2.14.2013

You Know The Future's Here When You're Scared


It's been 17 years since the first time I set foot in New York City.

I was 19 years old. I was jumping head first into the dot-com world. I was scared out of my mind. I'd been sent up to New York City to help a client install some software. I was supposed to be here two weeks. I lasted about seven days.

I rushed through the job. I did the job, yes. But I rushed it. I didn't want to be here. I thought I did, but the second I got off the plane and had to catch a cab to go into the city, I realized I wasn't ready. I was terrified. I'd never left home before. This was the first time I'd set foot out of suburban Atlanta, GA and I was in the busiest, craziest, most hectic city on the planet. If it hadn't been for the fact that I hadn't eaten or drank anything in nearly 24 hours due to my nerves, I'd have soiled myself.

I lived in my hotel. I did my job. I went to work, worked, and went back to the hotel. I was terrified of the city. And if I had to be honest with myself, I was terrified of my life. I didn't feel I deserved it. After all, I was the poor fat white kid from nowhere, GA who somehow conned his way into a decent paying software gig that took him to the biggest, baddest city in the world.

New York City. The start and the end of so many things.

After I completed the gig, I phoned headquarters and let them know I was ready to come home. "Stay the rest of the time," my boss said. "It's paid for. Go out and have some fun."

"I want to go home," I replied.

"Nonsense," he answered. "Enjoy yourself."

"I want to go home," I said.

I managed to change the ticket and fly home on my own. Figuring out how to get through Times Square, how to hail a cab, how to get through LaGuardia... Those things feel trivial now. But at the time? Monumental victories. And I was proud of myself. I was proud that I figured out how to leave my hotel room and go home, on my own.

Little did I know, that half-a-trip was the start of a new life. It was the start of something powerful and meaningful that shaped me into who I am. I took a trip. I took THE trip. Since I was a child, I dreamed of going to New York City. I wanted to be in the city of blinding lights. I wanted to walk the streets and ride the subway and see a Broadway show and eat real New York pizza and meet real New York people.

And eventually, I did. A few weeks later, in fact, when I was sent back up for another gig. But that first trip? The one I always imagined going so well and being so amazing and changing my life? It went exactly how it needed to, and it changed my life forever.

I did it. I went somewhere. I got out of my small suburban town. I did work I was told I wasn't capable of doing. I saw some bright lights. I saw the big city. It scared the shit out of me.

But I did it. And I went back to write more code and meet new people and ride in a cab and take the subway to Union Square and visit the comic shops I'd only seen advertised in the backs of comic books and ate real New York pizza and made new friends.

And it changed my life forever.

I'm thirty six years old now. And I am back in New York City. I'm here for a while, housesitting and walking dogs. But I'm not here to housesit, and I'm not here to walk dogs. I'm here because I need to be here. I'm here because I have the most amazing friends in the world. I'm here because my life is starting over.

I'm staying at least seven days. And even though I've been here dozens of times before, this trip, right now, scares the shit out of me.

I'm not scared of riding in a cab. I'm not scared of the subway. I've eaten the pizza and seen the lights and taken in a show (or 20). I've met friends. I've worked in these buildings. I've met these people. This is hardly new stuff for me.

But my life? My life is new. Things are different. And now, I'm back where it all began. I'm back in New York City.

I am sitting in an apartment in Chelsea. The dogs have been walked. Dinner has been had with friends, as well as drinks. Stories have been swapped. Tears have been shed. And now, I sit here and I write this, because I cannot do anything else. I can't go out. I can't ride in a cab. I can't take in a show.

All I can do is think about the fact that 17 years later, I'm back here in New York City, staring in one direction at a life that led me back here, and in the other direction at a life I know is going to be amazing.

And it scares the shit out of me. Because regardless of where I've been and where I'm going, right here, right now, I'm in New York City. Hiding out. Disappeared. Away from all things. Away from myself, so I can find myself.

I don't know where this week will take me. I don't know where the next week will take me, or the week after that, or next month or next year. What I do know is that, for the first time in 36 years, I know who I am. Finally, I know who I am. And I know what I'm worth, and I know what I'm here to do on this Earth.

And yes, I'm scared. I'm scared to death. You know the future is really happening when you start feeling scared.

I've known that feeling for a while now. The past few years, I've felt a very slow, creeping fear crawl into me and overcome me. The fear that I'm being left behind.

I don't quite know when it happened, but at some point over the past three years, I changed into a person who simply isn't satisfied by the old ways. My old ways, that is. Constant information bombardment. Constant exploration of new frontiers. Constant stimulation. Losing myself in news, games, and data.

At some point, I stopped worrying about being the first to know something. Or rather, I stopped being the first to know something, and as I was called upon to provide information or insight, I had to rush to find out what it was about and then quickly come up with an opinion. Then, I stopped rushing. Then, I stopped caring.

At some point, I was posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and my blog somewhere on the order of 50 times a day combined. Today, I'm lucky if I get a blog post up every two months. Facebook has been set up to auto-post my updates to Twitter, which consist primarily of jokes and one liners and pictures of my dog. I've stopped using Tumblr, and Instagram is simply a cache of pictures of my cats and the occasional plate of food (which, I'm convinced, is what Instagram was created for).

And all around me, there are young, enthusiastic people who now know far more about what's going on than I do. When things happen, I hear about them second-hand. Just a few years ago, that thought would have given me hives. To not be the first to know… I might as well be castrated.

But now, I am not only comfortable not being the first to know things, I actually relish it. I don't need it. And that fact – the shift in behavior and desire – scares me.

I cannot sit and play video games for 8+ hour shifts anymore. I cannot lose myself in other worlds that way. I can't even conceptualize building a website. I can barely sit down and design something for my own company.

New technologies show up and I miss the announcement. Things which one enticed me and made me tingle with anticipation now barely get a “oh, cool” from me.

And that scares me.

My old self doesn't fit in to this future. It cannot keep up. It can't conceptualize what is becoming omnipresent. Social media does not hold the same enticing anticipation of meeting new people and sharing new things. Technology increments along and I'm not even watching.

And I think the fear that it creates in me is the fear we all get at some point in our lives: the idea that one day, we're going to die. And when we do, we will look back and wonder just how much of our time was spent doing something worthwhile.

And that's where my fear actually begins to subside. I don't know how much of what I've done was worthwhile, but I'm certain what I'm doing now has the potential to be – and I don't know what I'm doing. I'm winging it. And it's all new. The old rules do not apply. I do not show up, clock in, do what i'm told, clock out and move on to payday. I don't write silly stories and publish them and get a check.

I run a company. I'm in charge. It's all on me now. And it's all new and scary.

My marriage is over and I'm on my own -- completely alone -- for the first time in my adult life. Yet, I am surrounded by people who love me for the first time in my life, and they show me daily how much. This is my family. My studio. My friends. Not a drop of blood shared between us, no marriage certificates -- and yet, I wade headlong into war with them and love them dearly, and they love me just as much.

My instincts are the only thing that has kept me from freaking out. My instincts have always served me well. I've always been great with clients. I've always been able to predict, with remarkable clarity, what's next. It gave me a career four times over.

Make that five.

And when they told me life was about to start over, I questioned them. I thought I must be crazy. But lo and behold, I wasn't. I must NEVER question them, no matter who convinces me otherwise. Ever. No matter how much I agree with them.

Headlong I plunge into the unknown, filled with fear and wide-eyed with panic, excited for the first time in my life that I'm finally feeling what it's like to stop coasting and finally live. And I'm starting that life with some time in New York City. Beginning again, the way I did before. Only this time, the fear makes me smile. I welcome it. It's a fear I'm not hiding from. I welcome it, because it makes me realize for the first time in my life, I'm actually alive -- and aware of it.

I'm scared. And I've never -- EVER -- been happier.