Dearest EXPLORE Reader,
I’ve been fully self-employed now since 2003. No safety net. No side-hustle. No every-other-Friday paycheck. Just a laptop and some hard work that has managed to keep a roof over my head for a whopping 16 years now.
I remember when I started that I wasn’t really too worried about things. I was renting a tiny house over on Kronkosky St. as I was fresh out of college and everything I owned was a hand-me-down of some sort or another. I suppose I didn’t have much to worry about losing if I failed, so I just shrugged my shoulders and off I went. Here I sit 16 years later still doing the same thing.
I’ve had a lot of fun doing this job. Sure, I hate it some days, but for the most part, it has suited me well. I have never really worried about revenues or income or whether I could pay my mortgage because I’ve been blessed enough for things to just sort of work themselves out. Like many of you I would classify myself as “comfortable”, and that’s been dependable enough for me. That is, until recently.
I’ve started to not trust my job. I’m unclear as to why. Nothing has really changed for me. Business hasn’t dried up. My expenses haven’t multiplied. I’m still enjoying it. But sure enough, I seem to be “distrustful” of my vocation. As if, at any minute, it’ll all just explode and I’ll be left kicking a rock down Main Street as the locks on my house doors are changed by the bank. I’m left confused and tired from the stress.
I used to fly 3 times per week for a job I had right before this self-employed gig. I flew from San Antonio to Houston on Tuesday, on Wednesday I flew to Dallas, and on Friday I would fly home. I did this for a couple of years I suppose. I never much enjoyed flying as it always made me nervous, but I had no reason to fear it either. I stepped off of a plane in 2003 for the final time and haven’t been on one since. Again, without real reason, I have developed a full blown phobia for flying and have frequent nightmares about it and just the thought of strapping into the seat makes me break out in a sweat. I’m terrified of it, and have no reason to be.
I also would have characterized myself as a “lover of people” for the first 38 years of my life. I so enjoyed my relationships in my life and counted them as some of the most valuable parts of what made me who I was. I loved meeting new people, getting to know them, and trusted that the vast majority of people have my best interests in mind and that, at our core, most of us are pretty good people. I’ve lost that somewhere. Life has chosen to teach me in the past decade that my blind trust in people is not advised, and I’ve gotten spanked pretty hard. So now I catch myself resisting relationships, assuming that people are out to hurt me, and retreating from my relational growth that I think that I should be enjoying.
I’ve been thinking about these examples in my life lately and have been trying to make some sense of them. As always, I’ve made marginal progress, so perhaps so open discussion about them might spur me forward. Who knows.
I think back through these examples and one thing that I’ve accepted is that in all 3, I had no reason to FEAR. I believed I could be self-employed, so I was. I had no reason to fear planes, so I just did it. I was happiest when I trusted in people, so I did. So how and where did I pick up a “fear” of all three (and trust me, there are more)?
One of the best and worst things about life itself is that we all must learn. What’s the old saying – “Life is a harsh teacher. She gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.” Isn’t that the truth? So much of life consists of your dumb naivety and sometimes you succeed due to your own blind luck, and sometimes you fall flat on your face, though you didn’t expect to. From there, you pick up your pearls of wisdom and move forward to your next big adventure, but you do so somewhat wiser.
But maybe sometimes, you don’t just pick up wisdom – you pick up FEAR.
We are all born with no fear of virtually anything. Relationships, planes, money, health…as children, these have no real bearing on our lives so we can’t fear what we don’t know. But then life itself can beat the crap out of us, and your parents get divorced, so you learn a hard lesson in relationships and stability. Your sweet grandma grows ill and you learn about the value of health and begin to worry about others in your life that might fall ill. And on and on we go.
As we all mature and grow, I think that oftentimes we think to ourselves “All these bad things that COULD happen, won’t happen to me” and for the most part, that proves to be true. So we put our nose down and we get to living.
But then sometimes, after 20+ years of living and experiencing life in all of its ugly, chaotic, crazy madness, we catch ourselves assuming the worst for situations and being afraid of things that haven’t happened. That is a journey that does not make me happy, and here I sit on a Monday morning contemplating the frustration of fear, of faith, and of life itself.
I was just looking at a calendar and realized that I have spent the better part of the past decade in worry. ALMOST TEN YEARS. Up at night, wringing my hands, assuming the worst, avoiding people, hiding out, and just being separated from the things that have historically given me great purpose and a reason to live. I was very, very safe on my living room recliner. Alone. You can’t hurt me there. I can’t crash in a plane when I’m watching Netflix on my couch. A significant other can’t hurt my heart when I’m working 16 hours a day on my laptop. I can’t have friends that get sick when I have worked hard to remove friends from my life. Nope, it’s just myself, my kids, my couch, and my tv. I’m as safe as can be. Oh, and a dog. Can’t forget Bella.
I suppose that I could have lived out my days in this situation. I could have become a wrinkled old man, shuffling around my safe living room waiting for my kids to come visit, still terrified of flying and still pissed off at the entirety of the human race for taking advantage of me, and I suppose that I would have managed to miss some of the pains of life that were meant for me due to my isolation. Maybe I was close to doing that very thing. Maybe I was really really close.
But the other day I bought a book about overcoming a fear of flying because I really, really want to see Italy. I’m not sure if it will “work”, but I’m motivated. And I desire it. My job still stresses me out, but I’m trying to focus more on the big picture and see that things are, in fact, just fine. I’ve even been working to let new people into my life and to stop being such an old fuddy duddy and to dish out a hug now and then. My point is that I’m just trying and maybe that’s the biggest step.
You are reading this at some point during June and you have struggles. I know this to be true. You’re scared of things, and you avoid some other things, and you’ve sworn off some other things, and you’re struggling with each of them. Maybe you’re like me and you’re quite comfortable with your evening news and an afghan across your lap and surfing Facebook on your phone and the blinds being closed each evening. You have your dogs, and the familiar voice of Alex Trebek provides the comfort you need most evenings. Maybe you’re ok there. Maybe.
But I bet you really want to see Italy. Or Bora Bora. Or to meet someone new. Or to find some new friends and take up bowling. Or painting. Or reading. Or WHATEVER. You really desire more, but your boundaries have become so tight around you that nobody can enter.
I’d challenge you to work on that.
I’m not far ahead of you in the race for self-improvement (trust me) but I’m honest and I know that I’m a broken, messed-up man. If you’ve ever read these columns, you’d know that I’m willing to unpack some pretty intense stuff, and I guess my fear issues are in that vein. But I want to get better, so I throw it out there and every month I hope that somebody writes me and tells me that they also fight the endless battles the same as I.
Let’s get better, huh? Buy the book. Take the class. Make the call. Get dressed up for the date. Buy the tickets. Do the thing that scares you and find the strength to grow. Life is too damn short to desire much else.
And too damn scary.
Welcome to June. It’s summer, Berges Fest is right around the corner, and adventure awaits. Throw off those lines, embrace your fears, and EXPLORE all that which holds you back. And then do it all…at least twice.