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Afraid of Fear

There was a time in my life when most things scared me.

Dentists. Cars. Weather. The dark. Ghosts.

I would go to sleep each night and pray to whatever gods or spirits might be listening, asking them to protect me until I woke up. At that point, I imagined, I would be alert enough to start worrying again, giving me some kind of will-powered protection against the supposed threats I spent a great deal of my time fixated on.

It’s possible to get over fears, though there are still things that put me on edge. I’m still afraid of things like failure and death and being mutilated by wild animals or malfunctioning heavy machinery. But one of the more significant evolutions I’ve undergone in the past decade is that I’m no longer afraid of fear. Or to put it another way: simply being afraid of something does not deter me from doing it.

In fact, I’ve found a lot of value in pursuing the things that initially scare me. This serves the double-purpose of reiterating to myself that fear can be a silly reflex, not an absolute judgement of how dangerous something is, while also allowing me to destroy potential experiential ceilings before they have the chance to form.

The latent benefit of chasing down your fears and proving them harmless is that you expose yourself to people and places and experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have reason to seek out. This makes you a more well-rounded person, and allows you to see the world from many different angles.

I’m not saying you should ignore your instincts and jump into a pit of hungry lions. I am saying you should question your instincts and make sure a more primal part of your brain, shaped by genetics and your upbringing and biases, isn’t keeping you from living your life due to fears about what could go wrong.

Only by testing our limits can we know how far we’re able to go, and only by shoving fear out of the way are we able to see that it’s just a shadow making scary shapes on the wall, not an actual monster.

Update: April 4, 2017

I wrote this just as I had moved in with Josh and Ryan from in a house in Missoula, Montana. We’d just started a company called Asymmetrical Press, and wanted to work on it in person for a spell, before I headed back overseas. It was a blast, but I was mightily disconcerted by the idea of 1. housemates and 2. living in the US after a long while of only living elsewhere.

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Bureaucracy

I’m terrible at hiding my disdain for bureaucracy in all its forms.

Because of bureaucracy, government officials who obfuscate the democratic process flourish over those who try to bring clarity to it. Businesspeople who are able to shake the right hands and manipulate the right paperwork succeed over those who bring real value to their customers. Defendants who are able to afford the right lawyers can dodge sentencing in perpetuity, while those who commit far less heinous crimes go to jail for life.

Bureaucracy is the result of some damn good ideas gone awry. It’s a buildup of dust on top of a beautiful and practical artifact, to the point where the dust weighs more than its host. It’s ballast that was meant to stabilize a fair and just system, but which drowns it, instead.

It may be a fool’s errand to try to save the system from bureaucracy, but it’s possible to save yourself from tangling up your own life in unnecessary hurdles and rules. To establish sound checks and balances, without too-specific catch-alls that weigh down every decision, resulting in legally-supported logical fallacies.

Instead of piling on rule after rule, diet after diet, solution after solution, and philosophy after philosophy, take the time once a month to explore old ideas. Old biases and lessons.

The things you picked up from your parents as a child, and from your schoolyard chums as a fifth grader may not mesh with the eureka moments you had as a college student or while traveling the Yangtze. Make sure the core principles you’re acting upon today are based on ideas and experiences you still believe in. This is key in establishing a bureaucracy-free moral compass.

You may not be able to reconcile everything you’ve ever learned or done, but you can cut out the deadwood and eliminate the unnecessary from your philosophical hope chest.

Update: April 4, 2017

This is something I still do, though typically during my daily silence/meditation sessions. My mind drifts toward old storylines, old moments in time, and I try to assess what I knew then, how things have changed, and what I thought about the world. It’s amazing how many of those old biases and beliefs stick around, despite your modern self being so much wiser and less gullible than your childhood self. They’re like vestigial organs that evolution hasn’t gotten around to getting rid of because they’re not in the way, even if they are useless or cumbersome, or could be harmful at some point in the future.

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Costs of Living

Costs of living vary greatly depending on where you choose to live.

Living in LA is very expensive. You can barely step out your front door without paying a Jackson for the privilege.

Living in Kolkata is incredibly cheap. You can live in a huge apartment in one of the nicer complexes in one of the nicer buildings in the city for a fraction of what you’d pay for a run-down one-bedroom flat in Los Angeles.

There is a spectrum of such costs — living in Missouri is more expensive than living in India, for example, but costs far less than shacking up in Los Angeles — but there is also a quality of life spectrum to take into consideration when deciding where to put down roots.

There’s a lot going on in a place like LA: plenty of culture and opportunity and work. There are millions of locals doing interesting things, and the weather is perfect to an almost ridiculous degree. There are beaches. There are aesthetically beautiful people.

Kolkata also has a lot going on, but it’s on a very different part of the spectrum than Los Angeles. There’s plenty of culture, but the quality of opportunity leaves something to be desired. The weather is atrocious, and the infrastructure is dilapidated. It’s an unhealthy-feeling place with some wonderful people living in it.

All costs, be they monetary, cultural, geographical, culinary, must be taken into account when deciding where to spend your time.

The goal is to find a place that suits you and your needs. A home where the exchange rate of money for quality of life fits your capacity to earn, and your desire for culture, business opportunities, security, and anything else that’s important for your lifestyle.

Be warned: the math of this equation can change over the years.

For a very long time I opted to spend gobs of money on rent and cope with big-city difficulties because the tradeoff was worthwhile for me and what I wanted from my life. But every year I find myself with a greater appreciation for cities of around 100,000 people: a place with a few universities and lots of creative locals. With fewer people you have less variety, but thanks to the internet and connections I’m able to make while traveling, that is one downside that matters less with each passing day.

On the other hand, I know many people who have iterated in the opposite direction: they always wanted the smaller-town lifestyle, but came to enjoy the perks of living in a city with millions of people in residence.

Your environment isn’t the most important aspect of your life, but it is important. Take the time to figure out what kind of place fits you best — take some road trips or vacations overseas, outside the tourist circuit — and see what options are available.

Changing where you spend your money makes all the difference in how much happiness and fulfillment you get for it.

Update: April 4, 2017

As I write this update, I’m living in an apartment in Wichita, Kansas. This is not where I pictured myself, much less pictured enjoying myself, and yet, strangely, here I am.

If I would have told 2013-era Colin that this is where I’d be four years down the line, I would have laughed at the clearly insane future version of me, but asked him for stock tips, regardless.