Fear is a sneaky motherfucker.
You think you’ve got everything down. Life is going just the way you planned – maybe even better! You only need to tweak this, and spin that, and…and…
And then you realize you’ve been acting like a cowardly asshole. For years. In fact, despite your show of accomplishments – the distances traversed and storms survived – fear has been at the helm the entire time.
And you had no idea.
Last month we wrapped up a two-day meeting which most people would relate to a nitrous high: two nights in a secluded villa in Acapulco with a Hollywood celebrity and a multi-billionaire venture capitalist who were interested in learning more about mezcal.
Really, Rachel? Again? You mean the absurdly amazing came true for you again?!
The back story to this story is that Adrian Grenier (Vincent Chase of the HBO series Entourage) came in one night to Frida – the mezcal bar I was working at in Covington, KY last summer. He spent some hours over the week with the owner, who gifted him a bottle of our mezcal, El Amor del Diablo, and told him about our mission to export artisanal mezcal and support mezcalero communities. Adrian, it seems, loves mezcal, and has a soft spot for socially-minded enterprises.
One month later Adrian and I were on a Skype call. Nine weeks after that we were eating fresh fish and micheladas at an Acapulco beach shack, tasting our way through mediocre agave distillates at a bar, and disputing the industrialization of mezcal. The following day Noel and I drove Adrian and his friend/business partner, Ken Howery, into the wilds of Guerrero on a tour of oh-so-artisanal mezcal distilleries.
Aside from the stress of driving two famous, wealthy white guys through one of the most dangerous regions of Mexico, it was a pretty good time. We drank copita after copita of mezcal straight from of the still, we theorized on the industry and its possibilities, we tramped through the Tixtla market in search of lunch, we got drunk on the nectar of Mayahuel.
Not just drunk, but mezcal drunk: sunshine-floating-on-a-cloud-feeling-like-a-tap-dancing-mischievous-god kind of drunk.
Dinner at a gorgeous, cliffside Thai-Mexican restaurant overlooking the ocean, a quick breakfast reviewing numbers, and then we dropped them at the airport and made our way up the coast back towards Zihuatanejo. Was I grinning with disbelief at our incredible two-day adventure? No. I sat in the passenger seat nearly shaking with anxiety.
I was loaded with stress. It was coming in on me at all angles. I should have been happy – rejoicing! But all I could think about was What’s Next? The dream is becoming a reality – it’s time to treat it like reality. I’ve never gotten this far with my previous projects – where someone else actually believed in my ideas – never come to the point where the next step was presenting a plan and budget to an investor.
An investor wants clearly delineated numbers and spreadsheets, a detailed business plan. What if my numbers are wrong? What if the plan changes? How can I possibly know these things? An investor gives you a big chunk of money to make it happen. And who has to make it happen? Me. Basically, it’s all on me. Noel doesn’t operate in that world. He’s the contact – the magic touch. I’m the bridge between the two worlds.
As the weight of responsibility pressed down on me, I thought, “Do I even want this?”. Goodbye freedom, goodbye lazy days, goodbye ability to pick up and jump into the next exciting adventure.
Suddenly my dreams coming true felt like a fucking nightmare.
Am I choosing this? I wondered. How long will I consciously choose this before it claims me? Is that what any career – any commitment is: a conscious choice until the point it claims us? Chains us? Makes of us an agglomeration of habits and reactions?
Is it possible to keep our freedom within our commitments?
On the other hand, I’m already an agglomeration of habit and reactions: I have a habit of looking for the next thing, of avoiding commitments. I react with fear when I’m expected to produce something I’ve never produced before.
With or without responsibilities, our challenge is to rebirth ourselves in each moment, free of conditioning.
There are decisions we make in life, and their are decisions made for us. We can fight against those made for us, but ultimately, we would only be fighting against our own freedom. Many of my creative projects required me to push and scrape for them to take root – I was forever swimming upstream – until I burnt out and gave up.
Only a rare few came out of left field and pulled me along. My marriage for example: however irrational and impossible the relationship might have seemed on paper, to reject Noel from my life would have made as much sense as rejecting my left leg. The decision was made for me. It claimed me. My struggle now is to allow life to claim me. For months I have sat in fear, following distraction, and slowly picking away at this new business opportunity (and barely even that much for my writing).
Fear. Fear keeps me from knocking out a plan, from writing consistently, from sticking to a routine that will move me in the direction I want. Fear propelled me to vagabond my way around the world – my way of avoiding the stagnant life I perceived in the silent masses. My instability in finances and location were always the excuse for not being able to see creative projects through to the end.
I can now say that I truly have all the time in the world (and just enough money) to focus on whatever I choose, and yet…I’ve been stuck. I distract myself with old habits: searching for a summer job abroad, house sitting websites, facebook. I have been like a wild animal that paces in its cage rather than walking through the open door – ironically, no different than all those whose “stuckness” I spent years running from.
The hardest part, fortunately, is recognizing our fear patterns. And taking our first step. Where do you feel stuck in life? What obstacles have you failed to overcome? What positive habits have you been unable to cultivate? Take one of those challenges and follow it back to its root fear.
The lack of follow through I’ve displayed is born from a fear of becoming stuck in life – chained to something I no longer want – which is rooted in a lack of confidence in myself (to make my own choices and changes). It’s the same for the lack of dedication I’ve shown to both my writing and spiritual practices: essentially a fear of not being good enough.
Which makes me wonder…will my path to overcoming this fear resemble a Stuart Smalley’s Daily Affirmations? (Perhaps better would be Daily Applications of mezcal).