On being scared and excited at the same time

April 26, 2013

I'm not a particularly ambitious person by nature, really. I think a big part of happiness is being content and grateful for what you have, particularly the little things, hence my "Things That Were Good Today" daily gratitude blog. I'm not particularly revved up by calls to change the world; thinking about that just makes me feel a bit tired. A great weekend is often one where I didn't have to change out of my pajamas or leave the apartment at all.

This was pretty frustrating for my mom. When I was growing up, she would frequently ask me, "why don't you want to be the best at whatever you're doing?" and I think it just flabbergasted her that I mostly really didn't care. As a result, sometimes it's hard for me to be an environment where it seems like everyone is always pushing to reach for the next thing just to get to the next level; it makes me wonder if there's something wrong with me when I'm content with what I've got.

What saves me from total complacency is 1, I get bored when I'm not learning anything new and 2, I do want to do things well and to always be improving. It took me awhile to convince my husband that when I asked him his opinion on something I'd cooked, it wasn't a trap, I really did want feedback on how I could make it better next time. These tend to be incremental improvements though, not tackling something big and new and foreign.

For those, this post written by someone who took on skateboarding from Sydney to Wollongong showed up on Hacker News a few weeks ago and though I have never been interested in skateboarding, it actually struck quite a chord with me:
If it excites you and scares the crap out of you at the same time, it probably means you should do it.
If you want to get somewhere in life, no one is going to do the pushing for you. You have to push yourself. 
For me, these two points are totally, totally true. After a childhood of mostly being pushed by my parents, it's taken me awhile to figure out how to push myself towards goals I set for myself. I still need a nudge now and then, but when I think back on the two most significant career moves I've made, I definitely was both terrified and thrilled at the same time. When I moved from the support team to a product specialist role, I was scared of the responsibility it would bring and the impact if I made mistakes, but at the same time, it seemed like it could be a ton of fun to actually have some influence over product decisions. When I decided to apply for Hackbright, it involved not just leaving my job for 2.5 months but also living away from my husband, yet I couldn't stop thinking about the opportunity.

If you had an identity as a smart kid while growing up, there's evidently this whole praise paradox where such kids are more risk-averse and less confident than kids that are praised for working hard instead of being smart. I think this is where the fear comes from, since it's a fear that you won't be good at whatever the new thing is and you'll have risked losing your reputation as a smart person for nothing. This is different than being afraid of doing something really drastic like quitting your job without any kind of backup plan, since this fear shows up even for things that have defined time limits, like Hackbright.

You can tell the difference because it's paired with that nervous excitement, when you find yourself turning it over and over it your head. You don't have to ever toss reason and planning entirely out the window or anything like that, just: pay attention to your intuition. If you feel both scared and excited, you should listen to it.