A decade ago I was scared. It was the last year of high-school and teachers were asking “what do you want to do in your life?”.
“Lady, I’ve got no idea, I wake up, get dressed, come to school, listen, try to pass the exams, think about playing computer games all day, go home, play computers until I realise it’s getting late and I’m supposed to wake up at some point tomorrow morning, then sleep.”
“You could be a lawyer, a doctor or do a trade, an apprenticeship, a builder, you’ve got options.”
“But what if I don’t like any of them?”
“Just make sure you do well on your exams, how you go will influence what you do for the rest of your life.”
“What? How? They don’t even make sense. We go into a room sit there not being able to talk to each other and fill out some sheet with questions which don’t sound like questions anyone would ever ask.”
This conversation never happened but it’s what played in my mind. 16-years-old, dressed up in a uniform and being asked to make decisions about life. How? I hadn't faced any real challenges yet. Except trying to figure out the best strategy our Call of Duty team could use to win the championship. I still remember it. 2 down the left and right flank, Nick in the middle (he was the best shooter). I remember the things I thought of myself far better than anything in the classroom.
Thank God I did poorly in my exams, otherwise I might’ve been trapped. Trapped into thinking that was how you do well. You passed the test, get the good grade and everything works out.
As you know, life doesn’t happen like this. And if you don’t, now you do.
It’s the start of a new decade, 2020. And this time I’m far less scared. The opposite. Excited. I used to dread the end of school holidays. Dread the end of any kind of vacation, going back to some sort of job I didn’t enjoy. I got lucky with the last couple. They were the best jobs I’ve ever had. But there was still an itch, still a poke in my side telling me to take a chance. To leap, to back myself, to try the thing I knew I wanted to do when I was younger. To work for myself to follow my own curiosity, to make things which interested me. Then I did.
How did this happen? I realised, on a chemical level been scared is caused by the same hormone as being excited. But that’s only one variable. Life is multi-variable. The real reason is I started to develop an ability to think for myself. Up until a couple of years ago, I had only considered the opinions of others. Asking for and obeying the advice of others rather than asking for my own.
I only started to come across this way of thinking a couple of years ago. And I’m still adjusting to it. I shouldn’t be. Making a change can be gradual or sudden. This is something which should be sudden but the old way of thinking, the “will this be on the test” style approach to life is deep. Engrained throughout years of structured education.
Thinking for yourself is a muscle. It has to be trained. It has to be exposed to some form of stress before it gets broken down and heals stronger. It gains from disorder. Exam knowledge, the kind valedictorians optimise for, hates disorder.
Treating thinking for yourself like a muscle, you’ve got to continually modify their exposure. Face different problems, try things which might not work, seek discomfort, treat trial and error as the holy grail. It saddens me to think how many opportunities I’ve left on the table because I was afraid of being wrong. Of course, being wrong isn’t the goal, failure isn’t the goal. But what’s often forgotten is playing it safe is the biggest risk you can take. Playing it safe means you know the outcome. Notice how something loses its shine once you know all about it.
The times I’ve felt least alive are the times when I’ve known exactly how my day is going to go. The times I’ve felt most alive are the times where I’ve forgotten I’m alive.
Maybe not being scared is a coming of age thing. If so, I don’t want to. Fear comes from the unknown. And if I’m adhering to my own approach, continually modifying your exposure, it’s in my best interest to feel fear every so often. Feeling fear means I’m trying something new. Fear should never go away, you should only become better at dealing with it.
I tell my younger brothers, I can teach you aspects of life as I learn them (slowly) but in the real world, facts don’t matter. Humans are irrational creatures who think they’re rational. A mistake which when realised starts to make itself very evident. Knowing this, the best skill to develop and I say develop on purpose because remember the muscle analogy from before, is thinking for yourself. What I can offer and what others can offer will be from their own way of thinking, our own view of the world. And since we’ve all got different sets of eyes, best to use them to create your own view.