Defending My Life


Are you familiar with the 90s movie by Albert Brooks, Defending Your Life?  The basic premise is a man dies, goes to a purgatory where his life is analyzed to determine if he has conquered fear.  If has hasn’t conquered fear he goes back to Earth for another go around.  If he has, he gets to ‘go on’ with his journey in life.

I am not reviewing the movie, but I am adopting its core premise for my own personal development.  Courage is a much lauded virtue and I lack it in normal everyday situations.  You need me to run into a burning building to save someone?  I’m there.  You need me to ask the waitress to see if we can move to a different table? Screw that noise, I’m a flipping coward.  Fear of death? No.  Fear of mildly inconveniencing someone else? Yes.  Fear of injury? No.  Fear of talking on the telephone? Yes.

I’m not even going to pretend that my ability to deal with death is courage, it is more nihilism.  I’m always expecting the big final number so each roller coaster I ride on is me saying, “Okay, it was a mediocre life, it can end now.”  And when I get off safe and sound, I’m mildly surprised.

In the movie, Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks has nine days to convince the judges that he has conquered his fear.  I’m going to write nine posts about how I’m attempting to address my social fears.  This will not be easy for me.  This process is to help me truly identify the fear I have and hopefully develop strategies to deal with it.  Planning, strategizing, and analysis are exactly the sorts of things I am good at.  Asking a stranger what their name is? Fail.

This is post number one and hopefully the most difficult one to write.  I had little interaction with people today, so didn’t really get a chance to face any fears.  What I did do, which I know isn’t going to sound like much, is actually send messages to several people on OkCupid today.

Last night at Neo, a dance club I go to often, a friend of mine was trying to assist me with an attitude adjustment.  And no that is not a eupemism for him beating some sense into me.  His current operating theory is people have a hard time estimating small percentages, percentages under 10%.  So some people think any chance under 10% is equal to 0% as in it will never happen.  And some people think it is equivalent to 100%, as in it will happen.  I know this is confusing, at least confusing to me.  If something is under 10% how can anyone think it will always happen.  I don’t know if there is any science in this but the general point he is making is one of these people won’t even bother trying because with such slim odds, why waste the energy, while the other one is constantly trying.  Any good math person knows 1,000 attempts with a 5% success rate might yield some positive results while zero attempts with a 10% success rate will yield no positive results.

Go through life thinking it isn’t worth the effort because the odds are against you and you will certainly get nothing for your effort.  Go through life thinking every opportunity is going to be a good opportunity and you will eventually be rewarded.  I will not condone the use of this logic to support the lottery, but for purposes of social interaction, I think it is quite valid.

This relates to my efforts on OkCupid because I normally will always find a reason not to send a message to a person.  The hyperrealist in me tells me that attempting such things without a clear expectation of success is foolish.  The 10% Theory or whatever it should be called, says ‘You can’t win if you don’t play.’  So part of my Defending My Life trial, every day over nine days I need to reach out and communicate with a stranger.  I’m giving myself a wide berth here, so it can be everything including sending a stranger an email regarding a blogpost, podcast, talking face to face, or sending a semi-thought out message to someone on OkCupid or Match.

This is not necessarily about finding a date, per se, but about getting over a stupid fear of even initiating contact with people.  It is a stupid limitation, it is something that I feel prevents me from accomplishing goals, and actually hinders my overall success in life.  If I can’t even make a simple phonecall to the cable company to change my subscription in order to save money, can I really even be called a functioning adult?

Published by Sean D. Francis

Sean D. Francis is a technologist, writer, and geek. He podcasts, makes video, and dabbles in all the geeky genres including horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.

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