“Risk comes in all shapes and colors: bankruptcy, heartbreak, failure. The alternative is a world without risk, without color, without knowing if you could have made that business work, if she would have truly loved you, if you would have finished that race or project or garden or painting or triathlon or… whatever. If, in other words, is risk’s purgatory. I know I don’t want to spend any time there.” Georges St. Pierre
Don’t we all have these ‘ifs’ buried deep in our memories?
I have a business I tried to start. I know I didn’t give it my best. I was too afraid. Every now and again I pull it from my memory vault, polish it up, and wonder could I have made it work? Did I blow my only shot?
In The Magician’s Nephew, the first of the Chronicles of Narnia, Polly and Digory come across a bell with this inscription:
“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger;
strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.”
“What if” is the purgatory of risk, as St. Pierre said. If we, because of a lack of courage, take the easy road, we get to live with nothing but ‘ifs’ for the rest of our lives. We live in a vaguely comfortable world without danger, but we become “cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” (Theodore Roosevelt).
It breaks my heart to see so many ‘cold and timid souls’ among my peers. They’re too scared to commit to a relationship. They’re scared to quit their job and go to school. They’re scared to move out of their parent’s place.
Because what IF it doesn’t work out?
What if it does?
No joke: the world is a big scary place. I’ve got to acknowledge that not all risks are worth taking. The Georges St. Pierre quote comes after an explanation of his calculated risk. In Narnia, Polly and Digory awake a wicked witch when they strike inscripted bell. In other words, I’m not advocating ‘YOLO’ (though a little of that spontaneous spirit is a good thing for homebodies like me).
I’m reminding myself that fear is inevitable, but I need to look past the fear, or the complacency, or the discomfort, and make a calculated choice. Then, when ‘if’ comes calling, I can at least say “it wasn’t worth it” not, “I should have tried.”
It may be as small as engaging your new coworker in conversation, even if his accent is difficult to understand. That’s my adventure this week.
“Don’t try to do more, even if you feel you can,” the Couch to 5K program said.
“No problem,” I said. At the time I couldn’t run at all. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be tempted. But now I’ve built up some ability and I’m eager to see what I can really do. Don’t try to do more? What’s that supposed to mean?
I was taught to work hard since I was big enough to hold a broom. My parents are both hard workers and, because I came from a large family, everyone needed to do their part. Since my late teens I’ve been pumped full of success principles: dream big, make no excuses, just do it. I’m driven. I’ve got a dream. I work hard at it.
I’ve also been taught that you need to ‘sharpen the saw’ as Stephen Covey said. I’m not good at it. I can’t leave my laptop at home. I can’t put down the book. I can’t get off Twitter and Facebook.
This week, as I read through The Way of the Fight, by Georges St. Pierre, I read something that made a lot of sense. St. Pierre said: “What balance has also are the following two incredibly important lessons: 1) resting is growing and 2) waiting is training.”
Resting is Growing
“What does ‘resting is growing’ really mean? It means that you have to give your body time to recover from tough workouts, especially if you’re training every day. It sounds really weird to people who work out so much, but that’s because they’re addicted to the workout. They can’t stop. Trust me, I’ve been there. It’s because the body and the brain are sometimes fighting battles. The body wants to rest and grow, while the brain thinks the body needs more work.”
I’m no elite athlete, and in spite of my enthusiasm, I assure you, I don’t feel like running every day. 🙂 But, I can insert ‘writing’ or ‘work’ or ‘networking’ or whatever activity one might obsess over. Resting is growing. The body needs time to rebuild, and likewise the mind needs time to digest the information it takes in, to charge with new inspiration and to gain strength from joyful interaction with others. I’ve learned that I need to schedule time to shut off work and writing, and be truly present in other fun activities–i.e. a movie or dinner with my family.
Rest is productive time.
Waiting is Training
“‘Waiting is training’ means that I can spend more time preparing mentally for my next session or fight, and less time physically exhausting myself. By waiting, I’m sending a message that strategy is more important than pure physical power, that tactics surpass repetition, and that the brain is the most powerful muscle in the body.”
I experienced this with my blog this week. Normally, my tactic is ‘full steam ahead.’ If I’m not happy with the traffic on my blog, I throw more posts at the problem.
That sounds violent…
I write more, in other words. This week (also while reading GSP’s book) I realized that I was beating my head against the wall. I needed outside perspective. Instead of posting as usual, I needed to wait, ask writing colleagues to look at my site, and find ways to do things differently. As a result I embarked on a site overhaul. I had to wait instead of posting because I didn’t have the time to dedicate to both writing and redesigning.
I clarified my values and my goals in the process. Now my efforts can become more focused.
You can learn from anything, I tell you. I thought The Way of the Fight would be an interesting read. I didn’t know it would be the best book I’d read in months.
Today I’m not running. I felt like it, but I didn’t. I am writing, so maybe this is a tad hypocritical. BUT, yesterday I watched The Matrix instead of writing. You know, a writer can learn a lot from a movie…
I just can’t turn it off, my friends. I’m working on it!
Quotes from The Way of the Fight, by Georges St. Pierre.
“Once fear enters your life—whether it’s been there for a second or a lifetime makes no difference—it will take you in one of two directions: empowerment or panic,”—Georges St. Pierre.
I never expected a man so competent in physically dominating other people to talk so much about fear. Georges St. Pierre is a mixed martial arts fighter of great acclaim. Though currently retired, the Canadian athlete is considered one of the best UFC fighters of all time.
I picked up his autobiography in a local used bookstore. It had migrated, most amusingly, into the Christianity section. I pulled it from the shelf, laughed about its location with my friends, and then ended up buying it. “Don’t judge me,” I said. Even pacifist Mennonite writers can take an interest in Ultimate Fighting. I don’t understand the urge to fight. I’m not sure I agree with it. But I’ve learned you can learn a great deal from anyone who is at the top of his game, and St. Pierre is one such person.
Lesson one: anyone who becomes a champion must push past fear. Based on how much St. Pierre talks about it, he must have conquered a lot of fear.
Fear Needn’t be Negative
“The key, I discovered, is to understand fear and how it works… I don’t have a choice, because fear walks next to you everywhere in life. It has a reason for being there. People feel fear because they sense a threat… So fear’s purpose is ultimately good—that’s what people forget. Fear is designed to bring you to a safe place…
The problem with fear is that it’s talking to you about the future—it says, MOVE! Something else that is bad and painful could be coming your way… And people are like animals in this instance; they tend to follow their instincts. They follow the fear and dedicate all their energy to moving out of the way, toward safety.”
We tend to see fear as a negative thing, and understandably so. It’s painful to be afraid. It puts a lot of stress on our emotions, our minds, and even our bodies. But fear can actually be quite valuable. First, in instances of actual, physical danger, fear releases adrenaline and give our bodies the strength to survive. Second, fear can be the motivator that gives us the strength to win. Our dread can be our driver.
Dread Drove him to Victory
St. Pierre wrote about his first UFC fight. He was caught in his opponent’s hold, and everyone thought he was done. But he knew if he lost he wouldn’t be able to pay rent, or buy food that month. His opponent was fighting to win. He was fighting to survive.
“I was ready to die to get out of that hold. Break my arm if you have to, I thought. I didn’t have a choice. So I used the surge of adrenaline to roll him, got him on his back, and won. The fear-based adrenaline, the training and the empowerment of making a decision all helped me to victory.”
Our fear can be the ‘why’ that makes us push hard enough to win. One reason this works is that fear can drive us to prepare for the unexpected.
Fear Keeps us Moving
“Standing still is never a good option. Not in the ring, and not in life outside the octagon either. When you stop moving, you’re done. When the status quo becomes your main weapon, your arsenal is diminished. When you can find no other way forward except for repetition, your mistakes are compounded into defeat.”
We’ve heard of the ‘deer in the headlights’. Those who grew up in wooded areas may have experienced the moment when the deer appears from nowhere, lit up by your headlights. You freeze. The deer freezes. What happens?
It’s bad for the both of you, trust me.
Likewise, if we freeze from fear, we’ll lose. But fear can drive us to improve in order to master our fears and be prepared.
“I want to fight guys who are better than me in all kinds of techniques. I want my training to be harder than my actual fights so I can be prepared to face the toughest opponents—so I can be ready to deal with fear.”
My Own Fears
When I began writing this post, I thought I was afraid of my book not selling–of being a failure as an author. I realized that this isn’t the case. I’m afraid of judgement and embarrassment.
I am no more than a month away from releasing We are the Living, and I am mentally preparing myself for the worst. It’s my first book. How good could it possibly go? I know that success is usually a process of small increments (something GSP says himself) but I dread being asked “so, how many books have you sold?” and having to answer, “ten.” So this fear drives me to research, to mentor with other writers, to tweak, to write better and better, and to network more and more. Ambition drives me too, but fear provides double the motivation.
If there is any theme in GSP’s biography, it is that success is stress, tension, fear, never accepting ‘good enough,’ and never, ever being done. But it is clear that he’d never trade it for a comfortable, couch-potato existence. I don’t know enough about him to say if he is a man of good character. No doubt he’s done things I disagree with (being a UFC fighter not the least of them). But he is clearly a smart and courageous man, and I can admire that.
I’m going to contemplate the idea of fear and examine my reactions to see where they are fear based. How many of my decisions are based on fear? Probably more than I’d like to admit. But recognizing them is the first step to growth.