It's time. I've been putting this off forever, but it's time.
Yesterday this tweet appeared my stream: "Fear is a clue that you're getting close to doing something important." – Seth Godin. I've never read anything by Godin, but did watch one of his TED talks. He's a smart guy, but I'm not the kind of person who follows people like that. I tend to pick up things here and there and use my own experiences to think through things. But this particular quote reminded me of something I used to hear in early sobriety, "Fear is the opposite of faith." Sure, you can chop this up into little semantic chunks to disprove the statement, but the fact is, to me – fear *is* the opposite of faith.
I have no fear. Usually. My faith is knowing that as long as I'm following my heart (conscience) and being honest with people (including myself) that everything always works out the way it's supposed to. And this isn't some self-affirmation thing – I've actually lived it. And having these direct reference points helps me endure those times in life when it seems like everything's falling apart. That said, nobody's perfect. I fail at faith almost daily. Most of the time, however, I'm able to look over my shoulder to a point in life when things were worse, and get past the little pockets of fear that emerge. And things work out.
But this is different.
I've been writing my whole life. When I was a child I wrote stories and maintained ideas that shocked my mother into thinking I had psychological problems. I was even hospitalized at one point. They cut my hair and put small nodes into my scalp to measure my thinking. After a few days, the only thing they could tell her was that I was stressed. But what they didn't tell her was that I was stressed because of my innate ability to feel deeply about things. We lived in a Navy town during the Vietnam war and death was everywhere – on the news, in the neighborhood. Everywhere. But we were southern, and didn't talk about things that really mattered. It's best to leave the big things alone to fester in the corner of the room. But not me. In an attempt to empathize with how people around me were feeling, I used to create scenarios in my mind (and in writing) that my own family would die in various ways. These tactics would drive me to tears – and created a deep sense of empathy in me that I've carried my whole life. The doctors missed this.
And empathy is what makes me a really good advertising copywriter. I've realized that when you can get people to feel things, they tend to pay attention – and act favorably. When Hemingway said that writing is easy, and that all you have to do is "sit in front of the typewriter and bleed" – he was right. After being fired from two agency gigs because I was either a hothead or non-social, I started my own agency. It's never become big. That's because you really have to want to be big to be big. So I've carved out a small place in the advertising world doing what comes naturally, and yes, doing something I love – moving people. Sure, I'm selling product and services for companies, but it's still work. And when you have kids, you must pay bills. But deep inside I've always wondered if there was something else I'm supposed to do with my skill. Something more than helping rich people get richer.
I've lived a pretty colorful life. No, I've not traversed famous mountains, or hitchhiked across Europe. I left home at 16, went to five high schools and joined the Air Force. After that, I was a nomad with no home or money or friends for about 5 years until I ended up in Port Authority New York City. Then I came to. I didn't say my life was amazing – just colorful. The path less traveled and all that. Danger, stupidity, loneliness, fear, failure, faith and triumph. I've had more lovers than I can remember, and even more jobs. In the grand scheme of things, these are but small and insignificant events of a normal life.
My personal experiences combined with an ability to feel deeply about things make me an effective communicator. And until now, I've only ever used this skill to write advertising. But this isn't the best economy to thrive in. Especially for someone who is a writer first, and businessperson second. Could I throw myself into my work and force things so that we never have to think about money again? Sure. Am I taking steps necessary to keep a roof over our heads? Yes. Am I shifting the core value proposition of my agency to keep up with how people communicate? Obviously. But I have enough personal reference points to know that every fucking thing in life happens for a reason. As Coleridge said, "Nothing is insignificant." Things are slow now for a reason. No, I don't expect to get rich from writing anything. I'm not an idiot. But I'll never know if I'm really supposed to do something different with my writing if I don't try.
So now I'm standing at the open door of the plane, with a lifetime of training packed tightly into a bundle strapped on my back. The fear is overwhelming. It's so easy to do the safe thing and buckle back into my seat. "What's wrong Jim?" The guy with the goggles shouts above the prop noise. I pretend not to hear him. He walks over to me, "Jim – you're ready. This is it. There are no second chances." I look up at him. I'm trembling. He extends an encouraging hand.
Either I do this, or not. It has to be acknowledged and attacked so that things can sort themselves out. Only then can I move past it. Regrets suck.