How Fear Can Deceive Us


With our fears logs can become alligators (picture by Thomas_G via Pixabay)

Wow, it’s been weeks since I’ve written a post here. If you haven’t been following me on Medium, I recently started writing there more regularly as part of Jeff Goins’ 500 Word Challenge. So far, so good on what was Day 20.

Today my friend Bill Belew wrote on his forum about having an up and down week. My response is that it happens and that besides this being a sign that we’re still alive, it’s also how we’re hard-wired.

For a while the motivational / self-help myth told us that if you place a frog in boiling water it’ll simply jump out. However, if you place it in water that’s room temperature and slowly turn up the heat, the frog won’t notice until it’s too late. There’s plenty written to dispel this, and others trying to prove it..

But the lesson is still valid, I think.

Human beings do tend to worry about things that are more in our face. It’s what sells newspapers, and why the “silent killers” like heart disease and diabetes remain the leading causes of death.

Recently, we lost several celebrities – David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, and Animal. Okay, maybe not the last one..

I have to admit that I can’t remember the last time that I listened to Bowie or Frey.. sometimes life happens, sometimes things surface to the top of our attention and then drift back down.

Don’t worry – this isn’t going to be a sermon about how “life is short.. let’s make each moment count..” However, it’s true that if we’re not careful, neglect is easy but the price we pay down the road can be much more expensive.

Losing my car was painful. For a while there was a $200 or so repair that a local garage suggested. I was always too busy or couldn’t be bothered. Who knows? Maybe it was inevitable that the transmission would fail; maybe not.

Being without a car in southern California is much more painful than, say, the San Francisco Bay Area or other cities like New York. Yes, I do think that it’s also a blessing and curse thing. In the classic cost benefit analysis let’s not forget to look at the price paid in the long run, not just the immediate future.

That’s why sometimes we undervalue the benefit of saving 5 minutes a day and forget how it can lead to creating hours or days of opportunity. It’s easier for us to focus on what in our face and miss the hidden costs / opportunities.


That Day We Lost Our Soul Mate


Soul Mates via Unsplash

Monday began like any other. After my morning ritual, I paused to briefly scan social media before getting back to work. What’s this?

Someone commented about Scott Dinsmore. I remembered him mentioning going off-line for a bit. Then began that bubble in time where the rest of the world continues in a muffled blur while you gather the facts in “surreal time.”

This felt all too familiar. Years ago I watched the news as rescue workers pulled the body of my on-wing (your assigned mentor until you solo in flight school) out of Corpus Christi Bay. Some time later someone called to tell us that my younger brother had been airlifted off a ski slope in the Poconos.

Each of these reminded me of how I felt watching the footage of jets slamming into the World Trade Center played over and over again. It just doesn’t seem real.

It’s now Thursday. The past few days have been a haze of doing what needed to be done. I’ve commented a few times, sharing some my thoughts and feelings. And only now do I feel a little more ready to add my voice to the conversation in the wake of Scott Dinsmore’s death.

What’s strangest to me is that I’ve never met Scott or Chelsea. Sure, we bantered a bit on Instagram or via email. We live in an age, of course, where we can connect in so many ways without ever being in the same place.


Chelsea & Scott Dinsmore via Instagram

Yet, these token moments are opportunities to touch each other’s lives in ways that no one can ever predict. This butterfly effect reminds me of my favorite film, It’s a Wonderful Life where the main character George Bailey gets a chance to see what life is like if he hadn’t been born.

At a pivotal moment the angel turns to George and points out how the nightmarish alternate world reflects the void left by his absence and all the ways that he didn’t get to touch the lives of others.

Some of my personal online mentors shared their thoughts as well – many of whom I had no idea that they were even connected to Scott in any way. And that’s what I see – a life that touched so many others in so many ways.

  Gone Too Soon: My Friend Scott – Jonathan Fields

  When Friends Die: The Clarity & Confusion of Grief – Jeff Goins

  29 Ways to Live Your Legend Now – Tribute to Scott Dinsmore – Natalie Sisson

  Sudden Loss, New Beginnings and Three Simple Words – Sean Ogle

  Scott Dinsmore, I Miss You Bro – Jonathan Mead

  Scott Dinsmore, I Miss You Deeply – Leo Babauta

  Scott Dinsmore, I Will Miss You Forever – Corbett Barr

More tributes to Scott’s legacy on the Live Your Legend website.

In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert writes,

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention.”

Scott often joked that after talking one-on-one with him, 8 out of 10 people quit their jobs. And he was proud of this.

People come into our lives for a time.. a season.. a reason.. often in shapes and sizes that we never imagined. Who could guess that a frat bro demigod flashing his brilliant Apollo smile was really a Yoda in disguise that forced you to look at your choices? Not me.

But this wasn’t just some guru or therapist, Scott lived this himself. He shined that same light on his own choices and stepped into his own truth.

What makes me saddest about Scott’s untimely death is how it leaves so many questions unanswered.

What was he thinking? No, not in the sense of “why did he try to climb Mt Kilimanjaro? didn’t he know it’s dangerous?” That’s something my parents would say. Scott went into things fully aware of the risks and embraced them.

What last thoughts did he have and what is left undone?

What could he have done if he were still alive?

So many questions but the biggest one is.. where do we go from here?

Years ago a friend of mine said that the reason why some souls leave this earth sooner than others is because their work is done.

Maybe so. It just sure doesn’t feel like it.

People tend to use words like “freak accident” for things like this. What’s made Scott’s passing even more gut wrenching is that it came so soon after the loss of someone else who touched so many lives, Dr. Wayne Dyer.

One of his favorite sayings is “there are no coincidences.” And, no, the irony of all this isn’t lost on me as I’m reading the chapter in his memoir, I Can See Clearly Now  where Dr. Dyer talks about the effect that losing President Kennedy had on him and his own work.

“It was no longer just about my impending career as a teacher. I began to think in terms of how I could impact the consciousness of the entire planet. I saw myself from that day forward as a man with a voice of compassion for a higher good. I didn’t know how or even what my role might be, but I knew that one person with a conscience could make a difference and I was that person.”

Each moment is a chance, an opportunity to touch the lives of others – to live your legend. Scott knew this and taught us most by living his. Now he’s given us a chance to live our own.

Sunday Thoughts (04/19/15) – A Matter of Perspective

This is another Sunday’s thought inspired by a poker group discussion.

Poker players often have to make decisions with incomplete information. While it’s great to develop our intuition, you need to back it up with checking your “read” – your accuracy in assessing the situation.

Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tells a story of riding the New York subway one quiet Sunday afternoon.

Suddenly, a man and his unruly children boarded the peaceful car and broke the relative calm. Covey became irritated – especially because the man just sat with his eyes closed.

The father was apparently unwilling to do anything. So finally Covey asked him to control his children’s behavior.

With a sigh the father says, “well, I suppose I should tell them to behave, but I imagine they’re just acting out. We just came from the hospital where they found out their mother had passed away.”

In that moment Covey said that he suddenly saw things differently.  With that one revelation he felt differently; he behaved differently.

So, while everything else remained the same – the noisy children creating a ruckus with the passengers, the father who did nothing – his perception of the scene had changed.

Covey stopped seeing them as simply unruly children with a father who couldn’t control them. Instead he saw human beings trying to process a devastating life-changing event. His irritation faded, and he felt compassion.

Too often we are too quick to judge a situation like Covey. It can be a bit of a Rashomon moment. Or the blind men and the elephant.

But the question is – do we really have the best picture of what’s going on?

How often do we drive down the road annoyed at the pedestrian taking his time crossing – until one day we’re walking along and find that drivers are so impatient?

“You never truly know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” is the age old adage.

I like to believe that one day when we make that “dust to dust” transformation, we’ll have perfect knowledge – all the questions we ever had, all the things we couldn’t know in our brief, mortal lifetime, all the great riddles of the universe will be revealed.

Meanwhile, how we handle uncertainty and incomplete information determines our success. Listening to this Screw the 9 to 5 podcast, (at around 4:42 left,) reminded me of how each key moment in my life – getting a ROTC scholarship, first dates, buying my first house.. all came from feeling a fear of uncertainty and going for it.

Earlier I was reflecting on ideas that I’ve had a hard time understanding. One of them has been this idea that light behaves as both particle and wave. This is one of those arguments that the greatest scientific minds have gone back and forth on.

Finally, the agreement was that the best answer was – “it depends..”

So it seems that even science has to deal with uncertainty and the lack of complete information. This doesn’t mean that we abandon all hope. Things don’t come to a grinding halt.

On the one hand we have not enough information and jumping to conclusions. On the other too much info and a fear of not enough. Entrepreneurs often face this “analysis paralysis.”

How has something – an event, a revelation, an idea – changed your view so that it never looked the same again?

Here’s my LinkedIn article on How Poker Taught Me to Face My Fears in Business.

Sunday Thoughts – Going All In On Fear

So, we were heads up – 30 players down to the two of us.

Across the table sat Cindy, seven-time winner of our little home game poker league. Again and again, she’d won first place while I was lucky to take second once in a while.

Without getting too much into poker jargon, let’s just say that we were pretty even at this point chip-wise, or our stacks were nearly even.

So, anything could still happen. And, as anyone who follows the much higher stakes WSOP games on ESPN knows, it often does.

But this was just a semi-friendly (although fiercely competitive) home league. Buy-in’s were $10, but the first place winner often took home more than a $100. Still, there was enough at stake that we took pride in winning.

“I’m all in,” declared Cindy. So, now I was left to decide – do I call and risk nearly three quarters of my chips? Or do I fold.

If I won, I could basically take it all. Then and there.

But if I was wrong, I’d be crippled. And probably just left with struggling to stay in a little longer.

Closing my eyes, I breathed and checked myself. “I call.”

Both Cindy and I were surprised at my call. I had enough respect for her game to know that she didn’t push all her chips into the middle lightly.

Yet, there I was calling her.

Turning over 6-3 off-suit, Cindy half-sheepishly chuckled. She often said that it was one of her favorite hands, even though it’s basically a rag hand (having little inherent value, unlike big poker pairs like Aces or Kings, or even Ace King). Poker players tend to have a semi-superstitious tendency to favor personal “garbage hands.” I had caught her hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

What led me to make that call? Even though my hand (Ace Ten off-suit) wasn’t too bad, it was still a gamble to call an all-in. Normally, I would struggle to make such a call. Yet, this time I made it with little hesitation. Something had changed in my game. I had changed.


“Fear is the mind killer.” This is one of my favorite lines from Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s the destroyer of possibility and for an artist, bane of creativity.

I’ve faced many forms and many shapes of fear in my life. Some advocate living fearlessly. Others say just ignore it.

But I say embrace fear, because only then can you really be free.

No, I’m not saying live your life in fear. Nor am I saying being too comfortable or complacent with fear. That’s how accidents happen – that’s just plain carelessness.
Years ago, I was more active in practicing aikido. Unlike other martial arts that profess to be a “mind over matter” form of self-defense but quickly end up being just another use of force against force, this practice stems from the founder’s philosophy.

While other martial art traditions are often hundreds of years old, aikido drew from some of these traditions and in reality is still less than a century old.

Morihei Ueshiba, also known by his followers as “O Sensei,” believed that aikido should be a path to harmony and peace, and its practice embodied this not only in the philosophy but the very technique itself.

For example, unlike judo, karate or kung fu, nothing happens until an attacker attacks. After receiving the energy of the attacker and redirecting it to neutralize the attack, only the force necessary to suppress further aggression is used.

How much is enough? Ah, that’s the art – and the lifetime of practice that come with this art.

But to my moment of truth.. aikido teaches us to resist our “natural” fight or flight instincts. It was the belief of O Sensei that many of our societal woes come from this lack of control over our fear.

If we harness this energy, we embrace the true power that is our very core – love. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s fear – the absence of love.

I know this sounds very touchy feely for a martial art. And at first even I was very skeptical. But once you see the power and beauty of the techniques, it’s unmistakable that you’re seeing something different than brute force.

At the very heart of this art aikido asks you, “What are you afraid of?” and “How can you embrace this?”

In that moment I realized that I was afraid of making a foolish mistake. I wasn’t worried that Cindy actually had a good hand. If I was wrong, so be it.

So, what “clicked”? Realizing that my fear was getting in the way of me making the best decision in that moment. Once I acknowledged this, my inner wisdom – that all-knowing little voice – said to call. And I did.

The hand played out, and somehow I don’t think either of us connected with the board – the rest of the cards which make up your hand in Texas hold’em. Ace high was good enough to win the hand, and thus allow me to win first place for the first time.


going all in

going all in

Funny thing – after breaking that personal poker “4 minute mile,” I went on to win first several times. And some other players in the league as well. Maybe I’m being overly philosophical but I like to believe that once we face our fears we give others the permission to do so also.

What about you? How is fear holding you back from making the right call?

Here is more on How Poker Helps Us to Face Our Fears in Business.

How Life is a Poker Tournament

Why Sometimes We Need to Go All In on Fear

How to Reach Your Dreams by Pushing the Envelope

Ok, I admit it.. I bought into the Top Gun dream back in the 80’s – but you know what?

That experience taught me a lot about myself – and that’s priceless..

Here’s an old post I wrote back in June 17, 2010 about “Fear – TRIAL BY FIRE OR FUEL FOR MOTIVATION?


Jack Canfield quote

Jack Canfield quote

“What are you afraid of? And more importantly how is it holding you back from what you most want to achieve?

When I look back at my own life, I realize that at times fear was both the fuel and the fence to my successes. It was fear that motivated me to learn a new skill or simply grow because I needed it. It was fear that other times kept me from going for it.

“Yes, I Can!”

Years ago, I was home from college for the summer. After sifting through the classifieds, (this was before Mr. Gore invented the Internet,) I found an ad for a delivery driver job that seemed appealing. I guess I aced the interview based on my strength of personality or something like that.

When the interviewer asked the all important question came at the end, “..and, of course, you can drive stick shift, right?” I somehow blocked out the memory of gears grinding like the transmission has just been torn out when my boss from the previous tried to instruct me on the basics of driving a standard. Surely, somewhere deep down inside me was a truck driver extraordinaire.. right?

“Yes, of course,” I managed to say with an utterly convincing lack of hesitation.

So with that I rushed home and called my friend, Mark. (These were the days before cell phones..) “Hey, you gotta teach me how to drive stick – I got a job driving trucks!”

Now Mark knew me to be someone who still didn’t know his limits. But this time even he had to shake his head in disbelief at my nerve. In any case, soon we were sitting in the parking lot behind the local grade school all afternoon. “Ok, ease the clutch.. as you give it some gas..”

Somehow I managed to drive out of the company the next morning without the alarming screech of missing gear shifts. Next thing I knew I was driving! Quite pleased with myself, getting stuck at a stop sign on a steep hill brought me back down to earth. I still had a bit to learn..

“Jump Before You Look!”

Fast forward to a swim test – I’m standing on a 50′ high dive, looking down at my friends cheering me on. Over and over again, I repeat to myself, “Fear is the mind killer.. fear is the mind killer..”

Generally, heights haven’t been too much of a challenge in my life. Sure, like everyone else I get that rush of adrenaline from roller coasters and that occasional nightmare where you wake up with that falling sensation , but I don’t really have a phobia of heights.

No, my problem was that I didn’t quite exactly know how to swim yet. Here I was – a grown adult about to embark on my Navy career – remember, “it’s not just a job; it’s an adventure.”

Yeah, I bought into it – the pitch, the promise of “hey, you’ll get a college education on us by just drilling one day a week.” Well, what Mr. Recruiter conveniently left out was “oh, but by the way you’ll spend the rest of the week preparing for that one day..”

Still, I read an article out of the New York Times Sunday magazine, proclaiming Navy pilots to be the best in the world. It was the Reagan years, and Uncle Ronnie being the Great Communicator convinced me that it was my duty – nay, my birthright to personally sign up and combat the “Evil Empire.” For those of you not quite old enough to remember there was this thing called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) with Mother Russia.. Game on!

Back on the platform.. I’m shivering. What do they say are signs of going into shock..?

* Cold, clammy skin; sweaty forehead; weak, rapid pulse; irregular, rapid, shallow breathing; dilated pupils, weakness, anxiety, confusion.. oh, and loss of consciousness. Well, at least I wasn’t THERE yet..

Years ago, scientists proudly declared us the dominant species because we mastered tools. Then, they found those darn monkeys on that island that taught each other how to use sticks in various clever ways. Next, the learned scholars decided that language was what separates us from the animals. But soon we discovered apes could learn sign language as well. Well, for now it seems that we humans still have the upper hand in our ability to change our programming. That we can choose our thoughts and internal responses.

Somehow I broke it down that I didn’t really need to know how to swim. Once I was in the water, I reasoned, I could simply walk underwater to the edge of the pool and climb up the ladder. Technically speaking, according to the rules of the swim test that I was preparing for the next day, that strategy would qualify me for 3rd class. Then, I could skip remedial swim classes requiring me to get up at 0-dark-thirty and instead take lessons that better fit my schedule of already minimal sleep.

Nevertheless, the animal part of me was petrified up there. There’s some experiment where rats eventually just go limp when shocks were randomly given. Learned helplessness, they call it. In other words, they learn to simply give up.. to go down for the count and stay down.

Somehow, some way I made a choice. My mind said I wasn’t going to let fear control me. I stepped forward and..

I did take those swim lessons. I even managed to qualify for jet training that summer. If it had been today I might very well have posted a video online of my joyous ride in a TA-7, which was basically like strapping on a big jet engine with stubby wings. (YouTube? I don’t think it was even a twinkle in her daddy’s eye yet..)



Yes, I survived my trial by fire and although there was no cut to triumphant anthem as the sun sets, the real victory was conquering the hold that fear had on me that day. Was it the end of all my fears? Of course not. It’s a daily mission.

Just like finding our meaning – our life’s purpose – I now recognize that there is no-gold-sunshine-breaking-out-of-the-clouds moment when you attain enlightenment from the wise man on top of the summit. Each day, each moment is an opportunity to find meaning – to find our purpose.

And while we tend to think of fear as some gruesome boogieman waiting in the dark alleys of our psyche, it’s really us and how we face ourselves moment by moment..”


So, back to Top Gun – when we look at Maverick and his hero’s journey, here was someone who pushed the envelope for the sake of it. He simply “felt the need for speed..” It was only after losing his buddy / crewman Goose that Maverick realized how he needed to do it for something bigger than himself. Otherwise, it was a chase for hollow victories.

Right now I’m struggling with figuring what my “WHY” is.. is it to simply help other entrepreneurs? business owners? or anyone seeking location independence like myself?

What is that something bigger than you – that you’re willing to give my life to serve?