Friday, 19 September 2014

Bloody Ninjas, Man

Fear: a hissing, slithering, word for a nasty, insidious, feeling.

It's almost onomatopoeic in the way it perfectly marries form and meaning. Much as I love lexical oddities in the abstract, though, the practicality is that fear is like a ninja: it's sneaky, it's dangerous, and you have to be on your feet to see it coming. Fear creeps in; fear creates false dichotomies; fear warps and twists and limits, and all without our realising.

The funny thing is that – once upon a time – fear was a good thing. You know the things that scare me? Spiders, clowns, and commitment. All told, they're pretty unlikely to kill me, but once upon a time people were scared of real threats – sabretooth tigers, virulent plagues, the tribe on the other side of the hill – the list goes on. Fear and caution kept you safe, and without them the human race probably wouldn't have gotten as far as it has.

Of course, the converse is true, too: we might well have gotten farther without fear. How many mistakes and poor choices have been made because we were scared? Where would we be – as individuals, as a people – if we could learn to trust a little more? Because once upon a time fear was valuable, and fear kept us alive, but nowadays pretty much all it does is hold us back.

Mouth first - perhaps the worst way to be held back.

The unknown used to contain things with claws, fangs, and poisonous stingers, but for the majority of people reading this the unknown is just as likely to contain pleasant opportunities and unexplored possibilities.

You want an example?

I have an example.

As anyone who's been following The Grown-Up Game knows, I'm big on plans, and my Plan at the moment is to be in London, working a literary career, within a year. I was so focussed on this plan – and this was a mistake in many ways, but that's a blog post for another day – so focussed, that I was blinded to the other paths I might take. I came to view anything and everything that wasn't directly and immediately relevant to that Plan as a wasted effort, and became so afraid of making a mis-step that I became afraid of making any steps at all.

It kinda goes without saying that you can't make any progress that way.

If it weren't for circumstances outside of my control, I wouldn't be working the job I'm working at the moment. That would suck because – although this job is only working towards my Plan in a tangential fashion – it's a great job, with great people, that I enjoy. Had I been left to my own devices, I think there's a real risk I would've allowed fear to prevent me striking out into unfamiliar and unplanned-for territory … without even realising that's what I was doing.

Because that's what fear does: it stops us making stupid decisions, but it also stops us taking potentially-rewarding gambles. Don't get me wrong: I love a horror film, and they just wouldn't be the same without fear – but there's a time and place for everything, and when you put the DVD case back on the shelf, you need to be putting fear away too.

Simple fact is, if you want to do more in life than tread water, you need to be taking those chances.

Don't you think?