I’m not afraid of hardly anything. If I see a spider in my house I just shoo it away in another direction, unless it’s on the ceiling in which case I don’t even bother it. Snakes, mice, bats and anything else that makes it’s way into the house somehow (we leave the doors open in the summer) I catch and release it back outside. I have a hard time with bats because I’m sorry but they are just so adorable and I could snuggle them forever.
I love heights and high speeds and any combination of the two. I love any kind of performing onstage, whether it’s music or public speaking, I find dangerous storms fascinating. The few times I’ve been in a life or death situation I’ve stayed surprising calm and useful, though I admit I often turn into a blubbering idiot after the action dies down.
What I do fear, more than anything, is approaching old age knowing I spent 40 hours of every week behind a desk, away from my family, stressed over something that really never mattered.
I’m lucky right now. My job doesn’t consist of sitting behind a desk, but having a couple of kids and a mortgage means every decision I do make has an added layer of responsibility to it, and by default, an added layer of fear; it’s not just me who is affected by my decisions, it’s my entire family.
Which meant, for a while there, none of my decisions ever actually happened. My business, and my life, stayed stagnant. As soon as I became a parent, I became scared. It’s not that I doubted my decisions, but with so much more weighing on them, I wanted to be sure.
Now, every time I’m about to do something that has a chance of backfiring in spectacular fashion, I ask myself two questions: 1.) What’s the worst that could happen, and 2.) What would 85 year old Jenna say to do? I’ll never be 100% sure I’m making the right decisions, but with these two questions I can be 100% sure I’m making the best decision at the time I have to make it.
WHAT’S THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOME?
I remember as a freshman in high school, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to have lunch at her house. I said yes, since she only lived a couple blocks away, but time passed faster than we thought and before we knew it we were sprinting back to the school to make our 4th period class.
We made it, but barely, and were lectured by our teacher who threatened us with detention. Detention. The word rang in my ears the rest of the week. Detention. According to my freshman brain, “detention” was what kept you off college admission lists. It’s what made you a social outcast, and with no friends and no future, good students would inevitably turn to a life of drugs and crime. My severely overdramatic understanding of the word had convinced me that “detention” is what ended lives.
Then, one day, one of my friends landed in detention, and on Monday morning I met her on the front steps of the school and begged her to tell me everything. What did she learn on the inside? Did she have tattoos? Would she even remember me?
Turns out she did remember me, had no tattoos, and learned that “detention” meant spending a couple hours in a classroom, doing, *gasp*, homework.
And here I’d had visions of her in a brown canvas jumpsuit, locked in a cold, and dirty, dimly lit room. Above her were windows where her teachers and classmates could look shamefully down on her and point and laugh and jeer and demand she puts the lotion on the skin or she gets the hose.
Hard cut to my adult life, and the worst case scenario to one of my ideas is usually we go broke and file for bankruptcy, which my brain turns into having to sell the house and in a matter of days we’re all homeless, living in the mountains. The girls split a gas station pack of peanuts between the two of them and burn family photos to stay warm, all while I sharpen makeshift spears with our old car keys. The last bit of sun slowly sinks behind the trees and my husband lights the torches that will keep the wolves at bay. This is night one.
The real life version of bankruptcy is we move into an apartment and have to pay rent. I get a “real job” and even if I can’t find one right away I know I can at least drive my mom’s ice cream truck again until something opens up. There are no torches, there are no wolves. The story of my two young daughters fighting bears for the remaining beans at the bottom of the can is in fact, fictitious.
Letting my mind runaway with itself seems counterintuitive, but it actually does help me make risky decisions. After thoroughly exhausting all of the imagined pitfalls that could arise, the real worst case scenario honestly doesn’t seem that bad. Selling our house and moving back into an apartment would suck, but it’s by no means the end of the world.
It may seem ridiculous, but knowing that my mind’s worst case scenario is much different than what would happen in reality allows me to re-examine the situation a little better, just like the next question:
WHAT WOULD 85 YEAR OLD JENNA TELL ME TO DO?
Have you ever been so consumed by a situation that you can’t see past it? Can’t see the forest for the trees? That’s why I imagine 85 year-old Jenna is there. While I’m wandering around the forest, cursing each individual tree like an idiot, she’s hanging out in a helicopter telling me to calm the hell down, civilization is literally just over the next hill.
She’s also there to set me straight on the fear I feel, because while I think it’s scary to take a leap of faith, 85 year-old Jenna knows it’s much scarier to have lived an entire life without any risk at all.
French novelist Emile Zola once wrote “I would rather die of passion than of boredom,” and I can’t help but agree.
We’re all going to die someday, but when I think of my life at 85-years old, I want to know I lived it. I want to know I didn’t spend most of it at a desk when there was a chance I could’ve spent it traveling or making art. I’m aware that sounds like a romantic notion from a pretentious college freshman, but just because something is romantic doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. 85 year-old Jenna would be furious if present Jenna didn’t at least give the romantic version a fighting chance.
I would rather die of passion than of boredom.