The scariest place on earth
I met with a successful businessman about two years ago. He’s a dentist. Let's call him… Crentist. He is a wise, hard-working, and eccentric man. He also doesn’t blink much, which leads to frequent, inadvertent staring contests in which I am a most reluctant participant. I met with him hoping to get some advice on my business. He asked me the kind of questions one asks when they’re seeking to dissect you quickly and wholly. Questions like “What do you want?” and “What scares you?” Fortunately, I like talking about myself, so I engaged fully. After my answers, he asked plainly, “Why are you afraid to make money?” I didn’t know. And, though it sounds kind of stupid, I think he might be one hundred percent correct.
No, sir, I have no experience, but I'm a big fan of money. I like it, I use it, I have a little. I keep it in a jar on top of my refrigerator. I'd like to put more in that jar.
- Robbie Hart, The Wedding Singer
This post is not about money, and it’s not about me. It’s not even about branding. It’s about fear.
If life is an exhilarating motorcycle ride through the hill country, then fear is the wonky sidecar. Fear distracts, derails, and—worst of all—derides us. Fear makes us feel bad about things that haven’t even happened yet. Fear is a thief. Can you imagine the number of lives that are never fully realized because of fear? Millions. Maybe more.
Always do what you are afraid to do.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Easy there, Ralph. Don’t always do anything. But we get where he’s headed. What if we did what we were afraid to do? Like, what if we did it a lot more often? What would that look like? Would we be happier, prouder, and more fulfilled? Probably. That’s what the quotes on Instagram say anyway. Inspirational quotes are heart-warming, but they often irk me. They're like a flour tortilla; they feel good going in, but they don’t do anything for you.* It’s easy to say "Face your fears," but it’s much harder to actually do it. It’s unbelievably difficult to face something you can’t see. Below is my favorite quote. It is my favorite quote because no matter how many times I read it, it always rattles me.
A sad fact, of course, about adult life is that you see the very things you'll never adapt to coming toward you on the horizon. You see them as the problems they are, you worry like hell about them, you make provisions, take precautions, fashion adjustments; you tell yourself you'll have to change your way of doing things. Only you don't. You can't. Somehow it's already too late. And maybe it's even worse than that: maybe the thing you see coming from far away is not the real thing, the thing that scares you, but its aftermath. And what you've feared will happen has already taken place.
-Richard Ford, Independence Day
Rattles me every time. That quote is enough to make you want to get up, sell your stuff, and move to that place you always said you’d move. But you won’t, and I won’t, and we won’t. Even if we were given the option to physically chase down the life we were meant live, I am not sure we’d do it. I think we might watch it roll away on the tarmac and tell ourselves it’s too far, it’s too big, or I think I’ll just go inside and see if it’s still here tomorrow. Fear makes it hard to move, because fear slowly and cruelly forms around our legs and our hearts and gently, but most certainly, keeps us right where we are. "It’s safer here," it whispers. "It’s known here." Because fear is responsible for keeping us from the scariest place on earth: the unknown.
The unknown is nameless, faceless, and doesn’t care if we’re there. There are no appointments, no direct deposits, and certainly no certainty. And, to make matters worse, it’s the only place that can be scarier when you take someone with you. Because they may be counting on you to hold their hand through it all. A forest you dragged them to, so you damn well better find a clearing. And, even though you believe there is a clearing (or something even better), you don’t know it for sure. That’s the thing about the unknown: you can’t ever know for sure.
I guess I painted a pretty dark picture. But that’s alright. The unknown is a pretty dark place, and it’s good to remind ourselves that life is not an Instagram quote. A life, especially one that ventures into the unknown, may involve years in these dark places. But, if you stay in there long enough, you might also be rewarded. Rewarded by the unknown. Rewarded with promotions or children or victories or opportunities to improve the lives of people you didn't even know when you started.
Crentist was right about me and money. I do have some issues with it. I’d like to say I don’t care about money as much as other people to make myself feel better, but I don’t know if that’s true. I’m also not afraid money will change me. I believe money just makes you more of what you already are. My issue with money is the unknown. I don’t know if I will make enough money. So, like a lot of us, I try to front and act like I don’t care about it. But I love money. I want money so I can have freedom and choices and give it away and buy more cool stuff. I can be altruistic and have money, too. It’s actually a lot easier to give back when you have a fat stack. But, like Kevin McCallister, I am not afraid anymore! You hear that money? I’m not afraid anymore!
I am now officially accepting money.
I was wrong about one thing. The unknown is not the scariest place on earth. It can’t be, because no matter how scary it is, it is still the only place worth going. The scariest place on earth is the place you never went. Even if the unknown is overwhelming, it’s a hell of a lot worse if we stick with what we know. You don’t want to be left here. Do not stay here. Run, jump, buy, sell, or just give it all away while you still can. The unknown is scary, but the known is the end.
*I stole this quote from another eccentric businessman. He wore all denim and a ton of turquoise.