I’m thinking of a number…
Note: I’m rapidly approaching the day which marks me having taken yet another trip around the sun - and that got me thinking. This blog post is the result.
This was one of the more difficult posts to write, because it’s very personal. We all have our own personal hells built from fear and anxiety - and this one is mine.
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is this: never judge another person’s fears. It’s all too easy to do, and it’s just wrong and incredibly unkind.
We somehow manage to find so many things in this world to divide humanity into “us” and “them.” But we’re all afraid of something…
Seeing him that way hurt.
It was the contrast. The last time I’d seen him had been so different. Then, he was himself. Not anymore.
My Grandpa was sitting up in a hospital bed, and for most of my visit with him, he had a distant look in his eyes. When you see that look, you know: he’s not really there. His mind has wandered away.
It might come back in a moment, in an hour, in a day - it might not. Over the course of the time I was there, his mind wandered back a few times - but for the most part, it was away.
There were tantalizing moments where clarity seemed so close. He would sometimes talk about normal things - he would walk along that border between reality and whatever it is that lies beyond. Thinking back, those moments were probably more my wishful thinking than anything else.
Then, there were the bugs.
He was at war with imaginary bugs. They were a constant nemesis. Crawling out of his ears, out of the IV in his arm, out of the pillow. He rarely sat still - because the bugs wouldn’t let him.
He needed to smash them between a leathery finger and thumb.
He needed to scratch them away.
There were lots of marks on his face, bloody scratches by his ears - the war wounds of his battle with the bugs.
Seeing him that way hurt.
And it was terrifying…
This is my biggest fear.
I’m getting older - all of us are. But for me, each passing year makes my fear grow bigger and bigger.
I don’t want to end up like him.
There. I said it, wrote it… whatever.
For my entire adult life, I’ve made my living off of the three pounds of stuff between my ears. The thought that it may, ultimately, betray me is what terrifies me - what keeps me awake at night. My biggest fear.
With each new trip around the sun, I find myself wondering more and more, “when,” not “if,” and - trust me - that’s a bad transition to make.
I watch myself. I feign scientific detachment, but in reality, every slip, every forgotten word, every misremembered name, every pause as I try to pick up a lost thread in a conversation frightens me.
I know I’m somewhat obsessing. I know that this fear of mine is making me hyper-aware. It’s making me see problems where - for the most part - none exist. But still, I watch myself.
If I’m objective, I can look at this past year and see that I’m still on my game. I accomplished a lot. I learned. I created new, and amazing things (if I do say so myself…). But that’s the thing about fears. Fears defy objectivity.
Accomplishing, learning and creating, are just a way of saying to life, I’m still here. It’s why we do everything. As we wander on our path, at every turn, we want to be able to shout at the universe, “I’m still here."
And I suppose, when I think about it from that perspective, my greatest fear is to still be here, but not be able to shout about it.
Even writing those words is terrifying.
So, what is the point of all of this? Why am I talking about my greatest fear?
Because I’m not alone. This isn’t one of those us and them concepts. You have fears of your own and whether you want to admit it or not, your fears - different though they may be - have you tied up in just the same kind of knots. We all do. It’s part of being human.
What to do? What to do?
There’s all sorts of inspirational quotes that you can find that talk about conquering or overcoming your fears. They all seem a little dangerously cliché to me.
So here’s my advice: Leave your fears alone. Don’t try to conquer them. Don’t overcome them. Because I’m pretty sure that whoever is selling that particular brand of Hallmark-card crap has never actually lived it. It’s a faux-inspirational wrapper around judging someone else’s fears, translating the words your fears aren’t valid, get over it into some pithy saying on a motivational poster.
I don’t know about you, but my fears are valid. Conquering or overcoming them isn’t going to happen.
Want some more advice? Acknowledge your fears for what they are - a potential future that you don’t want. Use those fears to lower the probability of that future happening and then do your very best to ignore them.
Seriously. Ignore them.
You’re not going to be perfect about it - Lord knows I’m not. But the day that I decided to stop trying to overcome my fears, the day I acknowledged that what I was afraid of was just a potential future that I didn’t like, I gained a whole lot of perspective. I stopped beating myself up for not conquering my fear.
Do I still worry?
I’m worrying about a potential future. I don’t need to overcome that - it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
I worry a bit about that potential future, and then I refocus myself on that very special word: potential.
What I worry about may happen. It may not. I’ll do what I can to control the probabilities around that potential, but then I’m done. I’ll ignore it as best as I can, and move on.
Divorced from the damaging idea that fears are to be conquered or overcome, those fears become guidelines for making choices about the direction of your life. I’ll do what I can to make that future be what I want. Beyond that, I’m not in control.
Now this isn’t to say that fears and anxiety can’t become a problem. They absolutely can. Fears and anxiety can become crippling - and if you’re at that point in your life, please seek professional help.
For the rest of us, maybe dispensing with this notion of conquering our fears and, instead, trying to live with, use, and (for the most part) ignore our fears is the way to go. Maybe then we can see our fears as a useful means for moving our lives in a direction we want to go.
And, dear universe, for now (at least): I’m still here.
Owner, Principal Consultant
Bad Wolf Security, LLC
Senior Technical Engineer
March 11, 2021