More notes on fear

Commitment to a purpose will result in success, or at least a worthy failure. Proactively defining that purpose is the key to moving in a great direction. It’s also the hardest part. And there should be little fear if the vision is crystal clear. Failure is always possible no matter what. For me I think it’s important to keep fear in check and use it as a tool to produce better outcomes. Bruce Lee is quoted to have something I’ve always really liked… Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.

Where I’ve found fear in my own life is in the times when that vision was unclear. Fear creeps in as the twin of doubt: muddy vision -> doubt (problems take on disproportionate weight) -> fear. By analogy, an example of unskillful conduct would perhaps be running a marathon and focusing on one’s shoes instead of the finish line. The fear sets in because then your mind starts spinning on how many more steps you have to go, how hard it is etc. For me now I’m focused on getting healthy and kicking the shit out of this cancer. Looking at my shoes here would mean focusing on and getting paranoid about infusions, pain, losing my hair etc. These things matter a bit but are just steps toward getting better. I embrace it because I’m committed and because it serves the end result.

Actually navigating the problems as they arise should not produce fear. Speaking personally they produce a form of elation because I’m getting better at work worth doing! In this case I’m fighting for my life – I’d say getting good at that matters quite a bit.

In The Hunt for Red October the defecting Russian sub captain Ramius offers a nice metaphor. In the film he hunkers the nuclear sub into a well described trench full of twists and turns pushing the crew to move faster while avoiding detection. He calmly does the mental calculations on when to turn to navigate the terrain, evade oncoming torpedoes etc, while he sits in a chair, emotionlessly sipping coffee (aside: I imagine Mr. Buffett making his fortune in similar fashion). As one sub engineer Kamarov wryly notes in the film, Stop pissing, Yuri. Give me a stopwatch and a map, and I’ll fly the Alps in a plane with no windows. Ramius had clearly done his homework to understand the trench layout and focused on that which was in his control. Clearly he had been here before in his imagination. Beyond that he committed to the end result and and remained cool and focused as he executed the plan. There is no fear because the mission (in this case defection from Russia) was clear. He was committed. The specific details unfolded as they always do in real-time with unexpected surprises. But they did not take on unwarranted proportion, which I think is key. He saw them for what they were, details to get through toward the vision. Nothing more. There was no stress about it! He offers an example of proper conduct for the captain (or any of us) in that he: a) defines the vision, b) skillfully solves the issues that arise along the way…. turn by turn.