Vail Daily column: Don’t run
July 6, 2015
It started as a harmless idea, as most life-changing events do. I was in my early 20's and had casually picked up a novel in Barnes and Noble called, "The Sun Also Rises." I flipped through the pages and found myself reading the following passage:
"Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters."
I put the book down and wouldn't read it until years later. I didn't know what it meant, but I started to envision what it must be like to face down a bull in an arena. I could feel the tension of the crowd and see the practiced calm of the man in the ring. I was not that man.
A few years later, I heard a story of a young man who had grown up in a gang in Michigan and discovered the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. He had run for the past 10 years. As his story goes, his last year, in a stroke of bad luck, he was tripped up by a fellow runner in the street around a corner and severely gored in the leg. He nearly bled to death in the street. He was from Michigan. …What business did he have running from a handful of bulls in the street in Pamplona?
I’ve never been one for rules, let alone rules that I apply without exception to my entire life, but I always swore to myself that I would never back down from fear.
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Then, a few years ago, I met a former U.S. Ambassador named Fred who told me stories of the bullfights, the times he went to Spain and the time he took his son to the running of the bulls. He warned him they would pack their bags and leave if he ran in the streets. The young man ran.
A small idea had started to grow into an intense ember of fear in the back of my mind. I would catch myself mindlessly opening Google and looking at images of the run in Pamplona. The photographs were appalling. The videos were worse. My head would shake in disbelief that people would still do this sort of thing. I started to devour everything I could read on the subject. Strategies, tips, exercises. I started to listen to stories told by people who had done it before. I realized I was actually forming a fear of being trampled or gored by a bull.
That's when a trip to Pamplona ceased to be a nice idea and became a necessary undertaking.
I've never been one for rules, let alone rules that I apply without exception to my entire life, but I always swore to myself that I would never back down from fear. That simple rule has pushed me through a wide variety of experiences. It has led me to some of my finest moments and my most bitter failures. When pushed back by fear, push forward.
I understand of course that some fear is much more valid than not. For instance, the rule works really well when we are talking about the type of fear someone feels before delivering hard news or standing to do a presentation. Running through the streets of a foreign country whilst being chased by half a dozen one-ton angry animals is a rather different situation.
That is why I believe it is so important to differentiate between fear and danger. Fear is a trick of the mind. If you understand the situation, if you've prepared properly and if you can accept the downside, then fear ceases to be relevant. Danger, on the other hand, is very real.
Fortunately, most situations faced by the average person in the average day have very little to do with being in danger. What is unfortunate is that most of us still act like the situations of which we are afraid in a given day will actually kill us. Not so.
Pretty soon you come to realize that if you can attack that 99 percent of fear in your life which is invalid, all that remains is that literal fear of danger. Death, injury and pain. Without knowing it, simply because momentum is on your side and there just isn't anything left worth doing, you'll start on that last 1 percent.
Maybe you'll climb a mountain, jump out of a perfectly good airplane,or hit those rapids with the rush of spring runoff. You'll have this idea start to take shape in the landscape of your mind. It will be an annoyance at first, but grow into an intolerable worry. Finally, a little bit of fear will start to take shape. Whatever you choose, when you're done, living or dead, you'll be able to look back and know that you have finally, unequivocally, won.
"He'll never be frightened. He knows too damn much."
—Ernest Hemingway, "The Sun Also Rises"
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.
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