On the nature of anxiety, life, adulting, and formal education

What is the one thing that human beings fear the most? I believe I might have an answer. It is something that keeps people stuck in ruts, keeps them from rocking the boat too much. It keeps people stuck in bad relationships, and jobs that they absolutely despise. I believe, the answer to the question is not death (speaking in public trumps the fear of death any day of the week, after all). I realize fully that my last hyperlink/citation essentially states that speaking in public is one of the greatest fears humans have. And yet, I have a differing opinion.

Yes, yes. I know. You wouldn’t be here – reading my words – if you didn’t care for my opinion.

But, hear me out. I am of the humble opinion that the thing that human beings fear the most is the fear of the unknown. Uncertainty gives an opportunity for tyrants to rise, and for empires to fall. It is the fear of the unknown (what’ll happen if I get up there on stage and start talking, will everyone think I’m a fat, stupid, slob who doesn’t deserve anything he/she’s earned over their lifetime? I don’t know) that will often make decisions for us.

It is easier to stay in a bad relationship (subconsciously speaking) where you know what to expect and what not to expect; rather than letting go. Going to heartache, and pain, and torment – venturing out there, into the ocean of life – into uncertainty without knowing what to expect next week, next month, next year. That’s just one example of many that ties into the fear of the unknown.

One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs is, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path; and that will make all the difference.” (Source)

For all of his flaws (no one is perfect, right?) I’ve always admired Mr. Jobs and his sheer tenacity. He was a great man, and while I never had a chance to meet him in person, I wish I could have.

I think this is often where my anxiety stems from. The fear of the unknown, starting a company and trying to make it on my own in an industry that’s so saturated with self-published works of genius that I often wonder where I stand, or how – if even – I might be able to compete. In a venture like this, the voices that say “no” kind of drown out the voices that are even willing to say “maybe” as far as working with you goes. It’s only when you realize that you’re the new kid on the block, that you realize that in essence, you truly are alone in this. Your victories are your own, but so are your failures. Nobody to blame but yourself… and that, right there, is the scariest thing. Whatever happens, it’s on me. Win, lose, or draw… right? Right. It’s hard not to think to oneself, “who am I to walk amongst these titans?” or “who am I to compete against these giants who’ve got so much money, power, and public support on their side?”

I think that’s one of the areas my formal education failed to prepare me for… I have a BA in General Psychology, and an MA in Clinical Psychology. But here’s the thing about school: There are defined pathways to success; if you try to work in teams – that’s called cheating, and you’re punished for it, and if you do everything as specified you usually ace the tests and pass the class. Real life, I’ve found, is not as predictable nor as straightforward. There are no defined pathways to success… and even if you do everything right – it doesn’t always mean you’ll make it. Luck is definitely a factor as well, although depending on how smart/hard you’re willing to work, the value of luck can be mitigated somewhat regarding the final outcome of your life.

I forget where I heard this metaphor, but it’s the best one I know to differentiate student life from… real life: Your student life (i.e., formal education) is a lot like a highway. There’s road-signs, speed-markers, navigational aides. Essentially, you know that if you drive in the direction where you’re driving, and so long as you stay on the road, and follow the rules – you’ll get to where you’re going safely without much of an issue. Real life, on the other hand, is like the open seas. It’s deep, there’s no sign-posts or speed-markers. There’s nothing to navigate by other than the stars (and even then, it’s basic navigation at best) and there’s nothing telling you what’s the right path to take. You don’t know when (or if, or where) you’ll encounter storms and rough seas. All you’ll get is a destination in mind… and it’ll be up to you to get there.

See the difference? My student life didn’t prepare me for the real world as much as I’d like to think it did. It is how it is, that’s the reality for millions of people today. That’s probably why adulting classes are necessary, right? I think so. Fortunately for me, I didn’t need a class in adulting to transition into adulthood; but just because I didn’t need it doesn’t mean that others don’t, and that’s perfectly OK.

Anyway, this post is now stretching 900+ words, so I feel like I should wrap this up… but I will say this much, if for nothing else than to simply remind myself once again: Everything starts with a dream. Everything. Anything I can see, touch, or hear… if it was created by a human at one point or another, then it was a dream inside a person’s head at one point or another. If Mr. Jobs, and Mr. Gates, and Mr. Robbins can do it – then the only thing that’s stopping me from becoming all that I can be is myself. I know I can do this, I know I can be a successful author and make a living with my writing. Now I just have to find a way to do it.

Anything I can see, touch, or hear… if it was created by a human at one point or another, then it was a dream inside a person’s head at one point or another. If Mr. Jobs, and Mr. Gates, Mr. Robbins, and anyone who went from nothing to having everything can do it – then the only person that’s stopping me from becoming all that I can be is myself. I know I can do this, I know I can be a successful author and make a living with my writing… Now I just have to find a way to do it and work through my fear of the unknown.

Until next time, dear readers.

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