I stood in front of a room full of undergraduate students hearing myself ramble through my introduction on the first day of our Personal Leadership in the University class at the University of Minnesota. I heard myself tell them about being a writer and an as-yet unpublished novelist. I heard myself talk about being a social entrepreneur, having created a career teaching the very thing that saved my life: writing. I heard myself talk about my teaching experiences over the past decade, and I may have even heard myself talk about being a mother of two children. But I’m not sure.
The truth is, I don’t know exactly what I talked about in my introduction because while I was standing in front of that room, I was experiencing an intense wave of nervous fear in front of 26 students, all eyes on me, on my and their first day of class.
What I didn’t tell them was that I have never taken a “leadership” class in my entire life, nor had I ever taught one. I didn’t say I was stepping on the pathway of this journey for the first time with them. And I certainly didn’t tell them that I really had no idea what I was doing, or where this path would take me.
Though this particular situation was new to me, this feeling of standing at the edge of myself, at the edge of my comfort zone, the winds of fear and uncertainty and the Unknown whipping around me, was not new. I’ve been there before, dozens of times, in dozens of rooms.
In fact, it has been on the shoulders of discomfort and fear that I have built my career and my life.
I grew up a blue-collar kid in a white-collar world. My house stunk of cigarette smoke and broken dreams. As I grew, I built wings with the strength I earned from the struggles I had experienced. With pen and paper, I lifted myself out of that situation and decided I would always follow my heart, no matter what.
The problem is, with love comes fear. They are the right and left hands of almost every decision we make:
We love to travel, but we fear if we will miss out on career opportunities.
We love our boyfriends or girlfriends, but fear they will not love us back.
We love racing, but we fear we will lose.
We love to create, but we fear we do not know how.
If we make the decision to follow what we love and step into the landscape of our dreams, we must know that we will meet fear along the way. And if we are to continue on this journey of the soul and spirit, we must make friends with fear. Because bravery does not exist without fear, and if we choose safety, to remain within the cocoon of what feels comfortable, we will never know the full extent of our truth and power. We will never know what it feels like to have reached beyond ourselves to see exactly what it is we are made of.
So the question to continually ask ourselves is, which voice are we following? Are we following love or fear? Are we leaning into life or away from it?
Though fear is uncomfortable, safety isn’t all its cracked up to be either. In fact, it is an illusion when considering the human journey and its true vulnerable nature. Anything can happen at any time. We could walk onto the street and be hit by a bus and become paralyzed from the neck down. Or we could lose someone we love in a moment. Or we could lose that job or that house or that lover or whatever.
And worst of all, if we side with safety and follow our fear, we risk extinguishing the very flame in our hearts that keeps us warm along this journey of life.
Though the path is always uncertain and I am still learning how to “teach” leadership, there is one thing I know for certain: inside each of us exists a still, small voice. It is the voice of our hearts, emanating from the deepest part of our souls. And if we listen to that voice, we will never have to look back on our lives and think, “I wish I would have…”
Instead, we will be able to stand firmly on the ground of ourselves and our lives and say, “I did.”