“He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.” – Michel de Montaigne
This quote is on the wall of a room at my internship location. I contemplate this now as I sit with fear and excitement. On a personal level, I have accomplished some major milestones in the past few weeks, and now find myself poised to take the next steps in my life and career.
I had the day off yesterday, and decided to allow myself a lot of space and ease. I had a modest to-do list that was accomplished early, and let myself have time to just play and watch funny shows, cook dinner and relax. I accepted the feeling of accomplishment and peace.
I noticed, also, an undercurrent of fear. This fear seems to arise whenever I reach the end of a to-do list. A fear that feels related to the fear I feel when I think about where to go next in my life. Ahead of me is a big, empty future that lies untraveled. I know that its eventual shape will be unlike anything I can anticipate. Although I can steer my life, a lot will happen within and around me that is not in my power.
The fear I feel seems in one facet to be of the emptiness and blankness ahead. Perhaps analogous to the fear of opening a blank document with the intention of writing, without a clear idea of what to write. That moment of comprehending the blank space, the anxiety of knowing I can fill it with anything, the fears of filling it with the wrong thing.
What I think is comforting to me about the to-do list is how anchored it is to daily needs, joyful obligations, or other responsibilities that have some external correlate. What terrifies about the empty space is the realization that I am responsible for what I choose to do with it. We are offered many guides to living and moral precepts, yet there are times when we face a crossroads in which nothing seems quite right, quite on point. The choice has to come from within.
What is the right next step? Will this choice lead to disaster or success? These are questions that cannot be answered definitively, except perhaps with “We’ll see.” I can consult elders, people further along on the path. I can consult ancient wisdom. I can pray. Every piece of guidance is useful, and no one but I has encountered this exact confluence, this precise choice.
I will sink into my heart and inner knowing, noticing how I respond to each opportunity. I will trust myself to move forward, even if I make what later feels like a mistake. I will seek the peace that arises from acting in accordance with my values and inner guidance. I may need to walk into this fear with open eyes.