Fear – the cage that encloses our soul. Though we want to fly, we hit the steel bars, unable to break away from prison. Fear takes many forms. For me, ironically, I was afraid of losing freedom and falling flat on my face. And, because of my fear of a cage, I became enslaved.
Let me explain. I had my Gone-With-the-Wind moment when I was a newlywed. You romantics know the defining tick of time in that epic movie… where Scarlet O’Hara digs the root out of the dirt, eats it, falls a bit too dramatically, and then stands up with exasperation and swears, “I’ll never be hungry again!” Well, that was me when first married. I had my pride, and we were struggling. We barely had enough to cover our basic needs. I saw poverty as a type of slavery and dependence that didn’t sit well with me. So, I swore to myself that I would never go back to my dirt-eating Scarlet moment.
Instead, I climbed up the corporate ladder as most good Americans do. I joined the rat race with gusto! After all, the more money I made, the more “freedom” I could have to insulate my fears. With a fatter bank account, I would never need to ask anyone for help. I could travel to exotic places. I could reach all my dreams rolling in my bubble-wrapped world.
But, it turned out the rodent route took place in a huge running wheel called Corporate Security that had me running faster each day, but going nowhere. I loved the cushy life I had created, but it came with a price. My time was not my own. Once I got into the higher-salary jobs, I worked over sixty-hour weeks in a career that didn’t capture my imagination for the next seven years. When I wasn’t working, I was recovering from working. I didn’t have time to enjoy life or pursue my own dreams. I was just one more puzzle piece doing my part for a corporation to meet sales goals and give glowing reports to investors.
My mental and physical health suffered. I developed a chronic, long-term illnesses. I became depressed. While I was successful in my job, I was unsuccessful in my personal life, in fulfilling my own dreams, and in cultivating healthy relationships. I wasn’t living; I was existing. The more I analyzed this, the more I realized I needed to make a change. However, I wasn’t brave enough to do everything at once. I needed to take baby steps on the diving board before jumping off the deep end.
The first fearful leap I made was changing careers and leaving the top blue-chip company in my industry. It was very scary leaving the security of a company I was with for over seven years, but removing the intensity and stress of this job improved my health immensely. My new smaller company was still the industry leader, but the work environment was considerably less stressful.
It was during this time that I focused on my second fearful life change. I set the goal to run a marathon in six months. I was chronically ill and overweight when I decided to do this. It terrified me, but I persevered, paid the race entry fee, and, after six months of blood, sweat, and tears, accomplished this goal. You can read the full story of my journey here: http://sarahfaithhansen.com/2013/05/01/from-fat-and-sick-to-fit-and-quick-how-diet-and-exercise-changed-my-life/
After the diet and lifestyle changes, I began to see a silver lining. Getting out of the mental fog of illness really helped me put things in perspective. While my physical health was revolutionized, my mental health was still in survival mode. I always dreamed of doing three things: helping people while living an adventure, writing for a living and inspiring others to make positive personal changes with my word-weaving skills, and finishing an Ironman triathlon. My current path still wasn’t crashing into my deepest longings. I was restless and didn’t feel like my life was causing the dent that I wanted on the world.
But, even these dreams paled compared to my biggest heart cry. My final dream was to have a strong marriage. It may not seem like a big dream to some, but a long-lasting, dynamic, healthy marriage is one of the rarest things in the world. Over the last nine years, my marriage was looking as rough and haggard as my rusty mental cage. I had chosen my career over my husband, and he had done the same. He left our home to pursue a career outside of the US for a few years on a tropical island. The rational thing to do was for me to keep my sleek salary and hold the mortgage on our beautiful golf-course home, which unfortunately had lost half of its value when the Florida housing market crashed, while he finished his training. We thought our marriage was strong enough to handle the separation. It wasn’t. After a year apart, we both felt estranged and unfulfilled in the shackles of expectations.
This is where I hit the bars of my cage. This is where the hurt happened and fear met me in my safe place. If I stayed in my secure prison, I would lose myself, my marriage, and my dreams. But, I would continue to exist unchallenged. While I didn’t necessarily like my life, I knew the course well. If I followed my heart, I would have to give up everything I knew for the Bermuda Triangle of the unknown.
The journey was calling me. It made no sense. It scared me to death. But, I couldn’t continue to just exist anymore. So, I did the stupidest thing by most judgements, but the best thing for my rebirth. I left the cushy corporate job. I let the perfectly-planned house go into short sale. I sold our new car. I practically gave away all the furniture and housewares I had so lovingly picked out years ago. I sold my salt-water aquarium – my pride and joy. I sold our hot tub. I packed my bags. I boarded a plane with our three crazy dogs bound for Grenada, West Indies. And, I went to an unknown country to face an uncertain marriage after both ruining my career and losing my home. It was an all or nothing move. There was no turning back if my brilliant plan failed.
Even with all of my shortcomings, God worked in amazing ways in my life. While our marriage went through the hardest time we have ever experienced, we were able to move past the pain, evaluate reality vs. denial, lose our love of the unimportant, and work toward a plan. As my relationship with my husband healed, I was able to focus on training for my first Ironman triathlon race. I now have time to train, and I have my sights set on my first full Ironman in August 2014. I also am able to help others through different outreach ministries on this adventurous island in the middle of paradise. I finally feel like I’m making a difference. Also, once I went through the mental and relational healing needed, I started a full-time career as a writer. And, I’m starting to make a living at it, which is always encouraging.
The iron bars have finally crashed to the ground. I’m free. I’m living the adventure of a lifetime and pursuing every passion. Yes, we are poor, but it doesn’t bother me now. I now see selling everything that makes you free for the security bars of a salary as much more enslaving than continuously eating beans and rice and living in a tiny apartment. Are riches bad? Of course not! I hope to see them again one day. But, my passions are no longer for sale. I won’t pursue someone else’s dreams at the expense of my own. I jumped from the bars that were holding me up and holding me back, and embraced what I was most afraid of – falling. But, just as gravity opened its gaping jaws, winds of hopeful awakenings suddenly pushed me back to new heights I could never have imagined.
Once you have learned to fly, there is no longer room in your life for fear’s cage. If you focus on the fear, you become your own jailer and construct the prison brick by brick and bar by bar yourself. Life is just too short. Why not be fantastically free?
This post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.
“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press
“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com
“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail