Rather than taking actual steps ourselves, it’s safer to adopt avatars; to watch others do what we wish we could--while we, personally, risk nothing. How nice for the cowardly would-be adventurer to just ride along! Then, when that avatar inevitably stumbles, the couch-creature can then sing their own verses of disengaged brilliance!
See how wise THEY were wise to remain safely rooted to the couch!
Or, perhaps when the avatar fails to meet their ever-increasing entertainment standards, the anonymous couch-creature can pretend he’s watching a reality show and, wallowing in the aforementioned cognitive dissonance, tell himself (with the benefit of hindsight) how HE surely would have done it differently--and much better! Chris tells of actually receiving hate-mail when he interrupted his cross-country walk! Hate-mail from a couch-creature who had attached their own personal meaning to his achievement!
I’ve encountered this vicarious mentality occasionally over the last 2 1/2 years, and even momentarily and disastrously fell into its trap last spring with Ray. In fact, I've adopted several avatars as hopeful mentors and standard bearers over the years. Those I've looked up to were either co-opted or became a huge disappointment under the weight of unfair expectations. Once people try move from idealism to implementation, standards and ideals often become secondary to convenience, convention, and self-preservation. People become captives of institution, slaves to doctrine, or simple mental masturbators.
Only with the benefit of hindsight, I slowly realized that what I experienced in the years leading up to my hitting the road for the first time was something shared by everyone: fear.
I, myself, have had a habit of seeking out avatars to show myself that my ideas and visions were possible. Ironically, that’s how Chris and I originally met in 2004. I was living in Florida and he was in Denver at the time. In August of that year, I had rekindled the notion that the notion of life we’d been sold was maybe horseshit, and had a harebrained, cloudy, vision of setting out down the road with a backpack! I had yet to hear of McCandless or anyone else who had done it and, intimidated by the prospect, needed to see that it could be done, and that I wasn’t crazy! I did a web search about others who had done it, and found his website.
It’s no insignificant fact that it took 4-years for that vision to manifest. I tiptoed around the fringes, but never overcame the fears of “what if.” It was a long process, and made longer by my own laziness and refusal to accept full responsibility for who I was, where I was, and the future tenses of both. Chris initially served as a bit of an unwilling role model and inadvertent mentor; a guide as to the general direction I needed to take myself.
I intermittently battled fear (usually losing badly) from the day we moved from Taos to Denver early in ’05 to the day I stepped out in May ’08. It’s astounding for me to think back 5-years and recall the molehills I mistook for mountains! All along the way, fear was a constant companion and like everyone risking something, it remains my most tenacious sparring partner. The only thing separating myself was that I somehow stumbled from pretending fear shouldn’t be there--
- to recognition, acceptance, and meek confrontation
- to beating myself up, assuming its continued existence meant failure
- to realizing it never “goes away”
- then consciously working to act despite it.
The simple fact is that, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, we’re all much more alike than we care to admit. Fear isn’t something ultimately “conquered.” Rather than a dragon to be slain, it’s closer to a game of Whack-a-Mole. With a ton of hard work and perseverance it can be befriended and controlled, but like the ego it never dies. Anyone who claims otherwise is a fucking liar. Tell ‘em I said so! When you reinforce one wall, fear simply sniffs out another one of our weakness and moves on.
With the right attitude, like many other things we prefer to avoid, fear can be our greatest self-investigative tool. For me, an enormous key was something I read shortly before leaving in ’08. It was a question asked in a cute little book called Who Moved My Cheese: “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” That brilliantly simple little question shifts focus from "what if" to what we’re missing out on; from the unlikely negatives to the potential positives. Pursuing something you want is usually more effective (and far more enjoyable) than fleeing from the imaginary somethings you "think" are behind you the whole time!