Maxwell: Welcome insecurity; have courage to live without regret


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Opinion: Maxwell 11/14

Alexander Maxwell

There is a very simple principle I use to guide what I do in life, and even though it is simple, it has unbelievably profound results. To put it simply: I don’t like to regret things. I don’t like to look back and think about how I might have missed out on something because I did not want to take a risk. It even bothers me when others feel this way. In fact, if there is one thing I wish I could teach every person I care about, it would be for them to welcome the feeling of insecurity, to be excited to do things they are not sure of. I wish I could show them what an amazing effect that can have on a person’s life, because it has had an amazing effect on mine.

Every day we wake up to, we are given a choice. One choice, with infinite possibilities. A choice that defines who we are and what we will become. Every day we must answer the only important question that life has to ask us: What are we going to do today? And we don’t finish answering that question until we have to answer it again tomorrow.

We all do a lot of what are essentially the same things every day. This makes us feel stable and secure, but we forget most of it. What we do remember are the things that are unique and meaningful. Things that are interesting because they are different. These are the things that are worth remembering. What will you remember about today?

The actions we take every day are guided by two opposing possibilities: to remain the same or to change. To do what we know or to take a risk. To focus on security or to give in to curiosity. What we choose to do — or not to do — depends on how important it is to us to keep things the way they are. Except that is not always true.

Sometimes, we are not really all that fond of the way things are. We know we can do better, but we choose not to. Instead, we choose to avoid taking a risk, and we choose to maintain the status quo. This is not good for us and prevents us from growing. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry summarized this by showing those with higher levels of intolerance for uncertainty had distinctly maladaptive behavioral patterns in general.

Taking a chance can make us feel anxious and afraid because we are leaving our comfort zone. We’re not doing what we’re used to, and not knowing how things will turn out can terrify us. Unfortunately, this causes us to automatically associate risk with fear — even when we don’t know what we’re actually afraid of and when we, in fact, have nothing to lose. Tragically, this means we learn to avoid things that could bring true meaning to our lives because we learn to say no to things we haven’t done before. We learn to say no to new experiences by default.

Another study published in the peer-reviewed journal Personality and Individual Differences shows that people who are less tolerant of uncertainty are more likely to become stressed and anxious even if there is no reason to be. The authors also observed participants who worried more were focused on the possibility of future events even when the probability of them actually happening was greatly reduced.

I know it sucks when we try something new and fail miserably. But whenever we take that chance, no matter how it turns out, we are glad we took it. Even if we do fail completely, we’ll have an awesome story to tell. And we can always be proud we had the courage to try.

This is why I wish I could give those I know the ability to welcome the feeling of insecurity. There is no better way for us to learn and grow than when we experience something we’re not used to. Because I believe if we know what we’re doing, then we’re not learning anything.

Life itself is an experience; you owe it to yourself to be willing to explore what it has to offer. It will make you more understanding and more interesting. And you’ll be happier because you’ll have more fun. Think about it — who enjoys life more, someone who plays it safe or someone willing to take risks? Is it ever fun to think about how you followed the rules?

When our lives come to a close, we won’t care about the fears that stopped us from taking chances. We will care only about whether we took those chances or not. Every day we are given the choice to let life happen or to make life happen. And the ability to make that choice is given to us when we learn to welcome the feeling of insecurity, because we know how much it truly means.