You’re Supposed to Be Scared.
Photo by Kai McDonald
Written by Elliott Pak
“I don’t know if I will be able to tell this history or be precise in English. But …
In my dark time, one day I took a very strong acid.
And during that trip, I understood the meaning of life.
But, of course, the trip ended, and my knowledge disappeared.
And the question, “What is the meaning of life?” was annoying me.
One night, I had a dream.
I was walking in the street like a kid who has the hands of the father and mother, someone bigger guiding you.
And I was asking to this big person, “What was the meaning of life?”
He showed me circles.
Circles of life.
And then he showed me a flower.
A plant has a circle.
A seed becomes a plant that has a flower, transforms into a fruit.
The fruit drops.
There’s another seed. And the seed grows again. This is a circle.
And I said,
“I see. I understand. But why did you show me the flower?”
And he said, “The flower is the moment that we live, the most beautiful moment of the circle.
The most beautiful moment.
-Alex Atala (Chef’s Table)
It’s been a hot minute since I’ve had this feeling in my chest again.
That scary hot feeling of going to do some completely unknown thing again. You never really get used to it.
If I didn’t already make it known enough, I just signed a contract to go teach English in Seoul, South Korea for a year. I’m leaving in the beginning of February.
People out there might think this is a sporadic, impulsive decision, and as much as I’d like to be that cool, sporadic, impulsive guy, it really wasn’t at all. In fact it’s almost totally the opposite.
If we’re close, you’ve probably heard me saying I was going to do this for years. Like since halfway through college. So for maybe 5 years I’ve been walking around like a loud mouth idiot telling everyone that would listen that I was going to do this, which is dumb, I hate being that guy who says he’s going to do stuff and doesn’t do it.
So here I am 5 years later, finally signing my contract to do the damn thing.
It’s funny how it works, for the past five months I’ve had just about nothing I’ve cared to write about at all (I always have that irrational fear that the last thing I wrote was the last of my creative juice, definitely thought it was all gone again) – but the second I got this acceptance letter, about a hundred things kind of all just hit me at once. So here’s a thing.
First, a very quick reflection on 2017.
2017 was … okay. It was good. It was alright. It was meh. It was whatever.
In a very different sense, comparing it to the rest of my life, the previous 23 years, it was easily the greatest and most amazing year of my life.
But in the grand scheme of things, it was only good. I’m hoping it was only okay.
I swear I’m not trying to be all paradox-y. This is how I feel, let me explain.
(directed at 90’s kids sorry if you don’t understand the analogy)
You know Mario Kart?
You know when you’re playing Mario Kart?
You know when you’re playing Mario Kart with your friends, and you’re looking at your side of the split-screen, and you’re doing okay, but for some reason some of the controls you’re pressing just aren’t responding to what you’re doing?
But it’s still going okay, you’re still moving, still going forward, but for some reason you don’t feel totally in control?
Keep going, keep going…
Oh my God.
All of the sudden you’re three quarters of the way through Moo Moo Farm and you realize you were looking at the wrong fucking screen the entire time.
[And then you’re like “you guys stop we have to start over I was looking at the wrong screen the entire time stop the game”
And everyone else is like “fuck you we’re not starting over sucks for you idiot shut up”
And then you’re like “fuck this game it’s not even fun”]
(Show me a 90’s kid who’s never done this and I’ll show you a god damn liar)
If I’m being dramatic, in hindsight, a lot of my life, I feel like I’ve been looking at the wrong screen the whole time. Things have always just felt “okay,” things have always never really felt totally under my control. I was just absent-mindedly floating down some incorrect path for whatever reason.
This year was like finally looking at the right screen. This year was me painfully and realistically confronting a lot of shitty things, a ton of bad habits about myself that had previously led to me not having any control over my life. Whether it was not taking responsibility for all the bad circumstances in my life, pursuing things for no reason other than thinking I was “supposed” to do it, letting other people make decisions in my life, or even worse, placing blame for my problems on others … The list goes on and on.
It was like before, every time there was something I wanted, I would make some shitty excuse with the thought that there was some authoritarian looking over my shoulder expecting me to do things a certain way. This year I finally gained the balls to turn around and tell that guy to fuck off, just to see there was no one there the entire time.
Just me. Just a figment of my imagination.
Just me being scared.
It was this dramatic god-fucking-damn-it realization that I’d been going about a lot of things incorrectly in my life, and it was basically all my fault, all my responsibility.
I use these dumb analogies and I say this year was only “okay” because it feels like a reset. Starting from square one.
2017 was like starting all over, but for the first time, things finally being under my own control.
2017 was fucking amazing, but it was barely the intro to the beginning of whatever’s coming next. Hopefully.
I’m being extremely hopeful and optimistic about the future, which is kind of a new feeling for me.
[Going to give you guys a brief pause to reflect on the fact that I just used a Mario Kart analogy. This is a milestone in my writing career, thank you for sharing it with me]
First thought when I got my acceptance letter to this institution in Korea was …
“What the FUCK did I just get myself into. I’ve never been a teacher, never planned on being a teacher, I don’t know if I can teach.”
Second thing was “I don’t speak Korean oh my god.”
Third thing was “I don’t speak Korean but I look Korean so I’m going to have to explain how I’m Korean but don’t speak Korean to every single person oh god”
Last and most horrifying thing was thinking about what a nightmare asshole myself and all my friends were to our elementary school teachers. Just god awful.
Really hoping I don’t run into “me” in Korea.
Why am I telling you this?
Cause I’m pretty fucking terrified.
I felt compelled to clearly state that.
I think before, you know all this past stuff I’ve been writing about, the things I’ve been doing … I kind of thought that was something that was obvious. But the more I think about it, the more I think, how is that obvious? I don’t really have that much contact with people outside of these articles or text in real life, how can I assume people know that?
I feel like if you and I, whoever it is that’s reading this, if we don’t talk that much, which we probably don’t – the things I’ve posted about, whether it was quitting my old jobs or doing that four month trip, or starting this website or whatever, it might seem like I’m trying to come off as some brave, impulsive, sporadic, fearless guy who just does whatever without thinking twice, making all these huge moves all fearlessly and then writing about it in my little blog or whatever.
And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yeah, there’s been a lot of crazy change for me recently, but I’ve been straight terrified at some point of every step of the way.
The whole point I started this website was to be authentic, not to try to show off some bullshit Instagram personality that makes me look like something I’m not, and if it’s coming off to people that I’m something I’m not, this whole thing really loses value to me. I couldn’t care less for some undeserved respect for doing something that I didn’t do, or being someone that I’m not.
I’m not special when it comes to any of this stuff.
When I quit my jobs, I questioned myself for the longest time after it. Still have days where I wake up with heart palpitations wondering if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. When I went on that trip, I had no idea what I was doing, made a ton of stupid mistakes, and was clueless and freaked out half the time. Shit, I still get a little scared every time I post one of these.
And once I got this offer to move to Korea, I was flooded with so much anxiety and fear and questioning myself, just like the time before and before and before. This offer I had put so much work into getting since I came up with the idea five years ago, the government problems, visa issues, countless forms, nail-biting interviews …
And then I get the offer, and my first thought was …
What the hell am I doing?
This isn’t just a fucking confessional or something, I have a point.
Yeah I’m pretty terrified right now.
Yes I go through many phases of questioning myself and every decision I’ve ever made.
Yup I trip out and overthink things just like every single other person in the world.
Absolutely got that hot feeling in my chest right now.
But if there is something that I’ve learned from these past few years and crazy experiences, it’s that fear isn’t a warning sign designed to tell you to turn around.
It’s a compass pointing you towards something important.
Let me tell you, I’ve only had this terrified feeling of jumping into the unknown a countable number of times in my life, and every time I’ve pushed through it, it has led to seriously the most amazing and growing parts of my life. Indisputably.
And every time I didn’t push through it, every time I gave into the fear, all I ended up with was regret. I stayed up at night thinking about it. I wondered what my life would have been like if I had a little bit more courage in that situation.
And I think some of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned from doing it, another bunch of those lessons that not enough people talk about, not enough teachers teach about, not enough parents parent about-
- You learn shit along the way. You jump and learn to swim while you go.
- You’re never able to prepare for everything, and thinking that you can is a waste of time. No one has ever been 100% carefully prepared and absolutely ready to jump into the unknown to the point where they were devoid of fear.
- A lot of the people that you look up to that are experts in your field, maybe a few of them learned the basics of their craft in some sheltered learning environment, but most of them probably had to learn it with a fire under their ass, not knowing what the fuck they were doing, but figured it out anyway.
- Everyone goes through fear to reach the next level of whatever they are pursuing.
- Everyone is scared of something. Which irks me even more why people don’t really talk about it as much. I feel like it’s for dumb reasons like they think that having fear somehow makes them cowardly, or for some reason it’s unnatural to be scared of pursuing something. It’s a dumb conversation to be marked as “taboo,” because every fucking person in the world has some level of fear of the next big step, whatever it might be for them.
- Just cause people aren’t posting themselves in the fetal position on Instagram doesn’t mean they don’t have issues that you can’t see.
- But lastly, and most importantly – You’re supposed to be scared.
- It’s not unnatural. It’s not cowardly. It’s not a sign of weakness.
- On the contrary, it’s absolutely natural and necessary, and courage and growth wouldn’t exist without it.
As much as you might not want to accept it, a lot of times, fear is what points you in the direction you’re supposed to go.
If there’s something that you’re not doing because it’s scary, or you’re waiting for a time where it will be less scary, or you’re waiting for a day when you’ll have more confidence, or basically the “perfect time” to do something…
Hate to break it to you, but there’s never going to be a perfect time. It’s never not going to be scary.
How could the next big step not be scary?
Dude. Life is scary.
If you’re going to a new school with no friends, yeah holy shit that’s scary.
If you’re giving a speech in front of your class, dear God.
If you’re about to say something that completely goes against everyone in the room, how could it not be fear-inducing?
If you’re planning your first big adventure outside the country alone and you’re scared, you’re supposed to be.
If you’re quitting your job and pursuing something really out there and unstable, that’s absolutely terrifying.
If you’re starting your own business or whatever venture, you’d be kind of nuts not to be scared.
Those things don’t somehow magically become less scary because you waited and got ten years older or something.
There is no getting over fear. And you’ll waste a lot of valuable time if you think it’s just going to go away because you ignore it.
Courage is doing things despite fear. It wouldn’t exist without it. Nothing is that rewarding in life without it being hard and scary.
It’s not like there are some courageous people and some not-so-courageous people and that’s just how life is. Everyone has to do it at some point. Everyone has to confront stuff they don’t want to confront. Everyone has to ask themselves what they’re scared of and how long they can really go without addressing the issue.
It’s not like, oh, I’m an introvert, I don’t do that kind of stuff.
Like what? It’s not a fucking type of person. It’s not a fucking ethnicity or race that some people “just are.” It’s a skill that everyone sucks at to some degree and has to train and push themselves to become better at.
Everyone can be better at it. Everyone has to be better at it.
And back to the idea of “waiting” on confidence to come.
Time doesn’t build confidence.
Action builds confidence. Pretending you have confidence builds confidence. Just doing it builds confidence.
Over-thinking and waiting does not.
You’re not alone in feeling the fear of pursuing your dreams and goals.
Dude everyone is scared of that shit. I’m scared of that shit.
But stop waiting for the fear to go away, because it doesn’t.
You’re supposed to be scared.
Kobe got his numbers retired the other day.
NumberS. Two of them. Goat.
If you don’t understand why that’s incredible, it’s because that basically means he went okay I’m actually going to do two hall of fame lifetime achievement career worthy things, when 99% of everyone else can’t even accomplish one of them.
I feel like even if you barely know me, you probably know I’m the most annoying die hard Lakers fan in the world, so I might be biased. But whether you like him or not, he said one of the realest things I’ve ever heard the other night when he made his speech:
“You know if you do the work, you work hard enough, dreams come true.
But hopefully what you get from tonight is …
The understanding that those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do anyway…
That is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is …
Your dreams won’t come true. Something greater will.”
He’s talking about the hard process of working yourself to the bone, or at least how it might seem shitty at the time. But how that process of fighting for it and giving it everything you have, no matter how painful it is, eventually, that process is what becomes the dream. That’s the part worth falling in love with.
Incredible. Such an incredibly cognizant statement. (He said in the pre-game interview that he didn’t plan that speech, yeah fucking right)
I perceive it just a little different from my shoes though. I think he’d be okay with it. (I’d be the first to admit that I don’t have Kobe Bryant work ethic).
For me, it’s about how shitty going into the unknown is. How you have no idea what coming when you leave your comfort zone. When you do something that scares the shit out of you, and those first few moments of entering that dark territory feeling blind deaf and dumb.
I can’t tell you how many times the past few months I wanted to throw all my stuff against the wall because of the instability of what I’m trying to pursue is, just to work towards this vague goal I’ve built up in my head.
Or the doubt I felt when I quit my jobs.
Or the doubt I’m feeling now before leaving the country once again.
The not knowing whether you’re doing “it” correctly or not.
That hot feeling in the chest.
I won’t sugarcoat it, sometimes it sucks. It sucks in the present.
But looking back in hindsight at those moments … There literally aren’t sweeter memories than those specific out-of-comfort ones, because of what they led to, what they created, and what it took to do them. It’s like I’m looking at “past-me” and wanting to thank him over and over again for doing what he did, because it led me to where I am today.
It doesn’t make sense, but sometimes the pain of the unknown is necessary to create the most valuable memories. “The Dreams.”
I didn’t write this article to tell everyone how scared I was.
I wrote it because I don’t want anyone to miss out on that dream.
That current dream we don’t even know is the actual dream.
That dream that consists of working yourself to the fucking bone, the sleepless nights, the exhaustion.
That dream that consists of being fucking scared of what’s coming next, because you leapt off the cliff on faith alone.
I don’t want anyone to play it safe and miss out on the beautiful process of creating that dream because the fear was too much.
I don’t want anyone to wake up in 30 years going, “fuck. I really should have done that,” because I can honestly say I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my absolute worst enemy.
I don’t want anyone to feel like it was a life wasted. That feeling of knowing you can never go back and re-do a situation fucking sucks, and knowing it was because you didn’t have the courage to do it is the fucking worst.
Yes, I know everyone is different. If you asked me what my worst fear is, it’s not having the courage to pursue my highest goals and not reach my full potential. So yeah, that’s a worst fear that might force me to write an article like this, a worst fear that defines my personality and every decision that I make, a worst fear that many other people might not have.
But everyone feels that form of regret in one way or another. And one thing I’ve learned is that fear, failure, and comfort, no matter how titanic-ly emotional those all might initially feel – they’re all extremely short-term feelings.
Regret is an extremely long-term feeling.
Fear, failure, and comfort – Those three things are all so ridiculously temporary, that in hindsight, it’ll never be good enough of a reason to not just say fuck it and go for it.
They’re just not worth it.
Back to Kobe.
He’s saying that committing to that rough, mysterious, path that we think might lead to our dream … That eventually becomes the dream.
But let’s be real, Kobe’s at the end of his career looking back. Hindsight is 20/20.
If you’re over here, blindly going through it in the beginning, how do you know it’ll all be worth it at the end?
Well that’s the paradox, I guess.
You don’t. You don’t know. From where you’re standing, you don’t get to know.
It’s just courage.
Excerpts from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic
So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
Look, I don’t know what’s hidden within you. I have no way of knowing such a thing. You yourself may barely know, although I suspect you’ve caught glimpses.
I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.
The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.
I’m not saying that you must become a poet who lives on a mountaintop in Greece, or that you must perform at Carnegie Hall, or that you must win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. No, when I refer to “creative living,” I am speaking more broadly.
I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.
Don’t try to kill off […] fear. Don’t go to war against it. Instead, make all that space for it. […] Because if you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting. And that would be a pity, because your life is short and rare and miraculous. Bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.
Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work?
The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.
It’s pretty funny,
I’ve been lucky enough to have my writing published on some great online publications that went out to millions of people (holy shit right), and with the amazing amount of positive feedback and support I received, I also got a healthy amount of haters and shit talk along with it.
To be honest, I feel like I deserve it sometimes. I almost want it sometimes.
Because it’s funny how when you see an “article” on the internet, it has this air-ness of authority and power. You see this nice little website, with nice font and nice pictures, and in the back of your head you think it’s kind of official in a way.
(it’s not. I swear I’ll read an article by the most “official” websites like Fox or Huffington or Business Insider or whatever and it’s total clickbait bullshit. They need new editors.)
Mine is no different. You don’t have to take my word for it. There are no facts in this article. You can blow it off if you want.
Because when it come down to it, this whole article is based on listening to your gut. And despite how ridiculous that might initially sound, once you learn how to listen to it, it’s literally the most stable voice you can reference in your life.
Personally, I’ve found that my gut is right-er about everything in my life. Right-er than my parents, right-er than my professors, right-er than my friends, right-er than religion, right-er than my own brain.
That leads me to believe that everyone’s gut is right-er than whatever outside static is telling them something different, including your brain reacting to fear.
And when you’ve followed where your gut leads you a few times, despite the shit it might drag you through, despite how scary it is, despite the ensuing workload that might come with it, despite the failures you might encounter …
It not only feels totally worth it, but it feels like the kind of work and results that were designed completely for you. It’s not some path you were forced down or something you do because of societal pressure. It’s the satisfaction of something being created by yourself, for yourself.
And just as importantly, as you keep doing it, it all gets easier.
Easier to hear what your little voice is telling you. Easier to manage fear. Easier to look at the big picture. Easier to discern what actually matters.
Easier to see a dream take shape.
Until you get to this point where … The fear kind of becomes an afterthought. It doesn’t leave, it’s right there … But you can look at it better without panicking. You understand it. You embrace it.
Until you finally get to the point where it doesn’t even seem like a bad thing. It’s not a negative thing. It’s just a tool. I’ve never heard of an “evil compass” or a “saintly hammer.”
It’s just a thing.
And when you realize your gut, or the little voice, or whatever you want to call it – when you really learn to communicate with it – you’ll start to realize…
It’s simply pointing you towards what you most deeply want.
If your gut is telling you that you’re looking at the wrong Mario Kart screen, seriously, pay attention to it.
Having referenced about a thousand things in this article so far,
You might have forgotten that Alex Atalla-taking-acid story from the beginning.
That shit was powerful to me.
Just the whole thing about how the flower is the most beautiful part. More specifically, how it’s only a “moment.”
The flower is the part where you get to live. Just a moment. And it’s beautiful and fragile and ephemeral, like a flower.
I honestly don’t know how you can make life feel more fleeting than an acid-fueled story comparing life to a plant.
When you think about it in that sense, if you’re in the flower “phase” of your life (which you are) … How can you even consider wasting a second of that precious time to things as minute and temporary as fear, failure, and comfort? You get like 10 minutes of beautiful, colorful life and then you’re worm food.
I don’t know about you, but the only conclusion I could reach after that was not only do you have to do that thing that your gut is rumbling about, but you have to do it ASAP.
Yes the gut thing. So I preached the whole gut thing. Seems only fair to tell you what my gut told me.
It told me I shouldn’t stifle my creativity in the name of stability, and that fear of the unknown is a shit reason to not attack life at full speed.
Turns out stifling my creativity to achieve stability and shying away from things that scared me were things I had been doing my entire life.
The wrong Mario Kart screen.
Your gut could be saying something completely different, doesn’t matter, not the point.
Just don’t let fear drown out what your gut is trying to tell you.
Yup, I’m dippin’ to Korea. Yeah, I’m a bit nervous, but Korea isn’t what this article is about. It’s really not even that big of a deal, I’ll be back in like a year (maybe). It kind of just sparked the idea behind it.
The gut says to do it, so I’m doing it. It could go wrong, I don’t know. If I fuck up, I fuck up. But if you asked me if I would rather take the safe road and spend the rest of my life wondering what it would have been like, or take the risky road with a big ol’ chance of failure, I’d take the latter every single time.
(If somehow everything in Korea becomes a total disaster, I’ll let you know. Disasters make for great stories)
I’m doing it, despite fear.
You should do things despite fear as well.
You literally only get a flower’s worth of time.