I started writing a book in 1989. The title is “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.” I didn’t finish writing and publishing that book until many years later. Why?  Not finishing means not risking. If I finish the book, someone might read it! Then I risk others rejecting the ideas presented. And that rejection, that potential criticism, would be taken personally! Having my feelings of inadequacy reinforced feels so bad that I sabotage completion. If I kill the book I slay those feelings before they occur in reality.

My ‘scared one’ plays out worst case scenarios to avoid exposure to rejection. I stay safe by not finishing the book. Then no one can read it to find out how stupid, unoriginal, banal and superfluous I am. That’s a perfect example of ‘why normal isn’t healthy’. My ‘scared one’ will avoid risk-taking and, thereby, the anxiety inherent with the risk.

Risk management to the ‘scared one’ means to avoid being seen as a flop or a failure in the eyes of the world. By not finishing the book, or certain other projects, for that matter, I decrease my exposure. Playing out the rejection in my imagination reinforces my feelings of inadequacy. “Why should anyone read this book? There are so many good books out there already. What makes me think I have anything to add?!”

As a risk manager, my ‘scared one’ downsizes risk by presenting reason after reason to put off completion: “It will be so hard to organize my material in a concise way for the reader. Besides it will take away from other fun stuff that I really enjoy.”

And when sitting down to write, to work through the internal resistance the ‘scared one’ creates, distraction is always one thought away: “You know, I think I’ll get something to eat.” or “Look at that floor. I can’t believe its so dirty. If the floor were cleaner, I could write better.” or “I need some exercise. Yea, that’s the ticket. I’ll write better, concentrate better after I work out and shower.”

The irony of it is, that the ‘scared one’ is endlessly creative in the distractions he presents to keep me from the task. He will map out detour after detour to avoid reaching the end. And then, to add insult to injury, he says: “You really are pathetic! You’ll never finish that book. You’ve been blowing smoke for years. Why don’t you just forget it!” It’s a perfect example of ‘why normal isn’t healthy.’

It’s normal to let the ‘scared one’ drive the engine of the psyche. It’s normal to be grateful for the detours s/he provides from the anxiety inherent in risk-taking, in doing the new behavior. But, if I am aware of this tendency in myself to sabotage what’s best for my development, for my health, I can watch. I can pay attention. I can see when I am being my own worst enemy. And, my energy follows my attention.

Paying attention, energy is then available to deal with the ‘scared one.’ In a metaphorical sense, I reach over, turn off the engine, and take the keys. “I know you. I know what you’re trying to do. You’re the ‘scared guy’ and you’re anxious about exposure. You don’t want to stick your neck out, ever. It’s too risky, too scary. So, I have to stop you now. I’m taking over. I’m going to drive now. You get in the back seat. I know you’re anxious and I honor that by feeling scared too. However, I’m going to act in spite of my fear.

I’m not going to allow that anxiety to keep me from standing up for myself and expressing how I think and feel. I believe Kirkegaard was right, anxiety is our best educator. I’m not going to allow anxiety to keep me from new learning.” Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that I can be my own worst enemy. If I can be my own worst enemy, I can also be my own best friend.

Because I have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean I’m inadequate. Because I have a risk-averse ‘scared one’ inside doesn’t mean I have to avoid risk. But it does require that I am awake to the workings of my own psyche so that I can watch when the ‘scared one’s’ attempts at self-sabotage appear. Energy follows attention! By paying attention, I have the energy to deal with this internal terrorist and disarm him. It doesn’t require being judgmental or critical.

I don’t have to beat myself up because I have a ‘scared guy.’ He will always be present and play his ‘scared guy’ role in the movie of my life. But he doesn’t have control of my performance. He will make appearances, but if I’m paying attention to my life; to my thoughts, to my feelings, to my behavior, to my body, to my health and to my relationships, I’ll see him pop up.

If I fall asleep at the wheel, and the ‘scared one’ takes over, it is really helpful to have a supportive community of friends to hold up a mirror and reflect back to me the image of the ‘scared one’ at the controls. Their care and concern lovingly nudges me to wakefulness. Fully alert, I see the situation with clarity.

By paying attention, energy flows differently: “Ah ha! I see you clearly now. Your turn is over. Give me the keys, get in the back seat, shut up and hang on! We’re gonna have an adventure. Life can’t be an adventure without risk. And with risk comes anxiety. But, remember Kirkegaard’s comment that anxiety is also the dizziness of freedom. Yahoo!!”

Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that some people, even people who love us, people in our own families, don’t know how to give healthy support. When we’re too scared to jump, they belittle us, thereby reinforcing our feelings of inadequacy. Or they push and push and push us over the edge. Their energy was required for the leap, so they take the credit. “Well, you wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been there.  So we relearn what the ‘scared one’ never forgot. I’m inadequate. But that’s not true.  It's a con. Because we have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean we’re inadequate !

Of course, another aspect of ‘why normal isn’t healthy’ is that to even ask for help or support means to risk being seen that way. “Need some help?” “Nope, I can handle it.” It’s also normal, but not healthy for some people to think that supporting us means to help us stay stuck where we are with a friend. “You know, I think I’ll just forget about doing that stupid book. It’s so hard to fit it in with the other work I’m doing. Besides, everything’s already been said before. Why say it again?”

“Yea, you’re probably right. Why stress yourself? I’ve got tickets to the basketball game. Let’s go have some fun.” Or “Yea, I know what you mean. Say, why don’t we go to the shore this weekend. We’ll put on some steaks, drink some martinis, smoke some fine Cuban cigars and relax. No one reads books anymore, anyway.” It’s normal, but not healthy, for some friends to tell us what we want to hear. And let’s face it, a lot of what the ‘scared one’ is hoping for is a helper, a friend to support us in taking the detour away from risk-taking exposure.  “Whew, I’m off the hook!” I think to myself, “that sounds great.” I say out loud.

“But wait,” you say, “I don’t feel inadequate.” “That’s great!” But let me ask you something. Why are you running around doing project after project? Why do you have lists of lists or projects? There is the immediate list. Then the long-term list and of course, the list of what to do if you can’t find any other list. Compulsively ‘doing.’ You’re always so busy. What is your busyness all about?

Wouldn’t you admit that much of the economic wealth in this country is built by people running full speed trying to prove how adequate they are? In fact, we’ve built a country that provides an opportunity for others to come and prove it also. If not, what are they and we trying to prove? Could it be that if you get enough done, complete enough projects, serve on enough committees, you will finally reach that critical mass of accomplishment to establish once and for all that you are adequate?!

Or even better, superior!! Superior. Interesting concept. It surpasses adequate as the next level of value. A superior piece of workmanship is worth more than something merely adequate. In fact, the adequate job is now inferior by comparison. So, superior is better. Having a car made with superior engineering costs more because of the added value of the design, etc.

Driving that car gives the driver a leg up on the other guy in the five year old compact car. It makes a statement to the world of our value, because we can afford it. And, admit it, we feel just a little superior and they may, who knows, feel just a little inferior as they compare vehicles.Our homes, our yards, condos, apartments, cars, boats, clothes, kids, schools, jobs, lifestyles, bodies, mates, friends, clubs, memberships, vacations, and yes, cigars, tell the world where we are on the value scale:

Inferior – - – - – - > Superior.

We constantly compare and compete. Paying attention to these matters we have energy for them. Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that we spend large amounts of money on appearances, on the surface of things. “Well, why not? You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Exactly. If your concern is with your image in the eyes of the world, that’s normal. And if your concern is on making a better impression, that makes perfect sense. Improve and enhance.The ‘fix’ only requires money and the things money can buy. It’s normal, but it’s a trap, a money trap. And you never have enough.

That’s not what really moves me or what we’ve been exploring. An investment of money is not required to carry forward our premise. What is required is an energy investment. And, an interest in exploring what it means to be a fully human person, functioning from a center that makes us unique and distinct, while also connected to the larger family of humanity.

“Even if you don’t know what you want, buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow. Start a huge, foolish, project, like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.” (Rumi)

The ‘scared one’ be damned. Let’s kick it into gear and bust out of the confining limits and safe habor of the status quo. The question then becomes, what “huge, foolish project” is only mine to do? Maybe I’m the project and the book a little ship.

“No. Thanks, for asking. But I really want to work on this book. I’ve been putting off finishing it for years. I know it would be fun, but it will be more satisfying for me to finish what I started. So long.”

The book is finished. I’m still working on me.