What Is Your Greatest Fear?

If you asked me, "What is your greatest fear?", I would need to spend some time thinking about it before I could give you an answer. To be honest, I don't spend much of my time or energy worrying or living in fear of what "might happen". But for sake of discussion, let's say someone posed this question to me. I have a bit of an imagination, and I'm a scientist. I can think of scary chemical warfare-type scenarios or slow, meticulous ways that a person could be tortured, dismembered, or driven to insanity via pharmaceutical intervention. All those things make for interesting cinema, but really, is it worth fearing these things? Are you an international espionage expert that alters national politics and global economies with your swinging-between-buildings action-packed missions? No. So let's not go there.

So what do you fear? I mean really fear. Most of us answer this question in groups of people with a semi-true statement that isn't overly personal. We don't want to reveal too much vulnerability--at least not publicly. I do the same thing. Among friends, I would say I fear things like snakes, long lines, and having my digital identity stolen. 

I fear snakes because they can be very fast and very poisonous. One blink and my bloodstream could be infiltrated by cardiotoxin from such slithering monsters as Naja mossambica mossambica. 

Then there are long lines. My worst character trait is probably impatience. Now that I have a smartphone, at least I can get something worthwhile accomplished while waiting for someone to pay with a hand-written check (in whose minds it is still 1982). But I still hate lines. I see them as monsters that suck time right out of your life (and remember, time is your most valuable asset). I will leave a store empty-handed before waiting for thirty minutes in a line.

Then there is identity theft. Scary stuff. We can all do things to protect ourselves, and we can even go so far as to get identity protection (essentially insurance); but regardless of how you insulate yourself, we're all vulnerable to the freelance genius hackers that lurk among the networks of the world (aka The Internet). My only consolation is that eventually they will get caught, tried, have their crimes dismissed, and get jobs at the FBI (if you haven't seen it, watch "Catch Me If You Can").

Now that I've rambled about socially acceptable fears, let's get back to the story line. Why am I talking about my worst fears? Because I haven't told you my worst fears. My worst fears are based, not on the amount of emotional response they elicit in me and others, but rather on the likelihood that my fear will actually happen. In other words, I fear things that are likely to happen more than I fear things that are unlikely. I'm not an insurance analyst, but I can do some observation and calculation and figure out that most things people are afraid of will most likely never happen to them. That's a fact. All the while they are worrying about these unlikely things, they are allowing the likely fears to manifest themselves and turn their lives into something they never intended.

Find somebody who is not happy with their life. Ask them how they got there. Did they wake up one day and decide to ruin their dreams and thwart their goals? No. They just ignored their dreams or were too lazy to chase their goals. And their fears consumed them right there on their couch while they watched their TV. 

My greatest fear is...

Hating my life.

It can happen to any of us. You can be rich and hate your life. You can be poor. You could be beautiful, handsome, muscular, or ugly, smelly, and atrophied. You can be a drug addict or an attention addict. It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, or what career you've chosen--you can end up loathing each day as it comes.

Are you bored with your life? You might say you hate it, and you might not. Perhaps your life is just ho-hum, yawn, blah-zeh-blah. Is there anything you can do? I think there is. I am not an expert on your life. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that nothing in this post is packaged as "advice to you". I am not giving you seven steps to a better life or ten easy ways to reinvigorate your mojo. 

I am about to tell you things I have done to remedy boredom and mediocrity in my own life; but I also have to deflect credit and tell you God has had more of a role in orchestrating my life than I have. I have sought at every turn to seek His purpose and His will. And guess what? He weaved together something far better than I could have conjured up. So for you that are not Christians, I suppose you will find this post somewhat uninteresting--unless of course you are interested in having the Mind that built the laws and matter of the universe synthesizing the core features of your life.

Here are things I have done to avoid my worst fear--hating my life.

#1 Attempting things I thought I could not do.

Everyone has opinions about you. Your parents, your siblings, your friends, your enemies, and everyone in between thinks they have an inventory on what you are capable of. I'm not mocking the idea that your close friends and family know you. Often these people can provide you with valuable insight and guidance. And then there's you. You have some idea what you're capable of, but my experience has been that it's healthy to attempt things just outside of you "Sure, I can do that" range. Sometimes you have to take some risk in life and sign up for something that you are pretty sure you can't do. It might put a knot in your stomach. It might keep you up a few nights and make your heart pound so hard you can't think straight; but these things make life zestier--trust me.

Several examples come to mind in my life. I was pretty sure I could not graduate college as a Premed major, but I signed up anyway. I wanted to see what would happen. I did not have an education degree, but I signed up to be a teacher. It was a little intimidating, but only good things came of that. Then there's graduate school. I was very uncertain about whether I had what it takes to get a Ph.D. It's a scary road, but things turned out well. I'm not saying these choices were random. I chose them because I believe I had some skills in those areas, but they were all a little scary.

#2 Following passions rather than convenience.

I have always loved certain things. I know what those things are, but there were times in my life when I thought about listening to the boring crowd. These are the people that act like they have it all together but secretly despise their lives. Their advice is something like, "Take the sure thing" or "Don't do anything 'stupid'". In other words, don't try to become a professional athlete or make it to the Olympics. Instead, just stay in your home town and run the family business. Marry the person you were expected to marry. Live where everyone else wants you to live. Just make everybody happy--except you.

Too often I have seen people make choices based on "not rocking the boat". They pick things that seem convenient. I'm not saying I've never done this! No, I have. But I think those were mistakes. The things in my life I am most excited about happened because I went out on an adventure and did stuff I had never done before, and neither had anyone in my family. It's fun. 

What type of passion? For me, science is the big one. I knew what I wanted, but some people were like, "Teaching science isn't going to make you much money." Gee, thanks. I never even thought about that. Then the boring crowd is like, "Graduate school? What do scientists even do? Will you even get a real job when you graduate?" Nope. Scientist don't get real jobs. Thanks for your input. Please see #5.

#3 Involving myself in causes greater than myself.

If you lack purpose in your life, you can succeed at many things and still feel empty. As a Christian, my greatest cause is to exalt God and point people to how awesome He is. That is my cause. I have involved myself in many venues over the years to perpetuate this cause. I make no apologies. I have no regrets. These time investments were made for eternity.

It adds a new dimension to my life to know that my life is not just about the money I earn, the number of children I have, or the place I end up living. It's not just about me, and not even just about my family. It's about the legacy left behind, the influence I have on the next generation, and the impact I have on humanity. I will never settle for the excuse that "One person can never really do that much." History says otherwise.

"Oh Dan, you're being silly thinking you're going to alter the course of humanity." First of all, I didn't say I would--I said I would not shy away from the opportunity to do so. The man I was named after was the prophet Daniel who wrote the book of, you guessed it, Daniel. Daniel was an amazing man that lived under the rule of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. He faced many difficult situations, and I am nothing compared to his example; but that one man changed that entire kingdom. At that time, Babylon was the world power, and Daniel really rocked the boat. Why is the USA different? Tell me.

#4 Changing things.

If you find your life getting crusty and stale, change something. You've heard it before, haven't you? The definition for insanity: performing the same things the same ways and expecting different results. I'm paraphrasing of course, but you get the idea. If you don't like your physical condition, do your best to change it. If you don't like the cuisine at your house, take some initiative to change it.

Recently I made a change to my schedule. I was feeling stuck in a routine that was not what I wanted. I had things I wanted to do more often and more consistently, like exercising and reading the Bible. What did I do? On purpose (that's typically how good change happens), I wrote out a new routine for myself and decided to start it on the upcoming Monday. As it turned out, that week was immensely busy and out of the ordinary, but I still stuck to my new routine. If you give up and make excuses when things get sticky, you won't win. Mediocrity will win.

#5 Ignoring people.

Every person who has ever done anything wonderful, amazing, or worthwhile has been ruthlessly criticized from many angles. Criticism comes from blood relatives, "friends", coworkers, the janitor, the television, the preacher (not mine, just being generic here), the "little Miss Perfect", and the person who hates the fact that you're succeeding because they are too afraid to even try. So what should you do with this criticism?

First, read "Coping With Critical People". Don't rip them to shreds or put them on your hit list. After succeeding, these are the people you ought to be trying to help. Remember #3. It's not all about you; and if you're not involved in helping people, you're not worth your weight in mud.

Don't hate your critics, but it is perfectly acceptable to ignore them. Getting all stirred up about their rants actually adds validity to their claims. Most criticisms do not even justify a response. Just keep moving.

#6 Focusing on what really matters.

This might seem a little redundant, but I had to include it. I wrote this post with the risk of sounding like a self-help guide to a happier, healthier life. That's not what I'm going for. I want to share what I've learned, both from my good and bad choices.

I have learned that you can't do everything. You just can't. If you're into Bible stories, recall the advice that Moses' father-in-law gave him after Moses started leading the Hebrew people through the wilderness. His advice was basically, "You can't do this on your own. You need to delegate some of this work and focus solely on what you need to be doing."

It's good advice. You cannot take on every cause. You cannot solve every problem. You must focus yourself on the causes, issues, and tasks that you believe are MOST important. The rest can be handled by someone else. This isn't passing the buck. It's admitting that the worldwide buck is too heavy for you to carry alone!

Sometimes this gets tricky, and I'm not telling you what your priorities ought to be. That's up to you. If you're a Christian, it's between you and God. But somewhere in your life you have to clean up and consolidate. Your finite lifespan can only be spent on a few things--choose wisely. 

Once chosen, your priorities will provide you some relief from the "I have to save the world all by myself" syndrome. If your priorities are focused and achievable, you can feel a sense of accomplishment and success when you take care of them well. 

Priorities can be confusing to us. Beware of mistaking priorities as being related linearly. When you say family is more important than your career, realize that sometimes you have to focus on your career for the sake of your family! If you say God is more important to you than your family, remember that part of pleasing God is nurturing and loving your family! It's not a one-dimensional relationship between your priorities, it's three-dimensional. They all fit together into a cohesive structure; but they build upon each other, so ignoring the "higher" priorities will always cause the subsequent priorities to suffer.

#7 Making new friends.

One of the best ways to ensure stagnation in your life is to keep the same group of friends, particularly those that are encouraging you to maintain the status quo. But let me be clear, I'm NOT saying you should be mean to your friends and tell them they're not good enough to be part of your new awesome life you plan to create. That's a great way to ensure you have no friends, ever, anywhere. I'm just saying make new friends. Get some new perspectives. Hear some new ideas to keep your brain fresh. 

I'm not trying to convince anyone to ditch their current friends, unless of course your friends are morons. But for me, new friends have always been a great way for me to learn new things and keep my life interesting.


My worst fear is living a life that's boring, a life without purpose, and ultimately a life that doesn't matter. You and I have a lot in common. We have all the same choices to make. I'm not done. Nope, I'm 30. I have many years ahead of me; we'll see if I take my own advice.

Image credits:
Fear knob image from http://modernreject.com/2012/04/my-greatest-fear/
Snake bit image from http://www.thefinestwriter.com/blog/top-5-greatest-fears/
"Catch Me If You Can" movie image from http://hirenj.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/catch-me-if-you-can/

Legal Stuff:
Catch Me If You Can is a film under copyright of DreamWorks Pictures (www.dreamworksstudios.com)

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