opportunities to better ourselves and the world around us? Well, I’m beginning to think that fear can either be a crippling exercise in merely coping with reality or an invigorating and challenging opportunity to change your perception of the world.
I’m starting to wonder if taking risks and facing fears is indeed loving yourself to the fullest extent.
Challenges help us grow, facing fear helps identify our strengths, and overcoming adversity shows us where our true passions lie. Saying yes to the adventures that scare us is a way to open ourselves and our ideas to the world. Take the leap of faith, trust yourself to handle the fall should it come, and continue to live a life driven by passion and curiosity rather than fear and doubt. This, is what I believe to be love.
The relationship I have with my parents is not a complex one to understand: My dad builds the parachute while my mom throws her hands up in the air and yells, “Jump!” While mom was busy preparing me for an invigorating social atmosphere and a jam-packed schedule full of adventure, my dad was quietly building my safety net. I grew up immersed in a constant balance of optimism and skepticism; an exhilarating thrill matched with a carefully constructed backup plan.
I only now realize that this perfectly measured recipe of success is what kept me together for all these years. So, Dad, I never truly thanked you for what you did that day. You showed me that love, at its core, is instinctual. But love is not to be misunderstood as safety. Love is maintaining faith in yourself despite adversities. Love is listening to your heart and sometimes following it into the depths of a challenge. Love means honoring your strengths and recognizing your passions to overcome barriers and achieve success. Love is not protecting yourself from failure, it is embracing the individual that results from such phenomenal growth.
Love yourself, but not at the cost of never becoming the strong and capable individual you’re meant to be.