Years ago, back in high school, I had an elderly oddball for a math teacher during my senior year. He was a half-senile Italian guy who wore old shirts with armpit sweat stains and whose breath perpetually smelled like rotting bologna. Listening to him was a complete bore, as he was enormously pedantic and couldn’t keep anyone’s names straight. But one incident on the very first day of class with him stuck with me.
We were getting ready to do the usual pre-class prayer when Mr. Bologna (as I will call him) suddenly went off on one of the class clowns behind me; I don’t remember what he was doing, but it must have been bad. After chasing the idiot out of the room, Bologna went on a rant about how most people are afraid of success. They don’t want to succeed, even if they claim they do, because success requires work. Effort. Moreover, success sets you apart from the masses, makes you noticeable and different. It’s far easier to stay in your typical routine, doing the bare minimum to get by, then risk sticking your neck out and potentially getting decapitated.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I truly learned the meaning of this.
I mentioned a month ago that I’m now totally independent; I was able to quit my job and live solely off of freelance writing and book sales. What I didn’t mention was that I could have done that months before, maybe as early as September or October. The main reason I didn’t was because of fear, fear of something going wrong, fear that a downtick in sales would screw me financially, fear that I didn’t have enough money saved up to survive down times. My mentally was one of constant deferral: “Just another month won’t kill me. More money means more freedom, right?”
While my goal was notable—having as much money saved up as possible—I didn’t realize that my job had become a security blanket. I had started out last year with a noble goal but had perverted it out of fear. I was using my need for more money as an excuse to keep deferring what I really wanted to do, settling into a routine that was making me unhappy but provided me with a sense of safety.
I was living my life in fear, fear of being the location independent writer I had supposedly wanted to be.
The fact that I was dilly-dallying on the next big step in my life didn’t help. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do once I become financially independent. Hitchhiking the U.S. from west to east (from Seattle down to Los Angeles, then across the Southern states and back up to New York City) was my ostensible goal, but sitting out on the highway for hours looking for a ride isn’t compatible with a working lifestyle. Going abroad was something I’d thought about doing, but I wasn’t interested in backpacking through the typical tourist spots (Brazil, Thailand, western Europe), nor had I developed the language talent and skill set to enjoy the “harder” countries that are praised in this part of the Internet (Russia, Poland etc.).
It was Mark Zolo (aka the Naughty Nomad) who gave the idea to me. We were pub crawling through Greenwich Village on an ice-cold November day when I off-handedly mentioned I was interested to going to Thailand.
“Don’t go to Thailand,” he exclaimed. “Go to the Philippines.”
“Why?” I replied.
“The Philippines is a paradise. There aren’t nearly as many tourists. It’s cheap: what you’re making now, you could live off that there. Everybody there speaks English. The girls are beautiful, feminine and their life’s ambition is to be married to a white guy. It’s so easy to get laid there as a white guy, easiest country I’ve ever been to.”
Off the beaten track, inexpensive, the people there like Americans, no foreign language knowledge required… sign me up, Johnny!
So it’s settled: at the end of next month, I’m boarding a flight for the Philippines, to an out-of-the-way portion of the country where broke European backpackers and fat American retirees are scarce. No sex tourists either. The accommodations are booked, I’ve gotten all the necessary vaccinations, and the visa issues are taken care of. And like every other major change I’ve made in my life, I’m terrified on a certain level.
Fear is the spectre that haunts us all. Fear of success, of breaking outside your comfort zone, shaking up your routine. Doing something different. Doing something other than the socially prescribed route of mindless grunt-work, fast food and masturbation. “What if you get killed?” “What if you get robbed?” “What if you don’t like it there?” Excuses to keep you from fulfilling your desires.
The only way to kill that fear is to reach out and strangle it until its eyes pop out of its skull.
I won’t let the fear of trying keep me in a dull routine. And it’s not like I’m going abroad for the rest of my life: I’m returning to the U.S. in October. Nor do I see this as some magical move that will transform my life; it’s the fulfillment of a goal I’ve been working towards for months, years even. If I like it in the Philippines, I’ll go back; if I don’t, I won’t.
Time to wring the Fear’s neck and toss its corpse in a hole.
P.S. The New York City meetup is this Friday night at 8pm. Click here to read more, and listen to tomorrow’s podcast (featuring a very special guest) to find out where it will be held.
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