Are you reaching for what you love, or running away from what you fear? The right choice can make a huge difference to your success, your sense of fulfillment, and your happiness.

This past spring, the comedian Jim Carrey made a commencement speech at Maharishi University of Management that has since been watched more than 10 million times. I was one of those viewers, and three sentences, from around the middle of the speech have stuck with me ever since:

Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what's happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.

It's true. Every major decision we make as human beings is motivated by either love or fear. We quit jobs and start our own companies out of love--for a product, a new industry, or just an idea about how something could be done better. Or we stay in a job we don't love out of fear that we can't make a living elsewhere. We move to new jobs, new places, or new relationships out of fear of what will happen if we stay, or we stay out of fear of what will happen if we change. Sometimes we marry the wrong people out of fear of being alone.

It can be hard to tell which is which, but it's well worth the effort. The decisions we make from love are the best decisions of our lives, whereas those we make from fear are the ones that usually hold us back. So use this litmus test whenever you face a decision: Are you operating from fear or love? Here are five reasons love is the right choice:

1. It's easier to find what you want than avoid what you don't want.

This became very clear when my husband and I discussed relocating from our home of 20 years in Woodstock, New York. For him, the motivation had a lot to do with leaving the region where he had spent nearly all his life. Not that he doesn't love the Hudson Valley. It's where most of our family is and it will always be home. But as a musician, he knew that to expand his professional horizons he needed to expand his geographic horizons as well.

There was only one problem: We knew where we didn't want to be but not where we did want to be. The result is that whenever we traveled anywhere, from Maine to Northern Florida, to Bonaire, to Brittany, he would find himself looking in real-estate office windows, pricing homes and wondering what it would be like to live there.

Despite hours of discussion, we got no closer to moving until a musician friend settled in the Pacific Northwest and began telling Bill what a good environment it was for an acoustic guitarist. We took several trips to check the area out and fell in love with it ourselves. Now that we knew where we wanted to be and not just where we didn't, we were finally able to move.

2. Avoiding fear can be a bad bargain.

Carrey's father had great potential as a comedian, he said in his speech. "But he didn't believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive." At one point the entire family wound up living in a van.

So, Carrey said, "I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love."

3. We never know how much time we have.

Many of us make "practical" decisions, figuring there'll be plenty of time later to pursue what we really love. The problem with this plan is that we never really know how much time we actually have.

My husband Bill learned this hard lesson from his father (also named Bill), a man with an enormous talent for building things who spent his whole life working at the local post office. At last he retired and set himself up in his basement workshop, ready to tinker and build to his heart's content. But by then his health was about to give out and he wound up with little time to follow his heart's desire. It's a powerful reminder why you should never put off your dreams until someday.

4. Most things we fear aren't so bad once they happen.

You've probably had this experience. I know I have many times. The thing you most fear and strive hardest to avoid finally occurs. And...it isn't so bad. You find you can handle the thing you feared better than you expected. You start wondering what you were so afraid of.

It's an important experience to have, one that can boost your courage and make you more able to take risks. If you manage to keep avoiding the scary things, though, they only look more and more scary. You're more afraid than ever and you work harder and harder to avoid them. This is how fear feeds on itself.

5. You're setting an example.

You may decide to choose avoiding what you fear over seeking what you love because you care so much for your family and want to give them a good life. But remember that you are also setting an example for those family members, especially your children, and that most children absorb the values that they see their parents following. Do you want them to spend their lives choosing fear over love as well?

If the answer is no, then consider a different approach. Choose love, choose courage, and maybe even choose some risk in pursuit of the life you really want. Because the choices we make and the way we live are the best lessons we can offer others. And they're the best presents we can give ourselves.

Published on: Jan 2, 2015
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