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Nervous

04/02/2013 @ 8:32am

A few days ago I was talking to a guy who built his own airplane.

And flew it.

And lived.

Those three don’t always go together.  It’s a great story.  

When his kids were younger, he thought it would be a good bonding/growth experience for them.  I realize that sounds a little crazy, but keep in mind I’m a guy who shingled a house using my two teenage daughters for labor, mainly as an object lesson for them, so I certainly understand where he was coming from.

It turned out his children weren’t all that interested in bonding or growth with their old man, so he didn’t have an airplane so much as he had a few airplane- shaped parts cluttering up his garage.

He’d kind of gotten into it, though, and wanted to finish the project.  But once it had changed from a childhood growth experiment to just a middle-aged guy’s hobby, he didn’t feel right spending the family’s money on it, so he got a job delivering papers in the morning and used those funds to finish his purchases of propellers, etc.

It took him eleven years.

That’s a long time to leave your car parked outside while a plane slowly grows in the garage.

I had never met the man before.  The airplane topic only came up because we were talking about my café project and I’d quoted my sister who’d told me, “Every now and then it’s important to do something that scares you.”

He laughed and said a transcontinental kayaker had told him something along the lines of, “If you’re not nervous, you’re not trying hard enough.”

I may not have the quote exactly right, but I believe I have the idea.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that so many of us strive so hard to be comfortable, to take away the nerves and the sleepless nights, when the truth is that we are at our maximum level of productivity and usefulness when we are nervous, when every fiber of our being is focused on what we’re doing or what we need to do.

I suppose part of it is just the nature of being human.  Let’s face it, for most of our existence we’ve been dodging saber-toothed tigers and eating whatever we could scrounge on the run.  Life was a continual exercise in seeking boredom and peace and quiet, keenly aware that you’d probably be checking out as soon as you lost a step.  So you were a teenager, not really knowing anything. and then you were an adult.   By the time you were forty you’d lost your teeth and you had a limp and failing eyesight.  There were a few years of relative comfort between the time you figured out what you were doing and the day your job description changed from hunter-gatherer to hyena bait.  

But we don’t live to be forty anymore; many of us live to be eighty or more if we’re lucky.  That means instead of having twenty years for a useful adult life, we have fifty or sixty years - with our wits and our own teeth.   That’s way too long to spend being comfortable.

I’m saying you should build your own plane or start a café.  I’m saying take your hard won experience and savvy and get out there and do something that matters.  

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