You can do this.
When I started AGEIST, I had never written an article, or really anything more than a simple sentence. There had been a voice in my head that said: 1. You can’t write, and 2. Even if you could write, you have nothing to say. It seemed so reasonable that it must be true.
Finding Who We Are
One can debate how well I write, or how worthwhile what I put into words is, but the fact is, there is a lot of writing that gets generated on my laptop. Not only that, I am now an editor in charge of selecting and polishing other people’s contributions. What happened?
One of the interesting ideas people have about age is that we have a well developed sense of who we are. In some ways we do, in other ways we are clueless. How can it be that it took me the better part of 60 years to believe that I am a rather good communicator?
Fear is Ageless
“Cool is ageless” is one of my most quoted sayings. But guess what, fear is ageless too. Fear is that voice in our heads that says we can’t do this, we must not do this, we will never succeed…but what is it really saying? Some of it is repeating baseless childhood messages, but mostly it is saying that whenever we think about trying something new, we must stop and turn back. This makes a ton of sense if I were a stone age man thinking about novel ways to jump a ravine. Novel then usually resulted in death.
But that reptilian, self-centered, fear-generating part of my brain doesn’t discriminate between actual life-threatening stuff and just trying something new. To it, it’s all the same: dangerous. This is where courage comes in. Courage says, yes this is scary, yes I may fail, but no, I will not die. We can do this.
In my case, moving forward was a necessity. There was a time when I had to write something, and I did. It was not particularly brilliant, it took me a week to do 300 words, but the job got done, and I did not die.
These days, not only do I regularly write, I am often asked to speak internationally. Next-level fear is doing something like this in a very public, recorded-digitally-for-all-time sort of way. I used to think that bungie jumping was the scariest thing I had ever done. Nope. Doing a TED Talk in front of 4000 people beats it hands down. Failure in bungie jumping would be instant death, which is preferable to a lifetime of mortification of being the man who totally loses it at TED. Imagine the millions of YouTube views of my total and complete humiliation. That is what it feels like when the handler taps you on the shoulder to walk into the red circle of a TED stage.
But I didn’t die. I did just fine because I had practiced so much for so long that nothing was going to rattle me. Not even when the handheld clicker stopped working, which they mercifully cut from the video; I just kept on going. Guess what? Stage speaking is now one of my favorite things to do.
We all have fear. It’s part of being human. We all also have deeply held delusions of what we can’t do. We all also have courage. Many people ask me how they can move forward, how they can get unstuck. For me, it is all about action. Just say yes, just do the work, prove to fear it is not life ending, and keep going. I have never been able to think myself out of fear; I need to take action to prove to my fear that we will survive.