Over the last few years, I have (gratefully) become aware of the wisdom and insights of the Jungian therapist James Hollis. One of his most recent books is titled Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. It is a hopeful and realistic appraisal of the challenges and opportunities of mid-life.

Some of his finest insights concern “the grinning gremlin of fear.” Here, without further comment from me, is a trenchant passage from that book:

Standing up to our fear is perhaps the most critical decision necessary in the governance of life and the recovery of the soul’s agenda in the second half of life. The subtlety with which fear can govern us is extraordinary. Its effect is found not only in the patterns of avoidance, which are so common in our lives, but also in denial, splitting (separating our lives into simplistic good-and-bad choices),or projection onto others.

One of the most common ways fear can be in charge will be found in our flight from personal responsibility. . . .As long as we resist deciding what works for us, what is confirmed by our experience rather than external authority, what opens rather than narrows our life, then we will never grow up. As scary as living can be, stop and think how you will feel if, on your deathbed, you look back on your life and conclude that you never showed up because you were afraid. Isn’t that grim prospect more frightening than facing the fear itself, up front, now? (pp. 98-99)