"What the fuck did I just do?!" I put my hands over my face as my heart leapt to my throat and my stomach dropped as I began to shake.
I spend a lot of time thinking about fear. Mostly because it plays such a huge role in my everyday life. Whether it's the good kind of instinctual fear that keeps me from acting on insane impulses like driving off a bridge "just to see what would happen" to the fear that holds me back from racking up huge amounts of debt on my credit card, it occupies a huge part of my life.
Humans have such an interesting relationship with fear. There's the deep seated primordial kind that we have no control over, the adrenaline kick when you get startled, the immediate urge to duck when you see a shadow passing over head, those dreams where you're falling and suddenly jolt awake. You know, the kind of sudden fear that makes your heart leap to your throat while your blood roars in your ears. Most animals operate solely in this base level of reactionary living, acting instantly on these fear impulses but they lack the capacity to override it. That's our job. As humans, we get this unique cognitive boost that allows us to experience this absolute terror but also physically engage our minds to weigh the potential costs associated with the risk, decide it's worth it, and then command our muscles to move us forward to do the thing. Sometimes it's instantaneous, other times it takes a little coaxing but the fact that we can do that at all is so fascinating to me.
It also fascinates me that so many of us have these paralyzing fears that aren't instinctual, like the fear of what other people will think of us if we stray from the beaten path, what will happen if we quit the job we hate to start a completely new career. We thrive on safety. We relinquish our freedom of choice so we can lounge in the safety of the cage we've created for ourselves. We find homes we can retreat to at the end of the day and lock out the world. We find the safest cars we can afford to transport us to jobs we're not passionate about because they "offer great benefits" and "job security". This has come to be defined as the "American Dream". So many of us are afraid of taking risks, without realising that by taking your car on the road every day or eating junk food regularly, we're engaging in daily behaviours that are far more likely to kill us than chasing our passions. We suffer from stress about our emails and deadlines, projects and bills, money and debt without realizing the huge toll this takes on our health and on the enjoyment of the very "life" we are supposed to be working toward.
At what point did we move from that instinctual fear to this fear of the hypothetical and why can't we use the same manual override technique to conquer it? What is this fear costing us every time we feed it at the expense of our passions? We let this passive fear put a leash on our abilities and build a cage around us, while we stare longingly at those living meaningfully beyond our prison's bars. So much of what we suffer through on a daily basis, we do because we believe it's "safe" and that if we keep grinding at it, in a few decades we'll finally begin to chase the dreams of our youth. We are gambling on our youth. We're operating on the false promise that maybe one day, we will have the time, money, and opportunity to do the things that bring our life meaning. What bullshit.
There will never be a right time to do something. Never. There will always be reasons why you shouldn't or "signs"/people that will try to convince you the timing isn't right or that it's too hard or too different from what you know. But by giving into these obstacles, you're taking the risk that things won't get worse, conditions won't change.
You should do the thing.
Last night, while re-reading and editing this very post, I did the thing. A very stupid thing, but a thing I did nonetheless. I've been wanting to sign up for ultra races this year but I've been letting excuses masquerade as sound "reasons" and have successfully put it off for over two months. Thanks, fear. After reading this post, over and over, I finally decided to get off my preachy pulpit and put my money where my mouth is (okay, so I was peer-pressured. Same thing, right?). I signed up for not one, but TWO, ultramarathon races. My 2016 officially begins in two weeks with the Red Hot 55K in Moab, Utah. The second I submitted my payment information, I felt sick to my stomach with agonising fear.
"What the fuck did I just do?!" I put my hands over my face as my heart leapt to my throat and my stomach dropped as I began to shake. I stared at my computer. I stared at my mushy, out of shape legs swinging on the kitchen barstool. I stared at my intact, normal-coloured toenails. What the hell was I thinking? And, more importantly, what the hell am I going to do now? Do the thing, I guess.
Humans are excellent survivalists, our primitive ancestors were found living in some of the harshest conditions on earth. We adapt and thrive. As hearty as humans are, we're not immortal and we millions of us die everyday doing the most mundane things. The odds are in your favour that you'll survive whatever big undertaking you've got up your sleeve, don't let the "what-ifs" hold you back. The biggest risk you could take is falsely believing you have more time. Do the thing and do it now.