“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

There are posters on the Facebook headquarter walls.  I haven’t been there, but I heard about them from Sheryl Sandberg, the COO.  She gave a great commencement address and spun the posters into her message.  One of them says; “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.  After thinking thru this, I concluded I’m not afraid.  I go to work each day and some days I have pretty stressful meetings.  Corporate America can be a difficult place right now.  But I don’t feel afraid of work – or anything else.  I was stumped.  Fear isn’t holding me back from anything.

But somehow, this question didn’t leave my mind.  I reframed it.  What would I do if I could do anything, if life had no constraints.  This was easier.  I’d live in Paris.  I’d write a novel.  I’d work in Africa for a non-profit.  I’d immerse myself in the French language.  I’d buy a car and travel the United States living out of the trunk.  I’d backpack around Europe with no itinerary.  I’d teach in an inner city school.  I’d teach English to under-educated Americans.  I realized the unconstrained me lives far differently than the unafraid me.  Then it dawned on me.  None of this involved my current job.  I didn’t consider going after more responsibility, a bigger job, a promotion, more money.  And the thought of leaving the safety net of my job is pretty scary.   Corporate America might be difficult, but it pays the bills.

It was a worthwhile exercise.  It made me think, and it made me focus.  What are the things I want to do and how can I do them.  The near future is set.  My employer has asked me to remain in Bratislava until the fall of 2013, and I’ve agreed to do this.  My daughter asked me to live in Colorado her senior year which coincidentally starts in the fall of 2013.  I’ll do this also.  When she graduates in May of 2014, I’ll do what makes me afraid.  I’ll leave my job.   This helps me focus the skills I want to develop over the next two years.   I am teaching English again before work on Wednesday mornings.  I restarted French lessons last week.  The skills I’ve been working on are the relevant skills I am going to need for the items on my list.

This week I was asked to consider a potential job opportunity with my current employer.  I thought about it for some time.  It is a big and interesting job and might mean a promotion.  It also required me to go from Bratislava to China with a minimum three-year commitment.  It sounded slightly interesting, but not at all frightening.  I realized, even though China might be a bit beyond my comfort zone, that choice was the clear safety choice.  At some point, you gotta move beyond the comfort zone.  And you have to pick your three year commitments with the realization that life, and remaining choices, are finite.

I could never sky dive.  It’s an activity which almost paralyzes me with fear.  It’s not the idea of falling thru the sky and landing on the ground which terrifies me.  My nightmares involve the act of jumping out of the plane.  The transition point from known to unknown is paralyzing.  Paralysis is the key ingredient in missed opportunities.  So one finger at a time, I’m starting to pry my hand off the door.

Categories: Ruminations

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