Every single time I sit down to write an article for The Simple Dollar, I think of two things.
The first thing I think of is how incredibly scared I was when we hit our financial bottom. I had a seven month old baby at home to take care of, one that I was constantly afraid of failing as a father. I had what seemed like an insurmountable pile of debt sitting in front of me. The visions I had of my future career were shattered and crumbling.
I was scared. I was sick. I didn’t have any answers to any of these things going on in my life.
What I needed more than anything at that moment was for someone to sit down beside me, tell me that I actually could overcome these things, and perhaps show me a first step or two on a path to a better life.
That night, I spent a lot of time typing search terms into Google and I never found the answers I needed. I started to find them later, when I hit the library and started reading powerful books like Your Money or Your Life.
Every time I write anything for this site, I want to reach someone who’s in a position like that. I want to be that person that sits down next to them, tells them that they actually can do this, and maybe shows them a step or two. Maybe they’ll sit down at Google, wherever they’re at, type in the words that expresses the fear that they’re feeling, hit the search button, and find the answer they need, and it just might be that whatever I write helps them find that answer.
At the same time, I also look at the person I see right now in the mirror.
With most of the articles I write for this site, I’m usually talking about some gaping flaw I see in myself.
I mess things up constantly. I buy things I shouldn’t buy. I find myself wanting things that, when I think about them rationally, I know I shouldn’t want them. I sometimes don’t put all of my thoughts down in the right order or in the right way. I don’t use my time as well as I should. I try to establish habits, and fairly often I fail at them.
Each time, I try really hard to see where I went wrong. How did I mess it up this time? What can I do next time to make it better? I’ll look at tactics I know have worked in the past, and I’ll try to find new angles on them.
Those failures – and attempts to understand them – are often the genesis for the things I write about here.
The catch is that, in both of these cases, I’m really thinking about the same thing. Fear.
I’m afraid of falling off of the positive path I’ve built over the past several years.
I’m afraid of not taking care of my children as well as I could, and because of that, seeing them suffer in some fashion, whether it’s not having enough food on the table or a roof over their head or something else they need as a foundation for a great life.
I’m afraid of taking career risks – and I’m afraid of not taking enough career risks.
As countless people have said, fear is an incredibly powerful motivator Psychology Today calls it the most powerful motivator.
But it’s a negative motivator. It can cause you to paralyze. It can cause you to not make the decisions you need to make.
I keep the paralysis at bay by looking back at myself seven years ago. If I had let the fear of that moment paralyze me, I would have lost everything. If you stand still, the fear will crush you.
With that in mind, I try to turn my life over and over in my hands every day. What am I doing wrong? What can I be doing better? How can I make sure I don’t fall off of this positive path?
Then, I step forward, down one path or another. I spend an hour with my son working on his sight words or help my daughter build an enormous LEGO castle. I put my arms around my wife and whisper in her ear how much I love her. I go through the things I already have, to remind myself that I really don’t need much else. I work on the many, many tasks that come with the upkeep of a home, a family, and a dream.
If I don’t do that – if I just stand still – the fear catches up.
It is action in a positive direction that keeps the fear at bay.
It is action in a positive direction that enables me to pick myself up when I make a mistake.
All of the things I’ve done over the last several years to get myself on the right path might seem like an impressive list. It might seem like it takes real courage to give up on life’s expensive pleasures or to push hard toward making a career shift or even to upend one’s daily routine in order to make it better.
That’s not real courage.
The real courage happens when you’re faced with something that you fear and you’re still able to take action and not be locked down by it. It doesn’t matter how big or how small that step is, but that you’re willing to actually do something to change things in your life.
The moment when you admit to yourself that you’re not doing this right and then you follow it by taking the first little step toward something different instead of just standing in place, that’s the truly brave moment.