Tag Archives: fear

fear: two

The Best Advice So Far - fear two

The previous post wound up being a sort of flight of ideas on fear. I had no intention of taking it further than that when I hit “Publish” last week. But the theme of fear has continued to rear its … well … rather common head in the time since then. So it seems worthwhile to take another walk on the dark side.


I wound up getting to the gym quite late last night — 4:15AM to be exact. (Yes, that was late, not early, considering my usual arrival is between midnight and 2:00.) As you might imagine, the place was pretty empty. Other than myself, there were only two people working out.

One of them was a woman. We were busy at opposite ends of the gym, but I noticed her. She was quite thin, perhaps in her mid to late fifties. Her gait was unsteady, hinting at a neuromuscular disease. And she was tearing the place up (in the best of ways). She moved non-stop between machines, taking only minimal breaks between sets before she was back at it.

By the time I moved that way to use the cables, she was on the mats doing bicycles (an ab workout) for durations that would make me cry. I thought about wandering over, introducing myself and telling her that she was putting me to shame. But she was wearing headphones; and so I kept my admiration to myself for the time being.

We both finished up about the same time. The sky was still black with just a hint of cobalt on the horizon as I headed out to the parking lot, only a few yards behind the woman. I walked a bit faster, thinking now might be a good time to introduce myself. Perhaps hearing my footsteps on the pavement, she cast a wide-eyed glance over her shoulder and then turned abruptly, quickening her own pace.

I decided to let the moment pass, heading for my car instead. By the time I got my things inside and was finally situated, the woman was in her own vehicle and slowly rounding the corner in front of me. Just then, she hit the Caution: Pedestrians crosswalk sign. There was a * thunk * as the plastic yellow tower tipped to the side and scraped along her rear fender before righting itself. She stopped, her face worried. She craned around backward but still couldn’t see what she’d hit.

I knew that getting out of the car and back in would be no mean feat for her. So I hopped out to tell her there was nothing to worry about, that there was no damage to the sign or her car. Our eyes met in her rearview mirror. Her brow furrowed more deeply, so I smiled and waved, moving toward the side of her car where she might be able to see me more clearly.

She gunned the gas, tires chirping, and hightailed it out of there.

As I stood there holding my good intentions, it felt odd to consider that anyone would see me as a threat — that I could ever strike fear into someone.

On the drive home, an interesting thought occurred to me…

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The Best Advice So Far - fear

Today, if I’m being honest, I’m not exactly sure where I’m headed with things.

I’m starting with a broad topic: fear. But beyond that, it’s all vague notions at this point, shifting shadows on the walls. Or maybe it is clear notions — just too many of them.

All I can do is invite you to buckle your safety belt, place your seat backs and trays in the upright position and enjoy the ride, trusting that this flight will eventually land.


Wednesday of last week, I was out at a local snack shack with one of the kids I mentor — a young lady I’ll call Hailey. Other than us, there were only six other customers in the place. One elderly couple sat at a small table not far away, chatting quietly. A group of four teens huddled near the counter, placing their orders.

If you’d been there, you would likely have thought the place was “dead.” Hailey, however, looked panicked. Her shoulders were hunched, body rigid, as wary eyes darted back and forth between the other patrons. I could hear her tense breaths going in and out.

When one of the young guys wandered in our direction to grab a straw from a nearby dispenser, Hailey cringed away as if he were wearing a black ski mask and brandishing a weapon at her. “I don’t like this,” she murmured in a ragged whisper, her lips pale and barely moving. She swallowed hard. “I really don’t like this.”

In that moment, Hailey was experiencing intense fear.

Until recently, Hailey had always met me at my house for our sessions. When we first started five years ago, fear engulfed her. She barely spoke, answering me with gestures where possible; and when words were absolutely required, her voice was so timid that I had to lean in to hear her, even though we sat a mere two feet apart on the same couch.

We took baby steps.

I had her work on speaking with gradually increased volume.

I helped her learn to smile. And her mother intimated to me that she’d never heard Hailey laugh out loud before her visits to my home.

I’d have her sit just outside my door where a passerby might hear her while we continued talking (though I don’t know if any ever did).

Her parents worried and wept, fearful that Hailey would never drive. Never graduate. Never be able to work a job.

I’m happy to say that Hailey received her high school diploma this past May. From side streets to highways at rush hour, she drives (and parks, I might add) like a pro. And she’s even worked a few jobs already.

But fear still limits her. So now, we do “field trips” out in the wide world. Little by little, I’m exposing her to small doses of the things she’s afraid of — unfamiliar people, decision making in public, and more — all carefully meted out with the safety net an inch further away each time.


I have a close friend who used to have to open her front door, close her eyes and count to three, then run to her car, ducking and squealing the whole way. Why? She was terrified that…

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The Best Advice So Far - adventure

In May of this year, the dare-based television show Fear Factor was revived by MTV. I don’t think I ever watched a full episode of the show during its original run from 2001 to 2006, though catching snippets at a friend’s house or while at the gym was virtually unavoidable.

I recall an episode where one person from each couple/team had to lie down in a glass coffin which was subsequently locked. A few dozen tarantulas were then dumped on top of the person through a chute, followed by a hundred or so live crickets.

Outside the coffin, more live crickets were fed continuously through another chute into a blender-type mechanism with a tap of sorts at the bottom. And only by chugging down glass after glass of the fresh cricket guts — fast enough to get the blender level to dip below the halfway mark — could the second contestant from each pair pop the latch on the coffin and release his or her teammate from the feeding frenzy of spiders.

My aversion to the show, believe it or not, wasn’t due to any particular disgust at the situations, but rather to something closer akin to irritation. However, that’s beyond the scope of this post.

People would pull pained faces or shudder and exclaim, “I can’t imagine ever doing this stuff, no matter how much money!” Meanwhile, I’d be thinking things like…


red and white shoes walking a black and white train track

In last week’s post, I told you that a college student I used to mentor interviewed me for a paper he’s writing on “The Happiest Person You Know.” But I also mentioned in the same post that I haven’t always been the happy sort.

If you were to ask just about anyone who knows me, they would tell you that I have the patience of Job. They would tell you that, for the most part, I have a contagious aura of peace about me. They would tell you that I don’t hang on to stress or worry, and that I shrug off even the worst of offenses relatively quickly. But these things have not always been true of me.

Let me take you back – way back – and see if I can explain how I became the happy and patient and positive guy most people know me as today.

My mother will tell you that when I was very small, I used to make entrances by bounding through doorways, announcing my arrival with “Tah-Dah!” as if I were really something special.

From the earliest years, when I had to climb the shelves like a ladder to get my treasures, I spent long days in the library – a place where my sense of wonder was stretched until I thought it would burst. Every one of these books contains adventures and ideas and fascinating new information about everything! (I felt that way then, and that much has not changed a bit.) I was excited about the bugs and art and fancy scientific names; about the way that words sounded; about history and the world and the people in it, both near and far.

I remember one day when I visited the bathroom in said library. I was sitting on the pot, taking care of business and humming, as I often did, when I discovered something else new and wondrous – reverb. The ceiling was high, the floor tiled and the walls concrete; and so the sound of that humming echoed around me and sounded strange and exciting. So I hummed a little louder. Then I added words and sang. And before I knew it, I was belting out my little tune from my porcelain stage, enraptured by the swirling fullness of it all. I reached the end of the song and let the last of the reverberation die out before hopping down, flushing, washing my hands and heading back out for more book exploration. But when I opened the heavy metal door, I was greeted with the sound of applause from a dozen or so parents and their kids, all gathered around. Even Mrs. Bird, the stern librarian, was among them, clapping enthusiastically and smiling. With teeth. (It was weird.)

This was the kind of kid I was.

But somewhere between the days of wonder and unwitting bathroom concerts, my world got very small and dark. I began to see and experience the worst in people everywhere I turned. And by the time I was 10 or 12, I was anxious.




And I felt this way all the time.

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déjà vu 2

déjà vu 2 merry-go-round horse

This month marks the one-year anniversary of a loss for me. I would like to share it with you.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I often include links in reference to past posts or to sites outside of my own that illustrate a point. But never, to my knowledge, have I link to another post that is “required reading” before the current post will be fully understood. Today, I’ll need to do exactly that. Please allow me this diversion from the norm for the sake of telling my story today; I believe that it will be worth the small amount of extra time invested.

That said, you’ll notice that this post is called “déjà vu 2.” As you may have guessed (or remembered), that is because nearly three years ago I wrote a post called “déjà vu.” Please click on the link to read (or re-read) that post before continuing. I’ve added another link to the bottom of the original post, so that you can get right back here in a jiffy when you’re done.


Welcome back!

Now let me tell you about this not-so-fun anniversary I mentioned at the start of this post.

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déjà vu

Hello, friends.  It’s been a while. Rather than spend an undue amount of time explaining my absence, I’ll just enjoy the moment of presence and do what I came to do – write.

First, a brief commercial break. I will have you know that I passed the first lemonade stand of the post-Memorial-Day season this weekend and practiced exactly what I preach.  Two boys, who I’m guessing were five and seven, were standing street side, holding a torn, brown, cardboard sign with thin, white writing on it – which of course no one could read from their cars.  The younger of the pair was calling out passionately to the drivers as they whizzed by (I know this not because I heard him, but only due to the fact that I saw his little mouth working exaggeratedly to form words).  He and his sign twisted at the waist with every passing car, as if forced to do so by their sheer velocity. No one was stopping.  It was a pitiful sight. Well, in addition to stopping and buying two cups of lemonade, I offered some sound marketing advice, as well: using white poster board instead of the brown cardboard, writing with thick black marker instead of white crayon, and exchanging the screaming for smiling REAL BIG and with teeth (which, as it turned out, were not so many at the moment). They were very grateful, and before running indoors to hunt for the suggested supplies, the older boy offered me a quarter of my money back “for the good advice” (which, of course, I let him keep after complimenting his outstanding manners). For Pete’s sake, don’t be a whiz-by-er.  Make a kid’s day.  Stop and buy the lemonade!

We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming.

Let me tell you about my new friend Dave. I met Dave about six months ago.  We have a lot in common.  Graphics and computer skills.  Musical abilities.  Core beliefs.  Youth mentoring.

Dave looks like a younger version of Hugh Jackman.  I just thought I’d throw that in there.   We do not have this in common.  I do not look very much like Hugh Jackman.

But Dave also has quite a bit in common with some other people I have known.  People who haven’t been very nice to me, I’m afraid.  People who, if truth be told, have been downright mean to me.

Dave has the same hair color as someone who recently betrayed me. The rise and fall of his voice is uncannily similar to the same former friend.

Dave has the same career as someone who recently gossiped and spread lies about me.

Dave uses certain obscure phrases that I’ve only ever heard used by a couple of people in my life – people who have hurt me. Dave goes places those people go, and reads books those people have touted as good reads.

On the flip side, one of the first times Dave and I talked, he told me that I rather reminded him of someone, as well. Dave had heard me singing.  He figured out pretty quickly that I was outgoing and talked easily with people.  And these things reminded him of someone else who was outgoing and could sing well, someone he’d invested a lot of time into in recent years.  In the end, this person had broken Dave’s trust in irreparable ways and hurt people that Dave cared about.  In short, this person had made Dave’s life quite hard for quite a long time.

We both acknowledged, from the very first time we talked, that it was a temptation to avoid getting to know one another altogether. “This guy is too much like the last one who caused me so much pain.”  Engaging again with someone so similar in so many ways would just be asking for trouble — opening the door for the painful past to repeat itself. Wouldn’t it?

The truth is that Dave is a great guy and a welcome new friend.  I enjoy talking with him.  I feel excited about possibilities after we hang out.  He values my input and I value his.  We’ve started into writing a little music together, and he wasn’t afraid to sing in “girl voice” in front of me.  I like his sense of humor, and he gets mine.  We laugh a lot. I like Dave. I trust Dave.

Brace yourself for this next bit. Trust is a choice.

It’s hard to trust new people who are a lot (or even a little) like people who have betrayed our trust in the past.  So, yes, it’s a potentially difficult choice – but a choice nonetheless.

What’s more, basing all new relationships on bad past relationships is irrational, if we really stop and think about it.

Every chair does not give us splinters – even if that one did when we were nine.  Will we never sit again?

And that lobster red burn two summers later – the one that had us unable to sleep for days and cleaning skin peelings from our sheets for weeks – is hardly grounds to lock ourselves away in the cellar every time the sun comes up.

There’s a line in Anne of Green Gables, where Anne’s trusted mentor and friend, Ms. Stacy, has this to say: “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.”  And that is true of new relationships, as well.   Each one is fresh, with no mistakes in it.

So, if you are afraid, then go ahead and say so.  Decide together to do things differently.  Be different, if there are things in you that could use changing this time around.  But by all means, do choose to trust again.  For to choose otherwise – to live within a self-made fortress of skepticism and fear – is to rob ourselves of  the potential for future joy, as well.

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I want this to be a place where we can share our thoughts, our stories, the strategies each of us are finding work – or don’t work – when it comes to living like it matters. Not only will you encourage others by doing so, you will encourage yourself to remember what you already know and to live it out in practical ways.  So please comment below!

Are you ready for some real change in your life right now?

“The Best Advice So Far” is about choice. Filled with wit, humor and poignantly real stories, “The Best Advice So Far” shares collective wisdom through a new lens, as well as practical application for living like it matters (because it does).


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regret personified: boy being stalked by dragon in the dark

In [my recently released] book The Best Advice So Far, I talk about my first kiss.  And while it was my first kiss in the sense of romance, it wasn’t strictly my “first kiss.”

In grade school, those of us waiting for delayed parents would find various amusements.  One such day in fourth grade (and in a religious school, no less), a small group of us went down a back hallway and through the Secret Door.  The Secret Door was, to us, much like a door from Alice in Wonderland.  Only, instead of leading to magical kingdoms with fanciful characters, it just led under the staging area for the church.

For us at that age, it really was a different world.  Once crawling through The Door, which was only half our size, the under-stage area opened up to be high enough by far for us to stand upon entering.  Then, like being in some sort of ancient ziggurat, we had to stoop lower and lower as we made our way back, beneath the inverted platform stairs.

Strewn around were various relics.  Musty choir robes in dilapidated boxes.  Stacks of tarnished offering plates.  Broken pieces of ornate wood from pews, churning our imaginations as to just how they’d been broken.  (Large parishioner?  Act of God?)

Above loomed pipes leading to the gray, resin bottom of the baptismal tank, where I myself had been baptized on a frigid winter evening several years before.  Church services and baptisms had been dutifully held during the surrounding weeks, despite the fact that the church had not paid its power bill.  The building itself was bitterly cold, even for those out in the congregation, tightly clustered within heavy coats and stamping their feet as quietly as possible.  But there I was, six years old, wearing only my swim trunks and T-shirt, shivering.  This paled in comparison to descending the steps into the water, where the ice across the top of the pool had been broken up only moments earlier.  My body shook despite the fact that more and more of it was melting into numbness, as I sucked in short, panting breaths, miniature icebergs floating all around me.

I’ve since thought that my encounter on this night was not all that unlike what passengers on the Titanic had endured.  It’s all good though.  I was assured that my “willingness to sacrifice” meant Jesus loved me just a little bit more than everyone else, and would have my back at some future time of real need by way of reward.

But I digress.  There we were — two girls, another guy friend, and me — sitting cross-legged in a tight circle in the Land Beyond The Door, playing a game.

A game of “Truth or Dare.”

Well, for some reason I’ll never understand given the particular company, at one point, I chose “Dare.”  (An omen of my life to come, it would seem.)  And that is when I had my first kiss, technically.

I won’t divulge too much about the female in question, but suffice it to say that she had long frizzy hair, glasses, a uni-brow, sour breath — and braces the metal of which was perpetually covered over with a strange, waxy orange substance that resembled (and may have been) the powder from cheese curls.  The dare was that I had to kiss her — on the lips — for a count of five seconds.  And you know the bridging “Mississippis” were not regulation length.

Enter regret.

Well, at least the idea of regret.

Had I the opportunity to go back in time and un-kiss the girl, would I?  Maybe.  But I don’t really think of that as regret so much as prudence brought with age.  In reality, I came away from the ordeal quite in once piece (though I do still shudder at the recollection).

Moreover, I now have another zany tale to tell.

Many of life’s less-flattering moments are this way.  They result in experience and gripping party stories.  No harm done.

Alas, if only our worst decisions were kissing the fuzzy-yellow-tongued girl in grade school.

Real life comes with more options.  Harder choices.  Bigger stakes.  The potential for higher achievement is always paired with an equal risk of more devastating failure.

Words are hurled which cannot be unspoken.

Relational rifts are forged.

Trust is broken.

Marriages crumble.

The temptation of a moment closes doors for a lifetime.

What of regret then?  I still hold to the notion that regret is an entirely useless, and thus wasted, emotion.

Regret is an entirely useless and wasted emotion.

Now, remorsethat is useful, insofar as it causes us to see and admit the error of our ways.  But remorse is temporary.  It is a moment of realization, or perhaps even a process of grief.   It instills wisdom and, with luck, changes future decisions.  But it should eventually come to an end.

Where remorse lingers, it becomes regret.  And regret has always seemed self-indulgent to me — a continual flagellation of sorts which we fool ourselves into believing somehow balances out our trespasses.  Worse yet is when regret turns the corner into self-pity, or an attempt to garner pity from others.  Perhaps if I remain sullen, decrying my past, others will be inclined to remind me of my virtues.

Again, I say — useless and wasted emotional energy.  It gets us nowhere.  It changes nothing.  If anything, it prevents real change from happening.

Beyond remorse, there is certainly room for movement with some similar words:  restitution and reparation.  Where remorse leads to realization and true sorrow, there are many times where a wrong can be made right.

First, the power of a sincere apology should never be underestimated.  It always amazes me the number of people I encounter who live in regret; and yet, when asked, “Have you ever apologized?” the answer is some version or other of “no.”  More often than not, the seeming humility associated with regret is actually no more than a clever disguise for deep-rooted pride.

Did you lie about someone?  Tell as many people as you can think of the truth of the matter — yes, even years later.

Did you swindle someone, leave a debt unpaid, or turn financial matters to your own gain?  Make the sacrifice and repay it now.

Nothing says, “I’m sorry” better than a sacrifice to right things as well as they may be righted.

I am not oblivious to the fact that not all wrongs can be righted.  I recall one seventeen-year-old boy with whom I worked at a drug rehab.  We had great rapport.  But still, I could tell he was building up to telling me something big for weeks.  Finally, I just put it out there:  “You clearly need to say something.  I’m listening.  I won’t judge or condemn you.  I’ll just listen.”  He sat silently, staring at his fumbling hands.  His face flushed and then contorted as he began to cry, for what I suspected had been the first time in a long time.  He went on to tell me that he and his younger half-brother had experimented sexually together a few years back.  As he was able, I asked him for specifics, because this was likely the one opportunity he would have to get it all out there — every awful thing he had done, that he believed about himself — and have someone still look him in the eye and love him.

This is essentially what I told him.

In the end, due to the nature of a past choice, the emotional choices of the offended or otherwise involved, a death — or a combination of these factors — remorse and restitution do not always result in reconciliation.  Still, regret has no place.  It changes nothing.  Much as I suggest in regard to worry, once you have done all that can be done (which is often more than you think) — you can do no more.  Accept the consequences as graciously as you can.  But choose not to live under the cloud.

Seek counseling.  Live differently going forward.  Love differently where you may.

But whatever you do, pull up the stakes of regret and move forward.

Are you ready for some real change in your life right now?

The Best Advice So Far is about choice. Filled with wit, humor and poignantly real stories, The Best Advice So Far shares collective wisdom through a new lens, as well as practical application for living like it matters (because it does).


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The Best Advice So Far in Print: Amazon


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