When I was a brand new parent, I lived in a state of constant alarm. Since I wasn’t able to accurately assess the danger of any given baby-related situation, I assumed every one might be disastrous, and so I spent several months perched in a state of cat-like readiness and fear. With time and experience, I learned to relax, climb out of my panic room, and not worry so much.Parenting is one of the life events that suddenly makes you very aware of how tenuous and unpredictable our existence really is, and it takes time to regain the optimism and stop actively worrying.
This cycle of becoming very afraid, and then reevaluating and adapting, repeats throughout your life. We spend most of our lives trying to stike a good balance between cautious preparation and exhuberant activity. When we’re too afraid, we start making fear-based decisions, and that only creates long-term misery in exchange for the illusion of temporary comfort. When we lose all of our fear and respect for the fragility and complexity of human life, we make dumb and selfish decisions that hurt everyone except the very, very lucky.
The sweet spot that we should all aim for is this: aware of potential hazards and the steps we can take to avoid them, but hopeful and optimistic that you’ll be able to survive and thrive despite the challenges that come your way. Not that this is necessarily easy, mind you. There is always going to be an unpleasant surprise lurking around the corner that will pop up and remind you of your own mortality. No matter how fantastic things are going, and how whizz bang you are, this ride will come to an end, and no one will ask you if it’s okay to stop. But, knowing the context and the limitations that you face, it’s your obligation to pile up your talents and experience, and do the best that you can. Neil Gaiman said it well: “You get what anybody gets – you get a lifetime.” Or to trot out another corny cliché that irritatingly turned out to be true, make hay while the sun shines.