My blog’s tagline is “Passionate Prescriptions For Living & Loving Fearlessly” and the next book I’m writing is called “The Fear Cure,” so I wind up noodling the concept of fear a lot. When I first considered quitting my stable job as a doctor years ago, I was utterly terrified. How in the world would I ever pay the bills if I left the hospital? What about all the medical school debt I still carried? I had a newborn daughter – and a stay-home Daddy husband – and it would cost me six-figures to pay off a medical malpractice “tail” if I was brave enough to actually leave medicine. The very thought was enough to nearly paralyze me.
The Fearless Bubble
So I had to surround myself with an artificial bubble of total fearlessness. I couldn’t even entertain fearful thoughts – but they’d knocked on my bubble like bacteria trying to enter a healthy cell – an army of Gremlins threatening to take me to the dark side of doubt that might tempt me to run, tail between my legs, back to the relative safety of the hospital.
During this scary time, everyone who loved me thought I was behaving recklessly. After all, I had spent 12 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, investing in a career they thought I was throwing in the toilet, with no back up plan and no safety net.
Armored with my fearless bubble, I took the leap. I quit my job, sold my house, liquidated my retirement account, borrowed lots of money, and moved to the country. In order to do this, I had to protect myself from my own Gremlins, as well as those of everyone who loved me. To ward off the Gremlins, I had to tap into a wellspring of unshakeable confidence only my Inner Pilot Light could provide. With my bubble around me, I wound up deep in the narrow place, with little evidence that it would end well. For years, people watched from the sidelines, wondering if I was an inspiration or a cautionary tale.
The Gremlins Almost Won
By January of 2011, it wasn’t looking so hot. As I wrote about here, I was out of money and deeply in debt, having started a successful blog that wasn’t generating any revenue. And the book I had hoped would pay the rent wasn’t selling many copies, so the follow up book deal my publisher offered was a pittance I wound up turning down. My literary agent ditched me as a result, and the prospects for my future looked grim.
The Gremlins were starting to eat through my bubble of confidence, and I started to feel really afraid that I had totally blown it. I still hadn’t really found my calling at that point. I had turned my back on medicine altogether, and I had yet to gain clarity on the purpose that later became clear. (In case you’re curious, I’m here to help heal health care, as I discussed in my latest TEDx talk here.)
But just when I was in the darkest part of the narrow place, I found that wellspring again, the still, quiet voice inside that said not just, “You can do this” but “You MUST do this.” The unshakeable confidence returned, fueled by a sense of mission and divine support, and I was able to repair the chinks in my fearless bubble.
Then… finally… the pieces started to fall together. The Whole Health Cairn came to me in a vision while I was hiking on the coast, and all of a sudden, my calling became clear. Then I signed a book deal with Hay House for my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine and gave two TEDx talks (this one and this one) about the mission that has become my passion.
In retrospect, to many people, leaving my job in the hospital looks like a brave, smart move. The loved ones who doubted my choice are happy for me. Some have even apologized for doubting me. But at the time, it looked like a reckless choice. I get it. In many ways, it was. It could have gone either way, and had things not worked out so well, my greatest fears – and those of the people who love me – could have been realized. Others more gifted than me have risked and failed. There but by the grace of God go I…
The Fine Line Between Fearless & Reckless
For many years, the fearless bubble was crucial to my process. I couldn’t let doubt seep into my psyche, or I would have lost my gumption. But lately, I’ve become aware of the fact that keeping the fearless bubble up, unchecked, can lead to true recklessness. From an evolutionary standpoint, fear is there for a reason – to protect us. Without fear, we might be tempted to do really crazy things – like jump off a cliff without a parachute or stand there, without running, while a lion munches away at our flesh.
Fearlessness, left unchecked, can also lead to arrogance. When all you feel is unshakeable confidence, you start thinking you’re immune to danger, or even that you’re above the law and don’t have to follow the “rules.” You start driving your car 100 mph on the freeway because you’re not afraid of getting caught or crashing your car. You start skipping check-ups with your doctor because you’re not afraid of getting sick. You spend more money than you’re earning because you’re confident the money will show up. You walk alone into a dark alley in the inner city after midnight. You cheat on your spouse because you’re confident you won’t get caught. You cheat on your taxes. You run your business illegally. You break a law…
It’s a slippery slope.
Relaxing The Fearless Bubble
I’m grateful to my fearless bubble for getting me out of a really unhappy situation and protecting me from some really nasty Gremlins. But I’m also aware that there’s a time to rein in the unshakeable confidence and mix it with a hefty dose of humility.
Losing my puppy the week before Christmas reminded me that life is infinitely fragile, that everything can change in a blink, and that no amount of confidence can protect us from what we most fear. Loss is humbling. Disappointments can shatter us. Grief can – and will – drop you to your knees.
Medicine For The Soul
Reminders that we are not invincible are medicine for the soul, if we’re willing to swallow the bitter medicine. As I look forward to 2013, I realize that part of my spiritual work this year is finding this imperfect balance between confidence and humility.
The night before New Year’s, I had an eeriey, prophetic Ebenezer Scrooge and the 3 ghosts “This is your life” dream. The dream flashed to scene after disastrous scene of what could happen in my life. A patient who was under my care could die. I could lose my mother. I could get a life-threatening illness. My daughter could get hurt. My husband could leave me. My career could flop. I could go bankrupt.
These thoughts are humbling, and the way they were presented to me in the dream was terrifying. But the voices narrating the scenes – Martha Beck, my spirit guide Sebastian, and my Inner Pilot Light – were infinitely loving and nurturing. They kept reminding me that there was nothing I could do to prevent disaster from befalling me, but that I could learn lessons along the way, that loss can be bejeweled with wisdom, and that suffering can end as soon as the lessons are recognized and integrated.
Finding The Jewels
I awoke from the dream feeling so grateful. It felt like perfect timing as 2013 unfolds.
It’s scary to be bringing my book Mind Over Medicine into the world. It flies in the face of everything the medical establishment holds dear, so it feels threatening to be speaking about what I know I must speak out about. I’ll need my fearless bubble when I go into the hospitals and when I get up on stages to share this message.
But when I come off the front line, I need to let my guard down, to be willing to acknowledge the extent of my vulnerability, to remember how little it takes to drop me to my knees, and to live in gratitude for every moment I’m not face-to-face with loss or disappointment.
What Do You Need?
Depending on where you are in life, you might need to don your fearless bubble so you can tap into your wellspring of unshakeable confidence – or you might need a healthy dose of humility before the Universe smacks you with the proverbial 2×4 that reminds you how vulnerable you really are. I now think a healthy relationship to fear requires constantly monitoring between these two states of being, keeping our egos in check and walking that razor’s edge between fearless and reckless.
Where are you? Do you need more fearlessness? Do you need more humility? What are your thoughts on all this? I’m still marinating on these thoughts during this first week of the New Year, and I’d love to hear your wisdom.
Walking the line,
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