Scylla and Charybdis

Reading time: 4 minutes

“Know thyself”, the age-old saying reminds us.

It beckons us to explore our desires, motives, strengths, and even our deepest vulnerabilities.

I recently took a short break, during which I penned a few articles. One titled “The State of Discomfort” examines how discomfort can catalyze positive personal and professional transformation. These writings flow from me with ease, drawing from books, discussions, and my own professional experiences. From a professional perspective, I am giving sage advice.

A Dutch proverb, translating to “the plumber’s faucet always drips”, hints at an irony: professionals might solve others’ issues, yet grapple with similar issues themselves.

My faucet drips. As an Agile coach, I project expertise. However, a closer look at my personality reveals significant gaps. I advocate “embracing discomfort and thriving within it”. Yet, personally, I instinctively dodge discomfort. Unfamiliar situations unsettle me. I hold back, study others, think deeply, strategize, and only then cautiously take action. Boldly venturing into the unknown unnerves me a lot.

However, many see me as an innovator, an initiator. And, in all honesty, I do innovate and initiate. But hot damn, it takes a lot of effort.

It reminds me of some extroverts, outwardly sociable and vivacious. Yet, not all find it innate. Some are core introverts, appealing to their draining social battery. They dazzle in the spotlight when the mood strikes. But often, they prefer to blend into the backdrop. This resonates deeply with me.

Growing up, I watched many surrender to fear, always remaining within their comfort zones. I have many childhood memories of smoke-filled rooms where grown adults merely talked and dreamt, never taking action. And when they did step out of their comfort zone, it often resulted in panic attacks and frustration. Even though I harbour similar fears, I swore I would never mirror that behaviour. But deep inside, I know I am made of the same cloth. Fear of the unknown is a constant factor in my life.

Yet, these memories also birthed a fiercer dread: the terror of standing still. While the fear of unfamiliarity restrains me, the fear of inertia pushes me onwards.

At heart, I’m thankful for this driving fear. It ushered me to new horizons, introduced diverse friendships, and charted my life’s course. It is a form of acute FOMO, stemming from a rebellion against my past. Escaping my hometown life, exploring the globe, and securing economic mobility meant confronting numerous novelties.

I took the plunge. The discomfort initially repelled me. But over time, the new experiences captivated me. I have no regrets.

I liken this to playing horror video games. The dread of the next move persists, yet I must press on to reach a satisfactory ending.

Today, I find myself embroiled in a battle between these fears. It feels like navigating the perilous Strait of Messina, dodging the monstrous Scylla and the treacherous whirlpool Charybdis. Both hazards loom close, forcing sailors to risk one danger to avoid the other. As I navigate my life, I wonder about the sustainability of this ‘duel of fears’.

Scylla and Charybdis
Relief sculpture of Scylla. Source: Encyclopædia Britannica

In many pursuits, I’m a late bloomer. Recent years have seen me embrace what I once feared. One apprehension often trumps the other, but not without its share of unease. Often, I see myself as a timid, fledgling spirit, navigating many lessons for the first time. I often find myself yearning for today’s insights during my younger days. Reflecting on the past, I reckon fear held me back from countless experiences.

Lately, my fear of inertia has been growing into something more profound. And I think I figured out why.

The big 40 looms in a couple of years.

My father passed at 49, claimed by disease. My mother nearly met a similar fate in her early fifties. Their mortality casts a pall over me. Coupled with existential concerns about the state of our world, my FOMO accelerates. The clock is ticking.

I wonder, what would a life with less fear look like?

This is the second in a trilogy of articles with the theme ‘Duality’. The trilogy describes a recurring theme in my life; a clash between opposing forces. The articles detail about my struggles with subjects as fear, race and desire.

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