I got an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) from Georgetown University in 1993. What motivated me to get an MBA? I can sum it up in one word: Fear.
How so? I was working in Washington, D.C., first as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill and then running my own lobbying firm.
My fallback MBA
But if the Washington/politics thing didn’t work out, wouldn’t it be smart to have an MBA as a backup? If I got knocked flat on my butt someday, wouldn’t it be “prudent” to have that business credential in place?
The answer to both questions, in hindsight, was and is a resounding no. Going to business school was a complete waste of time, money and energy. What it revealed was a lack of confidence I had in myself.
And so it is with so many in our society today. Do parents want their kids to go to the best college they can because they truly believe that will give junior the best chance at happiness or because they think it will give him the best chance at not starving to death someday, alone in an alley?
Do these same parents convince their kids to major in business instead of history, which is what they have a real interest in, because they think that is their road to Happyville or because it gives them the best chance at avoiding the poorhouse?
Fear, fear, fear.
What these parents really reveal is a total lack of confidence in their kids. They helicopter mostly to alleviate their own anxieties, not out of devotion to their kids’ best interests.
It’s embedded in society. Look at many of our great athletes. I hear so many of them say something along the lines of, “I can never relax. I can never stop. If I do, somebody somewhere is going to gain on me.” And the response by society, at least here in America, is:
“Now that is one solid guy/woman. Always looking behind their shoulder to see if someone is gaining on them. That’s the way of a true champion!”
But in the end, what it is is working hard out of fear. And for most who do it, it’s crippling.
Hard work is great
I am of course not denigrating hard work. I love working hard and being disciplined. It’s energizing and fulfilling to exert effort.
But I also work hard at not working hard out of fear that if I don’t work hard some awful fate will await me. I take the opposite tack that I work hard because it’s exhilarating to produce, in my case, these articles about life and spirituality.
What it boils down to is a question of confidence — in ourselves and in the Universe/God/Life or whatever metaphysical force you believe in. If we have confidence in ourselves and in life, then we don’t need to fear anything.
The ego loves fear
So why does fear rule the roost for so many of us? Because virtually everybody’s life is dictated by their ego. And the ego’s best friend is fear.
And why do our egos guide our lives? Because that is what has been handed down to us, generation after generation.
Eating brown bananas
My parents came of age in the Depression in the 1930s. What did that mean for their offspring, specifically me, their sixth kid? It meant you ate brown, bruised bananas, you ate everything on your plate and you went to business school to hedge your bets. It’s no coincidence that all six of us Gerken kids got graduate degrees.
My parents’ behavior, and their parents’ behavior, and on and on, makes sense. They had to scrape by in tough times as kids. Of course that’s what they’re going to teach their kids.
But just because this fear-driven way of life has been passed down to us doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. It isn’t.
That’s a main reason I’m writing this: To offer an opposing point of view to all these parents who want their kids to go to Harvard and athletes who always look behind them to see who’s gaining. Because as it stands, there is no opposing view. This is the hard truth:
Society accepts, condones and pushes living life in fear.
I say we change that. How?
Let me back into a solution by diving into neuroscience. The human brain’s fear center is called the amygdala. People with active amygdalas are anxious worriers, which is most of humanity. The part of the brain that exerts an inhibitory influence on the amygdala, i.e. calms it down, is called the prefrontal cortex.
Meditation shrinks the Nervous Nelly
Which leads us to meditation. Studies from Harvard have shown that regular meditation can actually shrink the amygdala and make it less active. These same studies show that meditation causes a thickening of the walls of the prefrontal cortex.
In short, meditation strengthens the “cool peaceful cucumber” part of the brain and weakens the “Nervous Nelly,” fearful part of the brain.
Throw in mindfulness practices and any others that promote the quieting of the ego (yoga, prayer, qi gong, walks in nature…) and we are on the road to a massive paradigm shift from fear-based to stillness-based living. Where we march to the tune not of our fearful, neurotic minds, but to the divine being inside us that can only be heard when the cacophonous Nervous Nelly shuts the heck up.
It’s a long road. And the reason I’m doing what I’m doing is to try everything in my power to shorten that road as much as possible.
The more I meditate and practice mindfulness, the more I realize that I have nothing to fear. And it feels great.I hope you too will work on getting quiet inside. And eventually get to that place where you no longer run your life based on fear, but are instead guided by that beautiful, still, compassionate place that doesn’t just love you.
It is love.