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  • SuePattonThoele

Erasing "If Only"



Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Fear always springs from ignorance.” While I agree with Mr. Emerson, I think the opposite is also true: ignorance springs from fear. And, interestingly, the first letters of these two words, ignorance and fear, create one of the biggest little words in the English language: if.


We can look at the word “if” as a combination of ignorance and fear. When we are ignorant of our own worth, lovability, and creativity, when we fear that we are not doing/being enough, or when we fear almost anything excessively and/or obsessively, a life-leveling litany of “if onlys” runs through our minds: “If only I were smarter... ; if only I had a different parent, partner, or child... ; if only I were more like... ; if only I had... if only I hadn’t... if only they... if only, if only, if only.”


Being ignorant of the possibilities within us and fearful of taking the risks involved in seeing and acting on our possibilities almost guarantees that “only” will follow “if” in our emotional vocabulary.


If we have a lifelong legacy of fear, the task before us is to outgrow that limiting inheritance, erase “if onlys” from our lives, and claim our true birthright: the freedom to be ourselves. We can courageously free ourselves by facing our fears and altering our beliefs born of ignorance.


Freedom comes from knowing that though fear can’t be avoided, it can be faced, lived through, learned from, and prayed for. While fear dragons will inevitably express themselves, it is up to us whether they do so honestly and overtly, which enhances self-esteem, or dishonestly and covertly, which undermines emotional strength. Each time we challenge a fear—walk into the middle of it with support from others, if need be—it diminishes and we experience more emotional independence. Gathering the courage to face fear helps us believe in ourselves and gives us confidence in our ability to cope with and triumph in any circumstance.

Excerpted from The Courage to Be Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.

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