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Do you feel your life is going nowhere? Could you be engaging in sabotage and not know it?

You are not alone, many people sabotage, so let’s unpack this to learn more.

When my cousin, Scotty, told me he wasn’t going to apply for his dream job and then sat glued to his smartphone, I immediately knew something was wrong. This gregarious and gentle man was beloved at his company and well-known in his industry, so why would he give up on a C-suite opportunity?

When I probed further, he glumly responded, “I’m too old.”

It’s one of the many statements that hold us back after hitting roadblocks in our careers and relationships.

Every time I hear people say:

I’m too old. I’m not qualified. I’m not good enough. I’m not fit. I’m too sick. My family says I shouldn’t. There’s no way I could ever do that. I’m afraid. It’s never been done. My body can’t do that. I don’t want to be judged. He/She/They would never choose me. It’s too late in my life. If I were married to a better person, I would be able to _____. Nothing goes my way. It’s all their fault. You don’t understand. It’s a good idea, but I’ll try it later. I don’t have the time right now. I’m not ready yet. What would my family think? I might get hurt.

I realize they are arguing for their limitations.

And if you argue long enough, those limitations are yours forever. 

These statements are uttered not just by middle-aged men but by all people, young, old, and everything in between.

  1. A friend’s daughter achieved a perfect MCAT score and a 4.0 GPA from an Ivy League School but refused to apply to the top medical schools, claiming they would never look at her because of her hometown. Seriously?
  2. A colleague claimed they couldn’t leave their abusive, sickly spouse because who would look after them? But in the meantime, my friend has been diagnosed with a severe autoimmune illness. I think they are the ones that desperately need care.
  3. A talented young tenor said he couldn’t hit a particular musical phrase. He maintained, “I’m too old. You know how your body changes.” Really? God knows I’ve known 80-year-old singers hit notes and tackle phrasing that put us all to shame.
  4. An elderly relative refused physical therapy after a fall, insisting it was a waste of money. We suspected she was afraid of falling again.
  5. A high school friend refused to go to rehab, saying, “What’s the use?”

I could write hundreds of these examples.

But it comes down to the question: why do we base our choices on fear? 

Why are we afraid of success? Or failure? Or trying?

Recently I watched “Defending Your Life,” a 1991 movie written and directed by Albert Brooks, with a dear friend who claimed everyone should watch this film. I agree. The premise is that a recently dead young man has to defend his life choices to move forward to better reincarnation. Yet the majority of his choices were based on fear and held him back, and even possibly from his one true love in the afterlife. Yet it was love that saved him. Yes, corny rom-com ending but isn’t it love for others or even ourselves that eventually saves us?

For millennia, every major religion has addressed how fear destroys our lives.

Buddhism says, ‘fear is the root of all suffering;” Islam comments, ‘excessive fear contributes to self-deceit and despair;” Judaism responds, “fearing men is a trap;” and Christianity sums up Brooks’ movie with “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18.”

But tackling our fears and the trauma deep in our bones is complicated and sometimes paralyzing. So, where do we even begin?

  1. Admit our fear and be willing to change. This step is the hardest of all. Our fears often consist of self-protective behaviors formed from childhood trauma, abusive relationships, serious accidents, life-threatening illnesses, family violence, or neglect. The resulting behaviors — such as drug abuse, alcoholism, lack of self-regulation, procrastination, avoidance, aggressivity, or even excessive compliance and passivity — kept us safe in uncertain or toxic situations as children or young adults but impeded our ability to succeed later in life. Be gentle with yourself as you leave these old patterns behind. Be in the moment, and don’t allow the past to control your present. By changing your habits, you will change your future.
  2. Expect resistance. Facing our fears is a 2-step forward, 1-step backward dance. We become impatient, wanting results NOW. Yet, we’ll change the subject, look away, refuse to pay attention, and engage in all sorts of self-destruction as we go through this process. Look at your worst habits that keep you from facing your fears. Are you surfing the internet? A shopping addiction? Creating chaos at the office or home? Procrastination? These patterns are what we have to work on. And it’s not about criticizing yourself or feeling guilty but being in the moment. It’s about acknowledging what is happening in our minds and bodies and being open to change.
  3. Know that many people will not like the new you. As you release each fear (and your need for their protection from moving forward), many friends and family members will not like it. They’ll complain that you don’t hang out with them at the bar or that you’re too busy or never around. But by releasing these negative behaviors and facing your fears straight on, you’re making room for people who support your growth. So let go of the criticisms. Nothing is wrong with you. The people who genuinely love you will cheer for your new success. The others will drift away.
  4. Get back on the horse after being thrown. Daily we make choices based on our beliefs, our fears, our families, our various communities, and even our self-worth. You bet we’re going to make horrible decisions and fail spectacularly. But it’s not the failure that matters. It’s not trying again. It’s not learning from each experience, each person who enters our lives. So, yes, get back on that damn horse!
  5. Understand that courage is taking action despite fear. Sometimes we have no idea how to improve our lives. But that tiny change, that one action, that one realization can open your world to new possibilities. Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing that you must leave an abusive situation. You may not know how yet, but in your heart, you know you will in time.
  6. And lastly, be grateful, even for the bad. Sometimes our greatest blessings (and lessons) come from our worst curse. You’re alive. So enjoy the people around you and everything that life has to offer. You have this one chance. Don’t let fear take it away.

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Alexis Azria

Alexis Azria, a dedicated mom and passionate humanitarian, writing about the parenting issues and ethical dilemmas we face daily.

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