Unlocking the Cage

Sep 13

“The Life of Every Man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another.  His humblest hour is when he compares the volume as is with what he vowed to make it.”   – James Berry

This quote was in a newsletter sent to me by a friend over the weekend.  It really struck me to my core thinking about what it says.  It was especially poignant since I spent the weekend with some of my climbing team from Kilimanjaro.  We participated in a presentation to people with people with Parkinson’s about how important it is to have a positive outlook, to set goals and keep moving.  Over the weekend we spent a lot of time together reliving and processing our experiences on Kilimanjaro.  One of the themes I heard over and over again from the people who climbed with us that have MS or PD is that they wouldn’t change a thing.  That their lives now having more meaning and purpose because of their disease.  This really touched me after reading the quote above because these people started out thinking they were going to write a very different story before they were diagnosed and now they are writing something different.  They have chosen to use it to build strength and character and to impact and inspire others with the disease.   What story am I choosing to write?

I’ve been really trying to think about the story that I meant to write long ago when I started out in the world and the one that I am writing now.  I think most people don’t really reflect on this sort of thing until they come closer to their end in life or to some life or death circumstance.  But I want to make sure that I am writing the story I will be happy to measure myself against at the end of my days.  But first I have to consider what keeps me from writing that story.

When I was in high school and college I loved the creative arts – painting, drawing, drama, photography, writing.  All these things gave me great joy but I saw no economic way to make a living at them that was “safe”.  Growing up my father was a real estate developer.  So sometimes we had lots of money and other times not very much.  This created a sense of fear in me around money and wanting to have a secure source of money .  so despite the fact that I wanted to study theatre or something in the arts, I chose a career in accounting.  I was good at and it came easily.  I graduated with honors and went out in the to world to make my mark.  I had taken my first step away from the story I had originally wanted to “write” for myself.  My career moved along nicely and I continued to get promotions or new jobs with more responsibility and more money.  But I wasn’t any more secure.  I always felt like I didn’t have enough to be secure.  This kept me locked in a cage of fear for more than 20 years chasing the goal of  enough.  Over those years I sacrificed and sold my time – time away from the things and the people that I loved – but I was never secure.  I was still locked in the cage.  The biggest lock to my cage is my fear around money.  In 2007,  I finally got a little courage and I quit but I was still locked in the cage, writing the same story that was off course – going back to my comfort zone looking at “jobs” that were in my field of experience.  But my field of experience wasn’t my passion.  Each time I would allow myself to get off course of exploring my passions it was because I was being gripped by fear – fear of not enough money, fear that people would think I was nuts, fear that I would lose everything I had worked so hard for, fear of really speaking my truth.  As I started to examine myself and understand that I was locked in this cage of fear, I began to notice how many times I heard other people mention the words “fear” or “afraid”.   If you stop and really listen in your daily life to the people around you I think you will be amazed at how many times you will hear those words.

So it occurred to me that as a society we are overwhelmingly locked in a cage of fear from obtaining our full potential.  Fear prevents us from even trying in so many cases.  Here are just a few examples I have observed in the last month:

  •  a friend of my daughter’s didn’t try out for the play because she was afraid she wouldn’t get a part
  • another friend of hers didn’t try out for volleyball because she was afraid she would get cut
  • a friend of mine didn’t send a resume in for a job opening because they were afraid they didn’t have enough experience
  • another friend didn’t call a potential client because she was afraid her bid would be too high and she wouldn’t get it
  • one of my MS friends from the climb said she was afraid her life was over when she was diagnosed and she just sat down and stopped living for a while
  • one of our fellow climbers quit at the very beginning because she was terrified she wouldn’t make it and would be a burden to others
  • my daughter wants to be a sculptor but she doesn’t because she’s afraid she can’t make a living at it
  • I’m not finishing my novel because I’m afraid that “I’m not a writer and I won’t be able to get it published”
  • Some people didn’t fly on Sunday because they were afraid they might be on a plane that would blow up
  • The stock market keeps gyrating because people are afraid and their fear makes the market more unstable
See how these fears prevent each of us from doing something or reaching for something that we really want.  It really is a cage that holds us back from fully experiencing our lives as they should be. So what if we don’t get the part or nobody buys the book or we don’t reach the top of the climb – isn’t it better to have tried and failed than not to try at all?  Can’t we dust ourselves off and try again and again.  Its hard but it can be done.
I am working hard every day now to unlock my own cage of fear and step out to write the story of my life that I really want it to be – not the safe, easy version – the full out, sailing through the air, adventure of a life that I know my life can be if I am not afraid to live it.  That doesn’t mean I won’t have fears from time to time.  What it means is that each time I am faced with a fear that could lead me down a path to a mediocre life, I will cast it aside and step forward with courage.
What about you?  Will you step forward today with courage and overcome the fears that haunt you and keep you from living your full life?
A few famous quotes about fear to close:
“You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.”  ~Mary Manin Morrissey
“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” ~ German Proverb
“What are fears but voices airy?
Whispering harm where harm is not.
And deluding the unwary
Till the fatal bolt is shot!”
    ~ Wordsworth
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
  ~ Frank Herbert, Dune – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
“What we fear comes to pass more speedily than what we hope.”
~ Publilius Syrus – Moral Sayings (1st C B.C.)


  1. Martha:

    These great words of wisdom. Thank you for sharing.


  2. sue thomson /

    please write that book, you HAVE so much ability and so much
    to offer. I simply loved the above blog.

    I missed you this weekend. Hugs SUz

    • mcarlin /

      Thanks Suz. You are inspiring me. The blog is starting to give me a little confidence to overcome my fear of writing the book/books I have in my head. Hearing from those I admire that I am a good writer helps. I know that I need to overcome the fear with my own confidence but it is still hard to admit that I would rather be a writer than a business person. People who know me as a business person/COO/accountant have a hard time imagining me as something else.

  3. Danny Pickett /

    Fear of success is also very prevalent in our society.

    • mcarlin /

      Thanks for the comment. Hoping that some of my friends out there are reading it but you never know unless you get a comment.

      • I’ve never had a real phobia that I’ve been aware of, but then again I don’t lead a plsiycahly adventurous life. And while certain activities make me nervous – I’m not crazy about flying, and my clumsiness makes certain stuff like hiking and snorkeling a little more exciting than they are for normal people – I’ve never had anything that approaches phobia.Until I started riding my bike on the Braes Bayou trails here in Houston, near my home. Miles and miles of wonderful and neatly landscaped asphalt trails that border Braes Bayou. Most of the trail is at street level – but when you hit Kirby Drive, the trail descends down to the level of the bayou – it’s a big wide concrete sided stream a good bit below street level.I see old people, young people, fat people, people clearly less experienced at bike riding than myself, whiz down the trail to the bayou level every day – it’s a wide trail, and the trail that runs along the water is very wide too – the descent is gentle and the trail at water level is completely flat and there are no obstructions. But I cannot do it. As soon as I approach the point where the trail begins its descent, I start o tremble and hyperventilate. All I can think, all I can see in my mind’s eye, is going headfirst over my handlebars and into the bayou. I can’t even walk my bike down the descent and then proceed to ride along the flat trail – I can walk it, but I can’t ride my bike. The shaking and trembling make it impossible.I’ve never experienced a physical phobia like that. It’s not life-interrupting, of course, because I don’t really need to do it, but it’s given me a new sympathy for people who do suffer phobias that make their lives more difficult to conduct normally.Of course, the fact that I once fell out of the attic – by way of the unsupported insulation, through the ceiling and straight down to the kitchen floor below – is a good reminder that maybe my fear isn’t a phobia so much as a realistic fear of spazzing out and really hurting myself.

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