How best to handle freedom and opportunity? Might you bury yourself in the warm comfort of complacency or would you welcome the discomfort, challenge, and fight like hell to overcome some of your deepest fears? This is my current struggle and one that seems to grow louder with each passing day.
Freedom is a privilege, an opportunity, and a responsibility. Being able to wake up everyday and practically do whatever you want is amazing and I wish it for everyone at some point in their lives. Yet, like most things in life, after awhile the awesomeness wears off and we find ourselves mentally shackled by our good fortune.
Though written 3 months ago, I find myself still struggling with what I now call the “Paradox of the Pivot.” Whereas, past generations simply found themselves in jobs for 10, 20, or if they were lucky 30 years, my generation and those behind me would be fortunate to be in any job for more than 5 years and a career for more than 10. Here I am now with 15 years under my belt in a profession that has afforded me many amazing life moments. Yet, I’m perplexed knowing that in time (sooner rather than later) I need to make a significant pivot to achieve what I desire in my next phase of life.
A Chiang Mai Moment of Reflection
Last night, while sitting outside at a Chiang Mai food market, I overheard a conversation between seemingly two American couples introducing themselves to one another. One of the couples mentioned that they had saved enough money for a year of travel and weren’t exactly sure what they would do after their year of travel, since they were both tired of their previous professions. Ironically, I thought to myself, “wow, I wish I had that feeling again” – that feeling of being free, able to restart and be open to a full world of possible opportunities. Yet, it seems sometimes the more we accomplish (and the older we get), the less comfortable we are with the discomfort and challenges that this same freedom forces upon us.
I’ve Been Here Before But Now It Feels Different
I remember that feeling of unlimited excitement after leaving Chicago at age 16 to attend Arizona State University. I had that same feeling after finishing graduate school in Chicago 7.5 years later, quitting my job, and packing up everything to start a new life in California (without a job in hand). Both times, everything worked out in ways that I never expected. But I took the leap and never thought twice about it.
When I left a job again 7 years later to become a solopreneur/consultant, I thought a little bit more about it but, for the most part, I was more excited than fearful. When my wife and I decided to downsize our lives and hit the road for our nomadic adventure earlier this year, again I gave it a bit more serious thought but never doubted that we could make it happen. Perhaps, each of these risks was well-calculated, thereby decreasing my anxiety and perceived fear.
But now things feel different. It’s time for a pivot into an unknown future. Those last two words alone are a paradox given that the future is always unknown. Yet, the ability to fool ourselves into believing that one perspective of the future is more certain than another is a common fallacy. It’s a fallacy that blinds our perspectives and sometimes forces us into the comfort of complacency.
Paradox of the Pivot
Back in 2002, I wrote a poem that touched on the paradox of being blinded by both opportunities and obviousness. Though the poem was written about a completely different situation, the personal traits that contributed to the self-limiting behaviors I explore are just as meaningful for the position I found myself in today.
It’s true that for as much as we change, we are still the same at our core. Though my tongue’s everlasting battle with a knife subsides at times, it’s still a core element of my physical and psychological makeup that I must recognize and manage throughout my life. The psychological defense mechanisms that I allude to in “A Fool So Less Courageous” are still the same forces that unfortunately limit my thinking today.
Behind the Pen – A Fool So Less Courageous
Part 1: The primary symbolism in this poem focuses on the two types of blindness that occur by simply looking at the same page within a book. As the poem begins, one finds themselves “blinded by the subtle whiteness on this sea of pages” – a reference to being blinded by all of the opportunity that exist before them. This blindness, though, is recognized and internalized. It begins to feed an anger at one’s self for not being able to see the opportunities nor take advantage of them. It’s as though rather than seeing the world as a vast landscape open to exploration, one only sees the boundaries they believe to exist due to their own limited self-transport.
Part 2: The same plot continues play out throughout one’s life. In their inept desire to mentally replay scenarios and find ways to overcome their limitations, they continue to bury the fear and pain, rather than acknowledging some of the deep, limiting truths. This is typical in one’s life in their younger years, as it was for me when this poem was written.
Part 3: Soon, by burying the discomfort, one finds themselves alone in their thoughts hoping that someday things will simply change. They attempt to find solace in the lives and advice of those around them, not recognizing that some of those same people are hindered by these same fears and tendencies. But this is the comfort of complacency. It’s similar to someone desiring to make a significant life decision but finding that everyone in their inner circle only sees the opportunities as risks and can’t really relate – in this case they are blinded by the fear of opportunity.
Conclusion: In the end, one eventually acknowledges that they have been lying to themselves, which in turn, contributed to the disillusion that fed the raging internal fire. Instead of being blinded by the whiteness (opportunities) on the sea of pages, they were “blinded by the boldness of black on pages” (obviousness). As a result, they neglected truly facing the discomfort of the situation, instead creating other measurements of personal success that may have ultimately been inaccurate. They were simply justifications to strengthen the ego of a fool so less courageous.
A Fool So Less Courageous
You look at a book and open its cover,
skimming over new convictions left uncovered.
Blinded by the subtle whiteness on this sea of pages
attempting to smother an internal fire that rages.
Though you’ve seen the same movie, many times before
and ‘ve read the same novel underneath the floor
you’ve never surmised the ending, upon the fact of its truth
cleverly abiding the mistakes of laborious youth.
For you’re alone in your world, expecting the truth
from all those apparent and tragically misguided youth;
you’ve ascertained as a pupil, ways in which are truly foul;
cleverly unlocking the seeds of those sacred vows.
But you’ve lied to yourself within these seas of pages.
Foolishly feeding the internal fire that rages.
Blinded by the boldness of black on pages;
Neglecting just why the fire widens and rages;
misguided by all the inaccurate gauges;
measured by a fool so less courageous. – August 7, 2002
Want More – Hit Me Up
If you find this or any of my other work showcased in the “Behind the Pen” series interesting or inspiring, feel free to leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter @Jarard29. I’ll happily provide an electronic copy of my entire book of poetry upon request. Be sure to check back from time to time for links to future releases and life stories.