In the late 90’s, that Baz Luhrmann song (based on a 1997 essay by Mary Schmich) with all the talking told us to wear sunscreen and do one thing every day that scares us. The first one seems like good, solid advice and is easy to execute. The second one sounds straightforward enough but it’s a little more tricky in practice.

Do Something That Scares You

The first thing that jumps into my head when told to do something that scares me is your classic childhood fears – spiders and dark rooms and dinosaurs rampaging through the city (classic childhood fear if you grew up in the era of Jurassic Park) and these things are easily sorted as you grow up and learn how to remove a creepy crawly from a window ledge without screaming or how to go to sleep in the dark without assuming a monster is under the bed. Or that dinosaurs don’t exist and even if they did, it’s thought that the real-life Velociraptor was only the size of a chicken. Meaning you could stamp on one before it would eat you.

The point is that you can rationalise these fears as you get older and consequently they appear less scary and less difficult to overcome. Spiders cannot hurt you (in the UK anyway. Unless you believe everything The Daily Star tells you). There is nothing hiding in the dark after you turn the light off. But as we grow taller and wiser and less likely to use a nightlight, there are other fears that kind of loom up ahead of us, like a big hill on a straight road. And seem impossible to tackle. The sort of every day fears that we’re convinced no one else is having. Fears about the very nature of being an independent adult – can I survive it? Can I make ends meet? Can I do all the things I dreamed of doing? Can I achieve my goals? Can I have a functional relationship with another person? Can I merge my life together with someone else’s and can I bring up and be responsible for other, littler humans who may on occasion demand that I get rid of a spider?

Can I make it through today?

These fears are more difficult to rationalise and as a result are harder to overcome. It should be easy. It should be a question of just putting one foot in front of the other but it isn’t that simple – it turns out that these things that make up life are the things that we tell ourselves to do every day that scare us.

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Take me for example. There’s so many things I want to do, things I want to try. And I’m terrified to do them and so I don’t. I just complain instead, and become stressed. And am fearful about all the things that could go wrong. I worry that I won’t be good enough at any career I try. Or that people will laugh at me if I attempt to develop a new skill and it turns out I’m terrible at it. Or that the sky will fall in if everything does not go exactly according to The Plan as laid out by the Universe, what it says on Facebook and any other factors that dictate my life: maybe my work rota and the nice people at my bank (if you’re reading this bank people: it does not cost you £25 to arrange an informal overdraft. Give it back). But really: what can go wrong that cannot be fixed by a new day, a new plan and a good support network? As my friend Rob used to say when he could see things getting to me, or when things were getting to him: they cannot shoot you, or make you pregnant.

Which actually isn’t strictly true in my case because technically any number of people could make me pregnant.

But the point that I think he was trying to make is: there is no one else governing your life except you. Nobody is going to hold you at gunpoint and make you do things a certain way and equally, you’re not going to be squished to a pulp if you don’t succeed at what you set out to do. You will still be alive, and free, and able to try again tomorrow. (Which makes us VERY lucky).

And when it gets put like that, it becomes a tiny bit easier to rationalise those fears about Life.

Before I end this, I think we should take a moment to examine some more of those poignant Sunscreen song lyrics:-

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”

If only we could tell ourselves this and IMMEDIATELY stop worrying. Try it. Try it right now. See how rational your brain is. Mine is not very rational, but I do appreciate this quote because it is completely true and very well put.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Also, they cost a fortune and are full of things I can’t afford. Better to not read them and not look in the mirror and then I can pretend to be JLaw at all times.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

Yes. But that doesn’t mean you should discount this blog post entirely.

Read the original essay by Mary Schmich here

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