Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Relationships Need an Enemy

Most couples come into my office lacking a recognizable enemy they fight together. So instead, they fight each other. We often begin our intimate relationships based on infatuation, attraction, and fairy-tale dreams. Rarely do I interact with a couple that began their relationship because two people came together to fight something they couldn’t do on their own.

We all need an enemy. Not just for our personal lives, but for our relationships, too. When we get hurt and we don’t have an enemy, we often attack the closest person to us: Our spouse. We do this because they get in the way of our lives.They mess up our routines. They disrupt our creature comforts. They put the toilet paper on the wrong way. They don’t do hundreds of things different than we do that we didn’t even know was a personal preference.

These differences become something we hate if we have no other purpose in our life than keeping our lives comfortable and manageable.

It’s the age-old question: If you knew certain death was to hit your entire family in one week, how would you interact with your spouse? I’m willing to bet lots of bananas that you’d change the way you treat your wife, or husband.

The threat of death (the enemy) would become the common focal point for the two of you. You’d want to end your days smiling at each other, not with one of you sleeping on the couch because you got in a fight for reasons neither of you can remember.

If you do not have a common enemy, you will illegitimately make your spouse out to be one. And when that happens, watch out, because contempt is a slippery slope to a lake full of other victims.

Who is your enemy? Your spouse? A cause? What propels your fights in your relationships?

 

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Stop Trying to be Normal

There is no great genius without some touch of madness. ~ Seneca

The more normal you try to be (or the more like others you try to parrot) the less of you we will see. The move away from genius leads to people wanting to be normal, to not have to risk their necks with some dream, idea, or stroke of genius.

Normal is depressing. Normal is just plain vanilla, no toppings. Normal is the path of no resistance. Not least resistance, no resistance. Normal is normal, and more and more people are looking for the supposed feel-good nature of being normal. Let others define what normal is, then jump on the bandwagon to feel accepted, part of the team. But you’re not accepted or connected. You’re a drone that parrots what you think others want to hear, what you think others value as popular or normal.

The problem is, normal doesn’t feel good for long. It’s cheap. Like plastic forks. Good for the occasional use, but rely on it for too long and it’ll break. It’ll let you down. And then you’ll try another version of normal. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Trying to be normal is really about a misguided search for meaning. For purpose. For life.

Normal is death. It’s death to the soul. To the creative part of you that only you know, that only you see, and that only you choose to hide or show. Trying to be normal is self-rejection. It’s death.

It’s crazy to enter into and commit oneself to another person for life… It’s even crazier to become parents. Yet we put aside stats, conventional wisdom, and follow our hearts into some of the scariest, most dangerous, and land-mine-filled area called marriage. Over 50% of marriages fail today. Yet people still get married. Why? Because they’re in love. Because their heart believes that they cannot go on without the other person. That, my friends, is madness. Ignoring logic and going with you’re heart is madness.

And it’s genius. Pure creative genius. Picasso wasn’t a genius because of what he painted, he was a genius for when and how he painted.

The same is true for you. You’re not a genius for what idea you come up with, or what decision you make. You’re a genius for taking the risk to fulfill your dream. In putting your neck on the line and risk being called a fool. And trust me, those who will call you a fool are envious, because they’re normal and you’re not.

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The Way We Heal

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Habits to combat anxiety and depression

Last week I spoke to a group of people about developing healthy habits to combat the effects of anxiety and depression in our lives. Everyone experiences both anxiety and depression at some point in our lives, usually on a fairly regular basis. Below are the notes from my talk.

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A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.  ~ Seneca

When we feel that our fears are too big for our own capacity, we begin shutting down. Our creativity, resourcefulness and ability to make decisions are all sabotaged by the anxiety or depression we feel about our lives. This is the essence of shutting down.
As with anything in life, we can generally take some kind of behavior and do it in such a way that makes it unhealthy. The following are a few ways that I have found to reduce stress and increase our ability to cope with the anxieties of our lives.

Ways to limit anxiety/depression effects:
1. Limit your intake of information. 
     – facebook, social media
     – tv, other ‘screens’ (computer, phone, etc)
Our phones, screens, are devilish little creatures. They promise productivity but really only add an additional layer of distraction from what we all say is most important in our lives: relationships.
We are not made to be alone, yet so much anxiety comes about because we feel so alone.
2. Start a journal
Storytelling has been the language of healing since the beginning of time. We all have a story to tell, despite most of our beliefs that our stories aren’t really that interesting. Movies and music are so popular because they are short stories that take us to the places we can’t go on our own.
Journaling is one of the most therapeutic exercises that I know of.
Write about life, thoughts, feelings, emotions, loves, hates, indifferences. When you begin to write, you invite healing and restoration.
3. Exercise regularly
We’re a health conscious society. A lot of this is for reasons of vanity, but deep down we all long to be cared for and loved. Unfortunately we usually go about getting that care and love through unhealthy ways, including working out.
But, working out because it is kind to your soul, body, and mind is a great way to reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and depression.
When you work out, you are telling your body that you care, and a funny thing happens when you begin caring about something: you treat it better. It’s not rocket science, yet most of us behave as though going to the gym and eating well is akin to building our own space rocket.
4. Make and set goals
If you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time.
Goals are like the tracks on a railroad … they guide you to your destination. They themselves are not the destination, rather they are the boundaries and help you need to get where you are going.
If you are a neurotic goal setter, try limiting yourself to the number of goals that you set so that the goals themselves don’t become the way that you judge yourself. If you don’t normally set goals, try to be as specific as possible.
Set attainable goals. If you want to run a 10k, give yourself time to train so that you’re not forcing yourself to get too fast to the starting line.
5. Read enriching material
I have a insatiable appetite for reading, but not everything I read is worthwhile. I spend a lot of time reading articles and other random hubs of information that can sometimes border on an addiction. I love historical fiction and will generally read 5-6 of these books a year, usually in succession to each other.
I get bored easily with non-fiction and I rarely find a book that is so good that I read every word. Most books I put down after reading the first few chapters and skim the remainder. I learn a lot this way, but I used to feel shame about this being the way I read.
Someone said that the only thing different about you in 20 years will be the people you meet and the books you read. This is a great mantra to live by. Set a goal to read x number of books a year, go out and learn about something. This will do a couple things for you.
 — ONE, it will expand your world. We live in a bubble here in the USA, even more so here in middle TN. The majority of the worlds problems happen here, but we are very insulated from them. This is one of the biggest factors that I see in people struggling with their identity, anxiety, is that we know at a core level that the world is not a safe place, yet so much of our ways of life here in the US are about safety.
David Brooks, the editor for the NYT, says that America is a secularized version of Heaven. We have tried to create a place that is free: Free from violence, pain, suffering, poverty, and difficulty. In a lot of ways, we can’t handle the freedom that we are afforded here in the States.
— SECONDLY, reading books will help you to get outside of yourself. One of the big struggles people have is that our culture is too me-centric. We are not meant to live in such a narcissistic way, and our anxiety is telling us that this is a problem.
Reading forces you to confront your own biases, meet new ideas, and wrestle with your dogmatic ways of living life.
6. Reflection time in morning or at night
What we fear, we hate. And what we hate, we avoid.
We can’t manufacture feelings. What we can do is to set aside time and space for processing so that when we do feel what we feel, we can have a place to feel these things. If we are constantly trying to escape our feelings, through people of things, then we will not be comfortable feeling what we feel.
Tell the story of the boy going to the desert. He’s afraid. Rightfully so. Only by going to the desert with a trusted guide will he learn to face the fears on his own. We can’t expect to handle situations that we’ve never faced before.

The U.S. is a culture that values doing more than being. We don’t rest well, which means that most spaces and places of our lives are filled up. We are a culture of performers, of doers. Unfortunately, when cultures are driven by performance, doing, addictions and life controlling habits flourish. Said another way: We fill our lives up with stuff. Shopping, Toys, Food, alcohol, internet, reality (not really) TV shows, porn, and drugs are all ways that we medicate the reality that we don’t have enough capacity to get what we want.

It’s impossible to live life for long as a human doer. We are human beings. We’re finite creatures with needs that sometimes defy age, logic, and reason. We’re not the great conquerors and rulers of life that we want to believe we are. As the poet and songwriter Lenoard Cohen once said, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Living life with spaces, pauses, takes great discipline. It also takes acceptance about our limitations and finitude. We cannot perform as though we are whole creatures and value brokenness and faults. Not all spaces — in all aspects of life, physical, emotional, relational, mental — are meant, or need, to be filled. Rhythms create space. What rhythms are you practicing?

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Jesse Take the Wheel

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times: Wives are terrified of their husbands driving behaviors. Just a few months ago a couple sat in my office and the wife was almost in tears about the trip from their home to my office. They were running a few minutes late, the husband was upset with his wife for not being ready on time, and thus drove in a very careless manner. He, of course, did not see it this way.

The most common rebuttal I hear men use to defend their driving ability: How many times have I gotten in a wreck? This was the exact response the husband said to his wife during their drive to my office after she asked him to slow down. He was not going to change his ways. The message was clear: I will continue driving this way regardless of how you feel about it.

I’ve been guilty of this behavior, and of using this excuse. My rationale is that Stephanie, my wife, should have no reason to be afraid of me driving because I’ve got an incredibly glowing record on the road. During our 12 years together, I’ve gotten 1 ticket and only been in one minor fender bender (I’ll refrain from defending either occurrence).

The problem is, despite my great driving record, I’m paying more attention to my perceived abilities than I am her fears. This is the definition of arrogance. Sure, some of her fears are bigger than what I’m causing, but the moment that I began to slow down a bit and not drive so close to other cars is about the same time that she began to relax on our trips together. It’s no coincidence that her fears are near zero now that I’ve chilled out driving.

Our call as husbands is to love and care for the places in our wives that are insecure. I’m not sure why it is this way, but driving fast excites men and terrifies women. This is a perfect setup for there to be conflict.

We men are driving precious cargo: Our kids, wife, and ourselves. The way we drive is a direct connection to how well we care for that cargo. If we are driving carelessly, we are placing a judgment of little value on those we claim to love the most.

The majority of the time we are driving alone. No one is there to tell us to slow down, stop texting, checking ESPN, or reading twitter. But these are the moments that we need to be the most aware of the impact our lives have on those around us. If you end up in a coma or six feet under, her fears will be confirmed. All it takes is one accident to nullify your illustrious driving career.

I’m constantly on the lookout for the ideas around relationships that make logical sense and have a high rate of return. Sometimes in my search for the ever elusive “easy button” (I blame Staples) I miss out on the true easy opportunities to love my wife. Surprising, I know. When I realized that the way I drive is like me writing a love letter to my wife, I began paying very close attention.

There are hundreds of practical ways that we men can love our wives. Some of these efforts take hours, some only take a few moments. Changing your driving habits might cost you 4-5 minutes per day. Spending these 4-5 minutes as an extra investment of love will yield great results.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Show Me the Money

Sex get’s most of the hype as the big conversation topic prior to getting married. This is probably because, in general, sex is a lot more enjoyable to practice than any of the other issues a couple might face. With that said, the issue of money will usually be a more divisive topic than sex throughout a couples’ marriage.

Money will usually come up more than sex because we deal with it every day. The limitations placed on us in life are generally most evident when we look at our checking register.

So, what needs to be discussed about money prior to getting married? I’m glad you asked, because there’s plenty to cover. Before this conversation is had with your significant other, agree to be curious and graceful with one another. This is not a light-hearted topic. The below list is not an exhaustive list of questions and topics, but is meant to set the table for which to have an ongoing conversation about money.

Family history of money

What were the financial aspects of growing up? Everyone comes from someone, and everyone is shaped by the way that their family of origin handled their money. Some questions to consider here: What was important for your family? What or Where did they spend their money? What was their philosophy on saving, giving, and debt? Did you ever feel pressured to spend or not spend mom/dad’s money? Did money get talked about, and was this appropriate?

Purpose of money

Believe it or not, we all have very different ideas about what money is to be used for. Some view money as a security blanket, shielding them from the harsh realities of life. Some might view it as a fleeting object, to be spent when you have it. Can money buy happiness? What is the purpose and meaning of money?

Personal stories with money

What are the three to five most influential acts you’ve done that have had to do with money.? This could be a poor decision that resulted in a hardship (like the time I bought a pager when I was 16 so that my work, a shoe store, could get a hold of me — I spent hundreds of dollars on that pager and maybe received a total of 10 pages). On the other side, this could be a gift made to someone in need. Regardless, we all have stories about how and what we have done with money that reflect some of who we are.

Financial truths today

What are the financial details of your current situation? What is your salary, bonuses, commissions, etc? How much money do you have in savings, retirement, checking accounts, etc? What about debts, student loans, car notes, etc? What’s your credit story (if I pulled your credit report, what story would it tell)? Is there anything that you would change about the way you deal with money today?

Financial hopes tomorrow

One of the great aspects of getting married is that we get a chance to start fresh with some areas that we might not have handled well in the past. Money is one of those opportunities.

Do you anticipate both husband and wife working outside of the home indefinitely? How do the prospect of kids influence this decision? How do you want to handle saving, spending, retirement, college, etc?

If both husband and wife are working at the beginning of marriage, how do you want to harness the power of two incomes? A lot of times couples increase their standard of living once two incomes are put into the pot. I always suggest keeping the same standard of lifestyle for the first year, and then adjust as you see fit. Having more money in the bank will generally provide a safer place from which to have discussions about money together.

Beyond these topics that help you to address the past, present, and future, I suggest putting some boundaries in place that help couples succeed in their financial marriage. Firstly, once married do not have separate checking accounts. Open a joint account as soon as possible, and begin paying everything together from that account. Secondly, have bi-weekly and monthly budget meetings. Lastly, dream big. Talk about vacations, cars, trips, and home decor. Do some fun things together with money, and make your money work for you.

Money can be an incredible force in marriage. If you begin having these conversations today, you can set the table for your marriage to have healthy views and interactions about money. Be intentional with each other in talking about money, it will pay off.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Finding Light in the Darkness

(c) http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/04/20/news/final-shootout-in-boston

Celebrations in Boston after the news of the 2nd bombing suspect being captured.                                                                                Image curtsey of MN Public Radio.

Over the past week the people of this country have once again proven one of the most powerful human laws: Grief brings people together. This reality struck me on a number of levels last week as we watched an entire city be terrorized by two young men, a small town shaken by a tragic explosion, and a suburb locked down for almost 24 hours for a manhunt. I’m always amazed at how the experience of grief unites and connects people. No other experience matches it.

Each of these events, though two of them one of the same, brought to light the same story told over and over again throughout history. When people are unnecessarily hurting, we gather as friends, not enemies. We hug, cry, celebrate, and dance together.

Friday night after the second Boston gunman was caught, the celebration rang throughout the country. There were no party lines, no religious differences, and no declarations of morality. We were all united. United simply by the same goal we all share: To be treated fairly and respected. Tragedy breaks down walls.

I hate tragedy, but I respect it’s unjust place in life. We cannot keep it from happening, but we can keep fighting on behalf of good.

Tragedy doesn’t bring darkness, it invites light.

Tragedy says, “Look over here, I am broken, vulnerable, and afraid. I wish for peace, but cannot guarantee it for myself or my loved ones. Come some light, shine in the darkness and bring hope to this scary, uneasy, and very lonely place.”

In the end, tragedy exhausts the callused. Tragedy invites allegiance to the common good, the commonality that all humans share … the commonality that goes deeper than sexual preference, religious affiliation, or political party lines. Tragedy is an invitation. And in the end, tragedy is what fuels the sleepless nights on a manhunt.

Though I would never wish any semblance of human suffering to befall anyone, nor myself, I know of no other way to grow than through adversity. Adversity of the soul is the only way the soul is stretched, challenged, and matured.

Understandably, depending on where one is in the process of acceptance, the message that tragedy invites might be offensive. I too have felt this truth in my life because coming to accept my human finitude requires first that I find the end of myself, and thus find the beginning of Something larger, greater.

If you want to see “United We Stand” in action, visit a hospital waiting room. Atheists pray, grown men cry, enemies embrace, and the Tin Man gets his heart.

There are few experiences in this life that are as sacred as the grounds of grief. If you look closely, the light is ushering you to come forth from your hiding place to be welcomed and loved by friends and strangers alike.

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Fear of Losing Her

I’m afraid I’ll lose him or her can be one of the most powerful motivators in a relationship. There are many stories that shape the foundation of this fear, but regardless of it’s origin, the way you behave out of this fear will either result in bondage or freedom. If we’re honest, we all have fears about doing or not doing something that will bring an end to an important relationship. This fear may not be consciously present for both partners, but it’s in there.

There are two ways we typically react to this fear:

  1. Grab on tightly and not let go (a natural and normal reaction)
  2. Hold with open arms and allow the other the freedom to choose (a more nuanced reaction).

Obviously the latter is more difficult, but it’s a promise we all hope to give and be given upon getting married. This is the reality of accepting that love is a choice.

In the infancy of a relationship, it’s impossible for couples to not behave and interact as though devastation is but a whisper away. Couples will spend countless hours together, spending energy they’d normally reserve for work and other relationships, and will be quite infatuated with each other. It’s the picture of the animals coming out in the spring in the movie, Bambi. Everyone is twitterpated, and nothing else matters. This infancy can last days, weeks or years and is the beginning grounds of every relationship.

If one person tries to break free (mature) from the immaturity of the relationship, it forces the other person to either increase their efforts at containing the relationship or to follow the others’ lead. Thus begins the dance of “I’m afraid I’ll lose the other person.”

When we’re afraid of losing someone close, our natural tendency is to hold on tighter so as to guarantee the person never gets away. Said another way, finding something of immeasurable value is rare and it’s easy to want to horde so as to never experience the loss. God has hardwired us for relationships, and this is the dilemma that faces marriage:

 How do I ensure I’ll never lose him/her?

The unfortunate answer is that we can never ensure our own safety, or closeness to another person. Because of this, our humanness takes charge and we squeeze tight, so we don’t experience loss. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your spouse is to risk them feeling controlled. If this word pops up in your conversations, wisely heed the warning and address it.

The balloon analogy
What’s not understood in this dilemma is that when we squeeze something, we generally expel the air that resides inside; much like a balloon. Balloons are designed to hold air. When you commit your life to your spouse, you commit to caring for him/her the way you’d care for a balloon. Sometimes they’ll need you to put some air in them, sometimes they’ll need a string so they can fly in the wind but not get lost, and sometimes they’ll need to be left alone to dance on the floor to how the air moves them. If I’m afraid of losing my balloon, I might squeeze it so hard that all the air is expelled from the other person. “She’s safer in my pocket, than out on her own,” might be a phrase associated with this act or belief.

This dynamic plays an important part for the early stages of intimate relationships. This “holding on tightly” is usually given and received as a token of the pure love that couples have for one another. This can be experienced as love early on in a relationship, but as the individuals (and marriage) grows, so too does the need for a more matured expression of love.

Love takes energy and selfless behavior to care, respect, actively listen, attend, and honor our spouse. On the other hand, fear silences, manipulates, controls, and worries. Marriage is the choice to engage in spite of our fear. I liken it to the challenge of being given a rare flower that needs care, but room to breath and grow. Smother it, and it will slowly die; tend to it and it will thrive.

If we let the fear of loss control our actions and interactions with our spouse, it will result in a failure of love. Love is not static. It’s a dynamic process of growth both for the other and for ourselves.

 

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Back to the Future

(…originally published at StartMarriageRight.com)

Growing up, one of my favorite video games was Zelda. In addition to the combat and puzzles, my favorite part was discovering and conquering unknown levels. As the player, you’d know how much of a particular level you’d discovered based on the map in the lower right corner. However, in beginning each new level, the map resets to black. As you progressed in the new level, it would only illuminate where you’d previously been. The main component missing on the map: Where you were going.

Unknown territory, enemies, and lands all waiting in darkness to be discovered. As in real life, the map is a very crucial part of the game. Without it, the player/character would be doomed to revisit the same board or level over and over again. Our life map looks very similar to that of Zelda: Portions are illuminated because we’ve previously visited, and portions are darkened awaiting our visit. Unfortunately, many rarely visit the darkened portions of maps because of fear.

The known or the unknown? A common phrase that holds people back from getting more out of life is “fear of the unknown.” People are afraid of what might happen in the future if they pursue a public speaking job, start a blog, confront a friend or loved one, ask a girl on a date, or any number of risky vulnerabilities. For some the “fear of the unknown” is what to do with success, and for others it’s what to do with failure. These questions about the future are only powerful because this “fear of the unknown” is quite the opposite: It’s the fear of the known.

I’m afraid of spiders because of what I’ve seen—what I know. What they can do to someone doesn’t bring comforting thoughts or feelings to myself (perhaps watching the movie arachnophobia as a kid didn’t help matters). If I’d never been exposed to the harm of a black widow, brown recluse or other poisonous spiders, I probably wouldn’t be afraid. But I have been exposed to these potential dangers and thus I carry a warranted known fear of spiders.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to fear the unknown. We are afraid of what we know—those things we have previously uncovered or discovered. In playing Zelda, you have a sense what’s located in the undiscovered portions of the map only because you’ve been to previously undiscovered places. But you never know what was there until you’ve experienced it yourself.

As humans, we’re born with fear. Fear is that feeling that alerts your senses to potential danger or potential vulnerabilities. We react out of our fears to keep ourselves safe. It’s our human survival instinct, and is often referred to as Fight, Flight, or Freeze. We do any of these three in reaction to danger, to a fear. My fear of spiders is based on different literature I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, and being personally bitten many times by these minuscule beasts.

Though my encounter with spiders is a tangible example, the far more devastating and dangerous fears are what we do with our dreams and desires. Fear elicits feelings of being out of control, and we humans do not do out of control well. These feelings cause our fears to blind us to what’s present today by diverting our attention into the future; to what we can control. If pursuing one’s dream feels scary or out of control, the easiest way to gain control is to come up with an excuse as to why we cannot. The statement of “fearing the unknown” is an excuse. It’s an easy pass out of the tension of facing reality today.

In college my friends and I would go mountain biking in the Ozark Mountains. It was an exhilarating way to spend an afternoon away from studying and the hard life of a college student. Upon cresting a hill, we’d stop at the top and choose a direction downwards. As we surveyed the impending descent, working up the courage to propel our bodies off the ledge, one or all would say, “no falls, no balls.” And with that, we’d push off and fly down the hill. Sometimes flying down the hill turned into crashing down the hill. After a crash, there’d always be an increase of fear at the next hill.

Conquering fear requires facing it head-on. There is no way to get around it. Shortcuts will only intensify and prolong what you are trying to avoid. The way to conquer supposed “fear of the unknown”, is to face the fears that you do know. Face the fears that are presenting themselves today, and take them one step at a time. Look back to where you’ve been, and you’ll find reasons and stories that illuminate the fears of the future. In a sense, by taking a look where you’ve been, you’ll get to go back to the future.