Take the Risky Path (Not the Stupid Path)

I did a quick interview the other week with Chris Garrett, which he posted here.

The comments got me thinking. The people who read Chris Garrett’s blog are not our tribe, they’re a different kind of people. Seekers maybe. Maybe more pro-blogger types. Either I didn’t express myself properly, or my message is not what I want it to be to the outside world.

The statement which was the most repeated was “fear is not pointless.” Of course it isn’t– it is a real phenomenon that needs to be thought about. You and I know that fear isn’t stupid, but it doesn’t stop us from being anxious even though it might not make sense to feel it.

Let’s be honest here. We live in the lap of luxury. Our world is safer than it’s ever been, even with the false specter of terrorism, and the somewhat distant threat of global warming, in our vicinity. The things we’re anxious about have more to do with what our boss will say on his yearly report than anything really risky.

This sort of anxiety, the kind we feel everyday about going to a party where we don’t know anyone, or about quitting the job we hate– this fear isn’t real the way that being chased by a bear is real. It’s imaginary. It’s an illusion. If you’ve quit a job before, or you’ve walked into a few parties, you know this. You realize the core of it: in almost all circumstances where we feel anxious, we’re actually going to be totally fine.

This is why we need to not give into this kind of anxiety. It’s clear that it isn’t comfortable, but if we don’t get past it, we’ll feel it next time, and the time after that. Next thing we know, we’ll be like Pavlov’s dogs and be afraid to even step next to the thing that we’re afraid of. We’ll get even more distant than we were, because we’ll try to avoid the feeling itself. This is automatic. It’ll happen even if we don’t think about it.

The alternative– the “safe” alternative in the sense that it understands the illusory nature of much of these threats, is to move through the fear like a waterfall, get a bit cold in the process, and emerge at the other side. Doing this as often as possible means that we’ll understand the nature of these emotions and be able to assess them realistically instead of jumping to conclusions. We realize we’ll be able to handle it because we’ve been through it before.

This is the “risky” path. It feels risky, and it is different than what most people do. But it isn’t stupid. It doesn’t say “ignore all fear. Jump off the cliff, fuck it.” Instead, it helps you come to grips with what really happens when you do this, and learn from it instead of taking it on faith.

We, as seekers, do not take the stupid path. We do take the risky path. There is a huge difference– one is insane. The other is logical and extremely sane. We know this, and because we do, we carry on.






9 responses to “Take the Risky Path (Not the Stupid Path)”

  1. Eric Pratum Avatar

    As soon as you say, “Fear is not pointless,” I think of the scene in Annie Hall, where Diane Keaton says, “The only books you ever bought me had Death in the title.” To which, Woody Allen responds, “It’s an important topic.”

    It all reminds me of the fact that some topics might be uncomfortable to talk about but are still important to understand, because we might not like fear, but try as we might, it still affects our lives.

  2. Whitney Hoffman Avatar

    The truth is that not even the supposedly safe paths are all that safe anymore. Constant change is the way things are, and the sooner we accept that and come to some basic level of comfort with constant evolution, the happier we’ll be.

  3. Zach Cole Avatar

    This is a great piece. From the perspective of a college student about to graduate, this article reminds me of a talk I witness last year. The CEO of a major company (pardon me for forgetting her name) was discussing with us college students how horrible the job market – a thought that I’m sure frightened many a senior. However, she then told us all to just jump at opportunities and trust that things will be alright.

    Great post, Julien. And thanks for speaking with our class last night!

    1. Julien Avatar

      @Zach: You’re welcome, it was a good time. You had great questions!

  4. Julie Avatar

    Fear is like an alarm bell, telling us where we should go.

  5. Alfonso Becerra Avatar
    Alfonso Becerra

    Nice piece, got me thinking about Maslow’s pyramid and how updated or hacked it is nowadays. If those needs/fears on the bottom level are really satisfied/relieved or is it only superficially? Do we care, in a different way, about satisfying those levels? Do we choose to skip somehow the basic levels so that we focus on the more intellectual/emotional gratifications?

  6. Joe Sorge Avatar

    Julien, thanks for this. It’s another one of your posts on fear that I’ll carry around with me for quite some time, I still visit the other posts too. They are very much alive for me and I quite enjoy visiting them as if the posts themselves represent fear in those stages. I’m not sure how you’re doing it, or why it impacts me so, but thank you.

  7. Julien Avatar

    I write about it because I’m starting to understand it more on a personal level.

    Also it means that I’m really seeing it in myself when I have blocks. What I normally would give myself excuses for, I can now see that I have trouble doing.

  8. George D Avatar
    George D

    The fear is real. If you have no money you can’t survive. It’s as simple as that.

    There’s plenty of advice on how to quit your job – I know, I’ve taken it and travelled internationally and had the best experiences of my life. I also moved internationally to do something of interest. But eventually the money runs out though, you come back and are stuck looking at jobs as bad as the one you quit.

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