We cannot wait until fear is no longer present in order to decide to make self-responsible choices. We must accept that fear will be a part of the process of change, usually in the form of a menacing or seemingly insurmountable threat. We must not be surprised if we have self-sabotaging thoughts or when we think things like, “You’ll be sorry if you go through that door! You’re just going to fall flat on your face and there won’t be anybody to pick you up or save you.”

I do not believe that reassurances work in face of these threats; and if they do provide some relief, their effect is likely short-lived. Rather, the best way to proceed in face of these threats is to acknowledge the fear and look them straight in the eye and declare, “I am willing to risk it. I might fall and fail and I might not. And if I do, I am committed to getting up again.”

We can remind ourselves of the old Japanese proverb, “fall down seven times, stand up eight.” We can remember that we’ve fallen and failed before, yet we are still here and because we’ve gotten up in the past. And once we’ve addressed fear directly, we can walk right past its empty threats. Choosing to do otherwise is to store away a part of life. It is essentially choosing hiding out over stepping into life.

We are often told that the joys we will encounter will be well worth the risk of pain. Such statements can provide us with encouragement and hope, especially when told to us by others who’ve gone before us, those who have chosen the path of wholehearted living. We might come to believe that if they did it, we can too. But ultimately, nobody can guarantee that stepping into the experience of life will be worth the risk. Even though I still struggle a great deal with this myself, I like to remind myself that “going down with the ship is better than never sailing at all.” But I cannot know that for you.

Thus, your level of involvement in the direction of your life is entirely up to you. Your choices will inform a great deal of what will happen to you in your life. In evaluating whether and how to “step into” it you might ask yourself, “Am I prepared to remain in charge of my choices and responses, even in the event of a complete loss of control?” If you can honestly say yes to this inquiry, heed this advice from psychotherapist and author Thom Rutledge:

Make a commitment to yourself that you will accept full responsibility for the choices that will need to be made, that as the captain of the ship, you will not abandon the bridge even in the roughest of waters.

A “yes” response to the above inquiry also necessitates a commitment to look within for the lessons of responsibility — to face the fears that you’ve denied, tucked away, and avoided over the years. For many people, the willingness to look inside and with humility, honesty, and clarity is one of the greatest obstacles to courage.

To live a courageous and responsible life is to possess a life-long commitment to facing the greatest sources of human anxieties and fears including death, meaninglessness, and condemnation. This may seem like a tall order — and it is, but it can be done by each and every one of us.

In closing, I would like to remind you all of another challenge that often comes up in this work: confusing self-hate and self-condemnation for self-responsibility. In the words of Thom Rutledge:

If we truly desire to be self-responsible people, we must be willing and able to sort through the baggage we all carry, learning to let go of self-blame for those things we had no control over and learning to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we have made along the way…

Genuine, contentious self-forgiveness is not self-indulgence, and it isn’t the practice of making excuses for ourselves. To forgive ourselves is to make sure we learn the lessons, then let go of the excess baggage, and then to move on. I like to think of it as traveling light.

Practice Exercises:

– Imagine that you are trapped in a room. There is a door in one of the walls, but it is closed. You have no idea what is on the other side, but you do know that it is an opening that will definitely lead you out of your present captivity. What do you think and feel? What do you do?

– What risks in your life have you been avoiding for some time that you are now willing to face? How do you feel about these risks? 

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