This article is personal. It’s about my personal journey, how I harvested the fruit of fear, learned what I had to learn and started sowing love. I will detail how I initially slipped into acting through fear, the consequences I experienced and how I eventually moved out of fear and into love.
My hope with writing this is that readers will learn from my journey and come to appreciate that everything that happens to us, the positive and the negative, is for our personal evolution.
Let’s get to it.
How I Went From Love To Fear
As a child I wanted to be a writer. I don’t remember why I wanted to be a writer. But it was the answer I gave whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “A writer”, I would answer. I didn’t know what the writing process was, nor was I a huge bookworm. I read, but not a lot.
Then, one summer day when I was about eleven, my father took me on a trip to visit his childhood friend, Mr. Regular (not his real name). Mr Regular was a successful lawyer, he lived in a massive house in Ohio with his wife and two teenage sons. They were a kind and hospitable family.
I was astonished by Mr. Regular’s house. It was two stories tall, had a huge kitchen with marble countertops, a spacious basement with a video game station, a sauna, a fully equipped gym and, get this, an arcade! They had old-timey arcade games! And they had clap-on lights. They didn’t work too well, I’d clap and they’d ignore me most of the time. But I found it all to be sooo cool.
After visiting Mr. Regular in his Ohio home I became convinced I wanted to be a lawyer. If lawyers made enough money to own houses like that, I wanted to be one.
That was it, by the way. That was when I went from acting through love to acting through fear.
Why? Because even though I had no idea what being a writer entailed, it was what I wanted to do. The interest had emerged from within me. As opposed to the interest of being a lawyer, which I latched on to because of the potential material gain I could have when I followed such a career.
When you love, or to use another, lighter word, are genuinely interested in what you do, the activity itself is the reward. When you do what you’re interested in your drive is internal, as you do it more and more you get better and better at it, until you develop unique skills which only you have. When the drive is external, like money or status, no matter what you accomplish, you will never find satisfaction. Because satisfaction, love, starts within, not without. On top of never being satisfied, you won’t be as effective at learning and innovating in your chosen field, because you’ll lack that engine to propel you to new heights.
I didn’t want to be a lawyer for long, only a few years. But the seed of fear had been sowed. I was fully open to pursue the path of money over what genuinely interested me.
My mother grew up poor. So she wanted me to pursue a career which paid well; she wanted me to have a good job at a respectable company which gave me good benefits. That’s the path she followed to work her way out of poverty, so it was only natural for her to believe that the same path would work for me, her son.
Throughout my life my mother gently nudged me towards choosing a technical career. My father is a trained scientist and has done well for himself. Mom was convinced that I would be a great technical worker and that I would earn a good living. Meaning well, parents fill their children with their unlived dreams. That’s for another article.
All of these things, combined with the conditioning of school, led me down a path in which I didn’t develop my own interests much. From eight in the morning until 3 in the afternoon I just did as I was told. Then afterwards I’d do what I was told at home, when I did my homework.
I was good at that, following orders and jumping through hoops. I was a straight A student from junior high through college. I did so well and put so much effort into my schooling because I honestly believed I was being prepared to live a prosperous life of real success. “Real success” being the internal kind, the kind where you look at what you’ve achieved and are happy with your accomplishments.
Until I graduated from college. That’s when I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my professional life. This is serious. Humans are goal strivers; in order for us to be happy we need to feel like we are contributing members of a community. It’s built into us. We have evolved to serve. Not knowing how we can serve our community means being spiritually lost. Indiginous people have known about this condition for millennia, they call it “Soul Loss.”
I was disconnected from a part of myself.
This is when the seed of fear began bearing its fruit. I was about to start experiencing the exhausting demands of western adult life and I was completely unprepared for it.
As an undergraduate student, I had done scientific research in a molecular biology laboratory. It had bored me out of my mind, so I wasn’t good at it. But I believed that getting research experience would look good on my resume (another external validator), so I did it.
After I graduated from college, I knew scientific research bored me. But still, I insisted in testing out whether it was really me who didn’t like research or whether I had just been doing the wrong kind of research. Up until then I had one point of reference, undergraduate research. I needed another point to have something to compare it with. Makes sense (as a side note: this only makes sense if you’re dissociated from your inner life, which I talk about in this article. When we’re deeply aware of our internal life we are certain about the things we like and those we don’t, and act accordingly. No artifical “reference points” are needed.)
So after graduation I did a two-year stint in a government research lab in Maryland.
It bored me, too. So I was bad at it, too.
But still, I believed that if I could just find the right lab for me, filled with just the right people in just the right city, I would finally begin enjoying research and I would start producing work which satisfied my need to serve (see how I depended on the external world rather than the internal one?).
So I applied to graduate school. And was accepted by some great institutions. I chose to attend the most highly ranked university which had accepted me, it was in Los Angeles, California.
I was working towards my PhD in materials chemistry, working under a world-renowned and compassionate professor, with great friends and lab mates who came from everywhere in the world, in a vibrant city next to the Pacific ocean.
I had crafted my ideal situation.
Life is wise. It sometimes offers you exactly what you think you want so that when you reach out and take it, you realize it wasn’t what you wanted all along.
Research in California bored me, too. So I was bad at it, too.
I couldn’t focus. I didn’t care. I would wake up every morning dreading the rest of my day. The bus ride to the university felt like I was being driven to a prison; the gorgeous Californian sun was shining down on the world, and here I was spending the best years of my life encased in concrete, doing something I didn’t want to do.
But still I kept at it. I was afraid to leave. I would say things to myself like “I have chosen this path in life, so this is what I have to follow” or “My family and I have invested so much time and energy into this, I can’t fail now” or “What would I do if I leave? I have no other options. I’ll finish this and then do what I want.”
This is acting through fear. When we’re afraid we play to not fail. We don’t play to win. When we act through fear we can’t create anything new or good. Fear only allows to not lose what we have. It doesn’t allow us to grow.
I kept at this for two years.
Throughout that time I drank myself into a stupor regularly and smoked cannabis often. I had to numb myself from the dissatisfaction I felt with my life. Instead of directing my energies to creating new things which served others, I focused them on hedonism. I went on many dates with many wonderful and beautiful women. I couldn’t find satisfaction with myself, so I did my best to find it without.
That failed. Eventually, my fear-based choices paved the way to my lowest point. I fell right into it.
How I Went From Fear To Love
It was the best thing which could have happened to me. Seriously. If I hadn’t touched bottom I wouldn’t have started questioning my values, habits and choices. Our values (beliefs) are the map we follow through life, consciously but mostly unconsciously. Our life circumstances are the fruit of our values.
Every crisis comes with an opportunity. This is a cliche, but cliches have truth in them. It’s up to us whether we learn the lesson contained within each crisis or we turn sour and bitter at our perceived misfortune.
Only after I started questioning my values did I start unsticking myself from the molasses of my life. I would ask myself questions like “Is this what I want the rest of my life to be like? Permanent dissatisfaction with my work?” and “What will I even do with a PhD? No employment option for a PhD in materials chemistry seems remotely like something which would satisfy me.” and “How do I see my life if I project this existence five, ten or twenty years into the future? I saw myself, cranky, bitter and out of shape.”
Eventually, the answers to these questions, the simple and sheer logic of following what my emotions were telling me, led me to quit the PhD program. I made up my mind night one night, decided I would sleep on it, woke up the next morning, walked to my supervisor’s office and informed her of my decision.
She didn’t try to convince me otherwise, she could tell I was set on leaving and she told me so. To this day, I’m grateful for her choice to respect my decision. She might have been able to talk me into staying.
I left because only doom waited for me at the end of the path I was on. I left because I knew, I felt it in my guts, that there was “something” out there for me which I could be great at, which would harness my talents, passions and interests to serve others. Something which I could be happy doing, maybe not all the time, but at least some of the time, which would be more than what I was currently experiencing. Even though I had no idea what that “something” was.
The moment I chose that better something, in spite of the fear which relentlessly hounded me, was the moment the seed of love was planted. Love for myself, and belief that I could achieve my dream. Whatever it was.
Where Choosing Love Has Lead Me
I’m still here, caring for my plant every day. It’s a sapling now.
It was the best choice I ever made.
To our wealth and success.