I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caved into the temptation to kick off my boots and wade into the dark night of my own soul.

That indulgent place where Fear looms larger than Life itself, and Life exists only to feed Fear’s insatiable hunger for anxious dependence. I’ve walked the dark and lonely path many times of my own accord, even as I advised others not to. Even when I knew it would only make matters worse. I’ve chosen, without apology, that dimly lit, yet well-worn detour– the shortest distance between two points–straight to the emptiest parts of myself. I’ve even experienced a strange comfort there, despite my frenzied searching for a way out.

I’ve ruminated on the fates I knew I could simply never survive: Loss. Failure. A public fall from grace. I played the odds, letting fear dictate my decisions. Letting worry steer my ship. I spent so much time side-stepping these landmines I made idols of them. With every chance I didn’t take, I worshiped my fears. With every sleepless night, I enshrined them.

And then?

They came anyway.

Swiftly and silently they swooped in like a S.W.A.T. Team– the monsters under my bed, the worst-case scenarios, the fates worse than death. My worry hadn’t protected me. It hadn’t even prepared me. “Cowards die many times before their deaths,” William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, “the valiant never taste of death but once.” I think it’s safe to say I’m no stranger to the notion of death by a thousand paper cuts.

But the strange thing about coming face to face with our monsters is that often, it’s only when we shine a light on our most feared idols that we are finally able to see their clay feet.  It’s only when we get close  to our fears that we notice they’re not nearly as powerful as we had once believed them to be. And not just that– but we, no longer victims of our own dark imaginings, are actually stronger and more resilient than we thought. When forced to confront the fates we fear most we still remember how to put one foot in front of the other. We are clever and thoughtful beyond measure. We are full of creative ideas. We can survive in the dark and dismal depths long enough to build our own ladders out. We have everything we need. We will always find the light.

When it comes to our deepest and darkest fears– the ones that haunt us in the daytime and rob us our joy in the now, I believe Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius had it right:

Never let the future disturb you.
You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

How can he be so sure?

Think back on your life, friends, and tell me: Has it ever been any other way?