I don't ask for a lot.
I want a life that is interesting, exciting, challenging, rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful. I also want a life that is safe, secure, predictable, comfortable and easy.
Somehow that doesn't all fit together. And yet, at any given time, I find myself living my life according to one set of wants or the other.
I suspect I'm not alone. Most people I know seem to have the same struggle. Perhaps it is simply part of the human condition. We all are torn between those wants (or needs) that are often considered basic (safety, security and such) and those that seem to be less concrete but sometimes more powerful.
We may not be able to specify just exactly what makes our lives meaningful, for example, but we will sometimes go to great lengths and sacrifice much to find such meaning.
It seems to me that both fear and courage play a role in how we mediate between these differing, and sometimes conflicting, wants.
Certainly we all need a certain degree of safety and security in our lives. If we are bit unsure where our next meal is coming from or where we're going to spend the night, we're probably not going to spend a lot of time and energy pursuing excitement or challenge.
Once a certain level of our basic wants has been met, however, we are faced with the decision whether to risk pursuing those other, less tangible wants.
If we are controlled by fear -- fear of not knowing what we want, fear of not knowing how to get it, fear of not being able to get it, fear of losing what we have, or perhaps fear of other peoples' disapproval -- then we can retreat into the more comfortable or safe worlds we have constructed for ourselves.
It takes courage to seek out interest, excitement, challenge, reward, fulfillment and meaning in our lives. Such courage, however, does not take away our fear; it simply empowers us to act despite our fear.
Why should we seek a life that is interesting, exciting, challenging, rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful? I can really think of only two reasons.
First, safety and security, even when we find it, is ultimately only transitory. Ask the Chicago South Side steelworker or the West suburban Lucent veteran. Ask the woman whose husband has died leaving her to raise five children. Ask the person who discovers he has multiple sclerosis. Ask the family whose house, filled with a lifetime of possessions, burns to the ground.
Safety, security, ease and comfort are all important but, in this world, only temporary. To spend our lives solely in pursuit of these needs is inevitably futile.
Second, such wants as interest, fulfillment and so forth are in many ways more basic; they have more to do with a life worth living than many of the others we assume are more important. Ask the person who has such a life. They often have willingly sacrificed safety, comfort or ease in their pursuit of these other wants.
We probably can have it both ways, at least some of the time. I sure hope so. But we must also recognize that there will be times in all our lives when we have to live courageously, seeking out the challenge and meaning that truly makes life worth living.