Anti-fragility - facing fear and anxiety
I am terrified of flying. Strangely enough, it wasn't always so. I used to fly with few, if any, concerns, and was thrilled by the novelty of it.
Somewhere along the line, my excitement at the prospect of travelling to new places gave way to an underlying phobia of heights. Now, every time I am in a plane and experience turbulence, my palms flood with sweat and I white-knuckle the arm rest, believing somewhere in the reptilian part of my brain that taking these nervous actions will exert some kind of influence over the situation.
I have tried meditation, breathing exercise, and distracting myself in every conceivable way. Nothing has worked. Except Valium. That definitely works.
And perhaps that anxiety and dread is okay. I could sedate myself or otherwise deaden myself, but the truth is, there is something empowering about facing situations, such as flying, that terrify me.
In those moments of fear, I am on the tightrope. The deep, unconscious realization (which naturally flies in the face of all statistics) that this could be the end, that I might not live to see another day, revivifies me. It draws me out of the hum of everyday existence and into the light and glow of precious human-ness.
Ryan Holiday evokes the voice of Seneca to make this attitude clear:
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” —Seneca
Now, I lean in to the discomfort and fear. I push through it. I come out the other side having conquered it. It may be a small victory, but it is a victory nonetheless.
What if I wrote with that same intensity and animation? What if I treated each day, or even each moment, as if it were as precious as those few minutes of turbulence, of psychological uncertainty?
What if you or I decided to become anti-fragile? Yes, I believe we get to decide. What if we became stronger by standing up (or sitting down, in this particular case) to face the adversities and uncertainties that life seems to serve up so regularly?
How about it? What obstacles, setbacks, sufferings, or misfortunes can make you stronger, more resilient, more alive?
There are plenty to choose from: COVID, isolation, family or work struggles, money issues. These all suck. Some can be fixed and changed, others can't. But they can make you stronger. If you decide.
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