Go Fear, Young Man, Go Fear

“Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

- Horace Greeley

Ian Schoen opened his presentation a conference I went to in Bangkok, Thailand last year with that quote from Horace Greeley and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Ian went on to talk about how Asia is, in many ways, the “New West” for our generation. Paraphrasing, his message was that the opportunity for any generation is never where the scripts are legible or the maps are already drawn.

The opportunity is always where the scripts are unwritten.

For Americans in 19th century America, the opportunity was literally in drawing the map, in going to areas where no one from their culture had ever been. To the Americans of the 19th century, the West was still unmapped. It was a script waiting to be written.

Greeley recognized thatĀ wealthy people are always the ones writing the scripts and drawing the maps, not the ones following them.

The map waiting to be drawn is always changing and it’s different for every person. It’s only in rare instances in history that the undrawn map is literally a map though I think that helps to illustrate the concept.

Whatever external form it takes, it’s always an internally undrawn map, an uncharted part of ourselves. It’s the gap between the stimulus of our times and the response of how we choose to lead our lives.

I was re-listening to a talk by Seth Godin to a group of entrepreneurs a few weeks ago. He was talking about one of the people attending and he said that there were only 2 reasons why she wouldn’t reach her full potential in the next year.

Either she wouldn’t find her fear or she wouldn’t confront it. She wouldn’t find her West or she wouldn’t make the journey.

Finding you fear, your West is hard. In order to find your fear, you have to get really clear on what you want and why you want it.

I like to think of it like the compass in Pirates of the Caribbean movies that points towards whatever you want most. Johnny Depp’s character goes through this period where the needle on the compass is spinning around like crazy because he doesn’t know what he wants most.

I can relate to that. But sometimes, an opportunity comes along or maybe I just take the time to sit down and get really clear on what I want and the needle on the compass freezes.

Though the path is still undefined, the direction I have to travel become crystal clear.

For the young men in Greeley’s time, the needle pointed West. Their fear, their Resistance was in the West. In a time when most people never left the towns they were born in, he was calling on them to go thousands of miles away from everything they had ever known into, quite literally, uncharted territory.

That must have been terrifying. But for those who did go, for the men that “made the West,” the men that wrote the scripts, that drew the maps, they did something extraordinary that shaped the future of a country.

Yet, a lot of men went West and never made much of themselves, either in terms of actual physical wealth or however else it was defined.

While finding your fear is half the battle, it’s still only half.

Once you find it, you have to run. You have to sprint.

When I was training for American Football we used to do parachute runs. They attach a parachute to your back and you do sprints. You’d run 50 yards and then detach the parachute and finish the next 50 yards.

And I think that’s what its like once you’ve found your fear and know which way to run. You take the first few steps and it’s easy. The parachute is till laying on the ground. And then, they come off the ground and inflate and you start grinding. You feel slow and inadequate The people ahead that have taken off their parachutes look like they’re flying and you’re running so hard and yet you’re barely moving.

Even though you objectively know it to be true, it’s hard to convince yourself that they’re flying precisely because they used to have parachutes on too. Because they found their fear and ran at it as hard as they could.

But after you’ve done parachute sprints for a while, they get easier. You get stronger and faster then they have to attach 2 parachutes or 3 parachutes for the drill to be effective.

Likewise you go through one fear and you get stronger and you have to find a bigger fear. And I think that’s what a meaningful life is made up of.

At first glance, it starts to seem like a treadmill. Like an endless series of sprints. Like you aren’t going anywhere.

And in a sense that’s true, but I think it’s misguided.

The fastest guys on my team when I graduated weren’t the fastest guys on the first day of training camp their freshman year. They weren’t the guys that wanted to be the fastest. They were the guys that wanted to be the fastest versions of themselves and in the end became the fastest.

A lot of the guys that were the fastest on day 1 quit or burned out.

It’s hard to sustain yourself off of purely external motivation. It can be powerful over short periods of time, but it I don’t think it’s sustainable in the long term.

In theĀ Inner of Game Tennis, Timothy Gallwey articulates the concept more clearly than I can.

The surfer waits for the big wave because he values the challenge it presents. He values the obstacles the wave puts between him and his goal of riding the wave to the beach. Why? Because it is those very obstacles, the size and churning power of the wave, which draw from the surfer his greatest effort. It is only against the big waves that he is required to use all his skill, all his courage and concentration to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacities. At that point he often attains his peak.

In other words, the more challenging the obstacle he faces, the greater the opportunity for the surfer to discover and extend his true potential. The potential may have always been within him, but until it is manifested in action, it remains a secret hidden from himself. The obstacles are a very necessary ingredient to this process of self-discovery. Note that the surfer in this example is not out to prove himself; he is not out to show himself or the world how great he is, but is simply involved in the exploration of his latent capacities.

He directly and intimately experiences his own resources and thereby increases his self-knowledge. From this example the basic meaning of winning became more clear to me.

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.

If you know where you want to go and you’ve found the fear that’s between you and there, then you’re lucky. You’re really lucky. And you have to start running.

Sure, you should pick up your head first and make sure it’s the way you want to go. But once you know it is, just run.

And wherever you think you’re going, it’s probably not where you’ll end up. Every time, I’ve followed my fear, it’s taken me somewhere other than where I wanted to go. And that’s sort of the point. It’s not where you get to, it’s what you become and what you help others become by following you fear.

Go Fear, Young Man, Go Fear.

Subscribe by Email