Saturday, December 20, 2014


We live with this weird dichotomy, where in one sense we are whoever we are, and some part of us is born that way; and then as we grow, we can (or should) think about what we value, and what kind of person we want to become.

This past summer we had a membership at a swim club up the hill, a really remarkable place on an artificial pond (what Californians call a "lake") built in 1926. They have all kinds of cool stuff, including a water slide, a 1-meter diving board, and a 3-meter platform.

One day, I jumped off the platform. I didn't like it. I've jumped off taller cliffs (30 feet or so) into water, and didn't like that either. In fact, I knew ahead of time I wouldn't like it. The feeling of freefall is something I mostly associate with painful landings. I don't like adrenaline rushes.

I jumped off the platform again, which seemed like the obvious thing to do.
I swam over to Anna and said, "God, I hate doing that."

She said, "But you did it again."
Okay. I mean. If you want to put it that way, it sounds a little weird.

It's not that I'm not afraid, because I'm a normal human being and I am. I'm not a thrill seeker and I don't find adrenaline rushes satisfying. Actually, I find adrenaline rushes to be kind of a pain in the ass, because I have to work harder to think straight. And that's really what it's about.

I value being able to help people and act usefully in a crisis. I decided that a long time ago, and (probably not coincidentally) those are things I have an aptitude for anyway. In order to do something reliably and under stress, you have to train for it. You have to make yourself jump off a cliff into the water, go speak or perform in front of people, go teach English in South America for a year.

And that's all there is to it. I do scary things when I don't have to, so that I know that I can do scary things when I don't have a choice.

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