Archive for February, 2017

Fear of Fear

fear of fearMost of the things we avoid are avoided because we’re afraid of being afraid.

The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss – there’s not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it’s easier to just avoid it altogether. We avoid the feeling of fear.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they’re most proud of.

It usually looks higher from up there. When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it’s easy to think that our plan is far too risky, or our behavior too weird.

The funny thing about perspective is that most bystanders don’t see you standing on a precipice at all. They see someone doing something a little risky, or even questionable, but by no means off-the-grid nuts. You’re far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far, especially if you tend to find yourself worrying over what others think.

Internal monologue amplifies personal drama. To the outsider, neither exists. That’s why our ledge-walking rarely attracts a crowd. What’s in your head is real to you, no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can see the resistance you are battling. And most don’t care about it.

How deep is the water? If it’s over your head, does it really matter?

At some point, when the stakes are high enough, you will swim. And when you swim, who cares how deep the water is?

How much does it cost you to avoid the feeling of risk? Not actual risk, but the feeling that you’re at risk? What are you missing out on? Feeling risk is very different than actually putting yourself at risk. Over time, we’ve created a cultural taboo about feeling certain kinds of risk, and all that insulation from what the real world requires is getting quite expensive. It’s easy to pretend that indulging in the avoidance of the feeling of risk is free and unavoidable. It’s neither.

The fear doesn’t care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.

 

Crystal Palace

crystalpalace

It’s beautiful. Looks fantastic. A great ideal to hold on to.

Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we’ve turned our lives into a type of crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.

We waste energy whining over slight imperfections, while we’re simultaneously losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk we spend our days in a prison we’ve built for ourself.

Shiny, but hardly nurturing. And still fragile.

Growth is messy and seems dangerous. Life is messy and inherently somewhat dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure, and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.

 

Risk of Unprepared

unprepared

Toronto gets a lot of snow. No one freaks out about it because there are machines and people to get rid of it, and an attitude that it’s hardly a problem worth hyperventilating over.

Many problems are like that. When we prepare for them and get used to them, they’re not problems anymore. They’re merely the way it is. We intuitively know this, although when new problems arise we sometimes react poorly, and we don’t like the accompanying feelings.

What about an individual? Is there much worse we can say about you and your work? “You are unprepared.” But the word “unprepared” really means two things. There is the unprepared of the quiz at school, of forgetting your lines, of showing up to a gunfight with a knife… this is the unprepared of being an industrial cog in an industrial system, a cog that is out-of-whack, disconnected and poorly maintained. What about the other kind, though?

We are unprepared to do something for the first time or to take a leap into the unknown, always. We are unprepared for our first hit, or for a massive failure unlike any we’ve ever seen before. We are unprepared to create a new kind of beauty, to connect with another human in a way that we’ve never connected before. We are unprepared to fall in love, and to be loved.

We’ve been so terrified into the importance of preparation, it’s spilled over into that other realm, the realm of life where we have no choice but to be unprepared.

If you demand that everything that happens be something you are adequately prepared for, I wonder if you’ve chosen never to leap in ways that we need you to leap. Once we embrace this chasm, then for the things for which we can never be prepared, we are of course, always prepared.

Because uncertainty is not the same thing as risk.

Often, the most important stuff we do doesn’t bring a guaranteed, specific result. Usually, the result of any given action on our part is unknown. Uncertainty implies a range of possible outcomes.

But a range of results, all uncertain, doesn’t necessarily mean you are exposing yourself to undue risk. It merely means you’re exposing yourself to possible outcomes you can’t fully play out and fall in love with in advance.

The question to ask yourself is, “are you hesitating because you’re not sure the future will match your specific vision, or is there truly a life-endangering risk here?”

A portfolio of uncertain outcomes is very different from a large risk.



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