I love stories about overcoming fears, but I can’t see myself doing it. If my gym record is any indication, I quit as soon as the going gets tough. I worry because I don’t know how I’d fare doing something new.—Tabitha
Making “comfort” your dominant life value is one of the worst things that a thirtyish person can do (outside of, like, bringing a hoodie to the movies because they really blast the air conditioning there). Fostering emotional stability, looking out for your own needs, and giving the occasional Friday night over to a satin-rimmed blankie, takeout, and a Seinfeld DVD box set is…mwah, perfecto. But allowing the comfort of predictability to dominate your decisions will undermine you.
Fear avoided—at work, in relationships, in the woods, or wherever—just doubles up, and soon enough you’ll stop driving on the highway at night even though the stars look so good then, because it’s easier to leave in the morning. You know?
Cheryl Strayed is the author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, about hiking from the Mojave Desert to the Oregon-Washington border. She says, “Most of us don’t like to make ourselves uncomfortable, emotionally, physically, or otherwise.” Choose something to do—something doable. “It must feel real and attainable to you,” Strayed says, like a marathon, a camping trip, or a week where you’ll work out every day, instead of a gym membership that you have no specific plans to use. “Commit yourself to something that has a beginning, middle, and end.”
An exciting challenge can feel boring in the moment; “a lot of the deepest fun I’ve had is only fun in retrospect,” Strayed says. This is also true, as a for-instance, of any travel that involves delayed flights, food poisoning, or being robbed at gunpoint. When you’re really doing something that is hard, for every worth-it experience of endorphins water-sliding through your body, there are a thousand more awkward, itchy, tired-as-shit moments. Strayed says to “pass through to the next moment, and don’t be smothered by the enormity of your endeavor.”
She adds, “Think of a sentence that works as a positive affirmation, even if you don’t entirely believe it. When I was on my hike, I had two mantras: ‘I am not afraid’ and ‘Who’s tougher than me? No one.’ Every time I thought those things, it carried me through.” When you or your body flags, ask yourself if you can keep going for five minutes, and then after five more minutes, ask yourself again. The unexpected, hardest stuff is, according to Strayed, “not an indication that we’ve made a bad choice. It’s simply part of what we asked for. It’s a gift.”
I was dating a guy who moved hours away. A month after we last saw each other, he went from begging me to visit again to severing all contact with no explanation. He recently came home for a few months. Our friend groups overlap, and I’ve started bailing on plans, because if I see my ex I’ll feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. I’m mad at him for causing this.—Diana
All-or-nothing stuff seems to be some gnarled characteristic found in the Rational Boy genus. When you’re in a relationship with someone and he has clearly decided that, in order to resolve something within himself, he needs to excise you, it feels unreal—a nightmare starring a ghost-boyfriend. A better person, or this guy in a better moment, would have just broken up with you; instead, he either met someone or went sour or experienced some sudden sea change (who cares, really). You’re allowed to be mad at him for that all you want.
You’re not, though, allowed to be mad at him for breaking up with you, a legit choice in any relationship, even if his methods were those of a toddler sociopath. And you’re not—really not—allowed to damage yourself and your social life any more by avoiding your friends. The emotional nausea will fade, eventually. He sucks, for sure, but it’s up to you to end the suckiness there.
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