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Facing fears, doing work, and a single serving of life

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After the brain surgery, laying in one of those single-spaced hospital beds while wearing one of those white and blue-dotted hospital gowns which seemed to be made from a single sheet of hospital bedding, my good friend S. was unaware of the rapid rate at which death was approaching him.

We all were.

His mother, myself, and his then girlfriend crammed into this single bedroom shoved into one corner of hospital where they let people who have just come out of brain surgery lay and rest and heal. The view wasn’t so bad though.

The surgery had gone well. Doctors had removed a dangerous tumor on S.’s brain only hours before I had arrived to say hello, to see how he was healing.

He hardly recognized me. Words, he said, didn’t make sense as he tried to formulate sentences. This was normal for people recovering from that type of surgery. In a few days he’d be as good as new.

And for a few days he was. He returned to working for his father at a local design agency, doing work he undoubtedly loved with people who undoubtedly loved his work.

He would go running, partially out of concern for his second chance at life, partially because running gives you that type of time where you can just marinate on thought. Right foot, left foot, and so much time to just think.

We didn’t see each other after the hospital. I had moved some two hours away and work kept me busy most of the week. An inordinate amount of time, I’m ashamed to say.

But before the hospital with the single bed in the crammed room, before the tumor, before all of that, we would talk about our dreams.

For as long as I could remember over the six or so years I knew S., he had wanted to be a car designer for the likes of Toyota or Saturn or some company like that.

S. wanted to be a mechanical artist.

He would show me sketches hidden away in notebooks and talk about how the aesthetic appeal of those designs is so complex that the average Joe wouldn’t understand just how much work had to go into them.

When we last saw each other – again, before the surgery – we were both working for design studios. Him as an actual designer and I as a marketer. Both not quite what we were hoping to be, but both hoping the jobs would take us a step closer to what we wanted to do.

We moved slow back then. I believe it was fear that kept us from completely fulfilling our dreams. Him to moving away and attending some prestigious mechanical design school and I from doing the right type of work.

It’s a different kind of fear, not moving towards work you know you love, than the kind I imagine S. encountered when he was out for a run and suddenly got dizzy, a few drops of blood stemming from his nose.

A short amount of time later he was gone. Cancer got the best of him. His time was cut short, dream unfulfilled. Who knows what S. could have designed if he ever achieved his goal. Maybe we’d be driving in the most luxurious automobiles in all of history. We’ll never know.

S. never knew either, partially because of time and intimidation, but I’d say primarily because of fear.

The first thing about fear is that it’s a universal trait.

Even if you’re not afraid of heights, you’re undoubtedly afraid of falling from them. That’s a real fear, and it’s worth recognizing. But there are other fears that we all share that aren’t worth recognizing or, in some instances, are even worth fighting against. Straight out.

Like: the fear of quitting your job to pursue a career in dance. Or the fear of starting a novel because somebody may not like it, or because all of the time you put into it may not yield enough money to justify it. Or the fear of dropping everything and chasing down that dream you had of starting a company, because it very well could fail.

The other thing about fear is that some fears are valuable.

Quitting your day job to start a business is frightening, but those who do it are often rewarded by turning what they love into a profession. Presenting your work in front of a large group – particularly of critics – is something to be afraid of, but results in either knowledge on how to improve and grow or on an offer to do more of the work.

The things you fear doing most with your creative work are often the things that are most valuable because they’re exactly what everyone else fears too.

To be unique, valuable, or noticed all you have to do is ignore the fear. Do the work.

We should face those small fears – of critics, of failure, of not knowing what step to take next – not only because they’re valuable, but because our time is limited.

We’ve got this single serving of life and so many of us are wasting it doing things we don’t really want to be doing because we’re afraid. It’s ok to be afraid, but if you don’t wake up once in a while to face those fears, to say “I’m going to do this anyway,” you’re going to wake up one day and realize that you missed your shot.

Don’t waste that time. Don’t let fear keep you crammed into a corner that may have a nice view but isn’t really where you want to be anyway.

Go and do the work. Today. Start anywhere.