Have you ever experienced a moment where your emotions totally took control of you? Where, no matter how much you wish you weren’t experiencing the emotion, there was nothing you can do about it?
This often happens when we experience fear. You go into fight or flight mode. Your heart starts beating fast, the blood rushes to your extremities, and you feel an uncontrollable response. I’ve felt this way many times. Often, it’s happened before some of the best moments of my life.
I still remember exactly how the moment felt. I was about to go on stage and give a talk in front of 1,000 plus people.
I’d practiced the speech over and over and over again, but right before I was about to go on stage, I screwed up during my final run-through of the speech. I felt that sense of fear and dread that makes your heartbeat so hard it feels like it’s going to pop out of your chest.
I thought about what it would be like to get up there and totally bomb. During last year’s event, one of the speakers completely froze on stage to the point the audience had to cajole him into finishing the speech. Ouch.
I got on stage and started talking. For the first few seconds, I feel like I just blacked out. I said the right lines, but I don’t even consciously remember saying them. About a minute in, I got a laugh from the crowd. The energy shifted from fear to excitement — two emotions that are on the same spectrum, the same wavelength. Well after the speech was done, my heart was still pounding out of my chest, but the emotion was no longer fear.
It was euphoria.
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Some of the best moments of your life come shortly after the moments you feel most afraid. Will Smith gave a talk once where he said to imagine the moments just before and just after you jumped out of the plane — abject fear to total bliss.
That euphoric feeling, that feeling that you came out of the other side of dread and followed through anyway, is something you just can’t get elsewhere. Part of the euphoric feeling comes from the thrill — you’re literally high on adrenaline. The other part is the deep sense of pride that comes from being courageous.
Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it. Going further, as much as I hate being afraid, I don’t want to stop being afraid. Not like it’s even possible, but I’ve learned to not just accept fear as part of my life, but remember the benefits of it even if I don’t like feeling afraid.
There is no magic cure for fear. The best you can do is the equivalent of just jumping out of the plane. That split-second decision to just act puts you into an entirely different zone. You’re not less afraid, but you’re in it. Once you’re in it, there’s the potential for a ton of upside.
“My mood, my sadness, my bouts of anxiety, are a second source of intelligence–perhaps even the first source.” – Nassim Taleb
Just like I wouldn’t want to live a life with no fear, I wouldn’t want to live a life with zero anxiety, doubt, melancholy, or seemingly negative emotions. Life has ups and downs, and the downs can be useful teachers. Sometimes you feel anxious or down because, you know, your life sucks. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Use it as a signal for what to do next instead of wishing you didn’t feel that way.
That’s another general theme of this post. I’m focused on investigating why I feel certain emotions instead of trying to repress them or make them disappear right away. I’m not a therapist. If you have serious debilitating issues that are above my paygrade, seek professional help.
I’m just talking about the times you feel down, you feel in a slump, and you’re ready for a change. Investigate your mood and try to assess the underlying issues. How’s your health? Your relationships? Your career? Have you been actively working on your ‘spirituality’ — whatever that means to you?
Most of us walk around with this low-level anxiety that comes from a lack of purpose. I’ve had it. And I used it. Instead of trying to pretend I was happy and content when I wasn’t, or blaming my feelings on my feelings, I understood that fixing my life was the only thing that would help long-term.
You can use this understanding on a macro and micro level for the rest of your life.
Use your suffering to create beauty. Do not let it go to waste. Create art. Write, paint, draw, sculpt. Channel your pain into the creation of something truly resplendent. Make your curse a blessing.
One of my friends recently told me “You look younger and healthier than you did when I met you.” He met me just weeks after I separated from my wife after a six-year relationship.
I remember how I felt when I met him. I’d become a bit of a recluse when I was married. Stepping out in public made me feel like I fish out of water. He even told me that when he first met me I seemed kind of weird. My vibe and my energy were off.
I was broken. That experience taught me that loneliness is perhaps the most painful emotion you can feel. I’ve had breakups in my life before. I’d had bad down-and-out moments. But I hadn’t felt real pain up until that point. The type of pain that makes it feel like the world is trying to break you.
In retrospect, that pain gave birth to a whole new trajectory I didn’t see coming. Some of the amazing things that have happened since then wouldn’t have happened without that heartbreak. And when your world starts to crumble around you, it’s one of the few times you can truly re-build — clean slate.
Nietzche said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I don’t know if that’s true. There are much worse experiences than the one I’ve mentioned. But I d0 know my situation made me stronger.
I can’t tell you how you’ll react to pain, heartbreak, the moments life tries to break you. If these moments happen, I just encourage you to find the usefulness in them if possible.
“In the end, eustress can lead you to feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment, well-being, and wholeness.” – Aytkin Tank
There’s a rule when it comes to client-based businesses, the cheaper the clients are, the more stressful they are to deal with. I had a client like this back when I worked at a digital marketing company. Dozens of emails and phone calls per day. Constant meetings. Never satisfied. I still think about him sometimes, how I’m so relieved not to have a job anymore specifically because of him.
I liked that job, but it was often stressful in the wrong ways — stressful because I wasn’t making enough money, stressful because I had to work with people I didn’t want to work with, stressful because I ultimately knew I was putting energy toward something I wouldn’t be doing by choice.
Contrast that with what I’ve had to do to build my writing career. Setting up marketing campaigns for books? Stressful. Having control over my income, but having an income that wildly fluctuates? Stressful. But it’s a useful form of stress.
Here’s the dictionary definition: moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experience.
Too many of us mistakenly wish for a stress-free life because we associate it with the negative form of stress that makes you feel like you’re running on the hamster wheel of life. When you’re already stressed out day to day, you might not want to add the additional stress of trying to carve your way out of the situation.
For me, the eustress I felt from building my career on the side compensated for the negative stress I had from the rat race. I felt less stressed because I knew I’d pave a way out somehow. Find some eustress in your life, something that’s demanding of you in a good way.
“Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify and transform into your own work.” – Austin Kleon
I used to hate reading those income reports from top bloggers and internet entrepreneurs.
“I made $50,000 this month.” Fuck you. I was broke. And it always felt like they were just rubbing it in my face. “I do this not to brag, but to inspire.” No, you’re doing it to humblebrag. I know because I’ve personally done it myself. Vanity is a b***.
Anyway, I didn’t stop there. I’d think to myself if this Joe Schmo can do it, so can I. Then, I’d try to see how Joe Schmo did it. Where was Mr. Schmo publishing his work? How did he market himself? What monetization strategies did he use?
I’ve reversed engineering the strategies of many a Joe or Jane schmo. If I see someone doing something I want to do, I try to figure out how they did it, and then I do it myself. Is this unhealthy? Shouldn’t I be content with what I have instead of comparing myself to others?
Well, can you completely turn off the comparison mechanism in your mind? Let me know how that’s going. I used my envy in the healthiest way possible, to reverse engineer the strategies of people who were doing well at something I already enjoyed.
You don’t want to be on the path, the chase, of endless desire. But you do want to scratch some itches. Envy can be useful to that end. Don’t let it go to waste.
That’s the theme of this entire post.
Don’t let your negative emotions go to waste. Try to find usefulness in all experiences. Understand that the contrast in your life makes things more interesting. Without duality, life is just a bland piece of nothingness.
You don’t want to go out your way to feel bad feelings, duh, but life is punctuated with so many of them that you might as well re-direct that energy when you can.
I’ve come to appreciate some of the negative past experiences because I can’t separate their impact on my life from the good things. Many moments in my life feel like a bow and arrow — you have to pull back a bit so you have the momentum to propel forward.
Try seeing things that way and see how it works.