Rush, Rush, Rush
Fear is always in a rush. The body can’t stay still and neither can the mind. Thoughts zoom by like shooting stars, and our attention shifts from one potential course of action to another like a railway turntable. Wherever there is fear there is haste. However, this relationship is not unidirectional. Fear is not the cause of haste; it is its correlate. To rush is to fear; to fear is to rush.
Whenever we find ourselves in a hurry, we find also a cause of anxiety. The man or woman who is always urgently setting about to do this or that, who is always running late, and is a beggar for time, lives in a constant state of panic. Some of our most exalted figures — the entrepreneurs, inventors, and ambitious people of all stripes, who set about each day urgently and unrelentingly pursuing their goal — what do you think truly drives them? Our greatest achievers are the most afraid.
Ambition is two parts: first, to have a dream and, second, to be terrified you will fail to achieve it. It is fear of failure that restricts the champion athlete from taking any days for leisure. It is the fear of losing that drives the campaigning politician tirelessly from door to door, until their shoes have worn through. And it is rarely the emotion following the cause. They are not afraid because they have stopped working. They have been afraid of inadequacy their whole lives, and it will likely never leave them, and so they rush, rush, rush to make something great. When others rest, there is opportunity.
Anxiety has always been the engine of human enterprise. Show me someone with great attention to detail and who produces quality work, and I will show you a person who is anxious. Show me the hardest worker you know, and I will show you a person who is anxious. Show me a person who is driven to achieve, who hatches great plans and works indefatigably to accomplish them, and I will show you a person whose life is defined by anxiety. None of us runs unless we are chased. Those who would toil hardest and travel farthest are being hounded by something inside of them.
Panic rose the Parthenon; fear built the pyramids. Anxiety made Alexander the Great, and the Sistine Chapel is but a testament to Michelangelo’s haunting fear of being forgotten. It is the fear of being a coward that drives a person to overcome their fear of the battle. It is the pinprick of dread that accompanies the thought of being worthless, wretched, and wasted that moves one to labor each day.
Fear, at its highest pitch, is distracted and scatterbrained. It is far from conducive to proper thinking. Brilliant individuals have been made to look like fools by a racing heart and shaking legs. But the fruits of intelligence would be halved if not for anxiety. The world over, nothing would be done with care if it weren’t for anxiety. Hemingway rewrote the beginning to A Farewell to Arms 50 times by his own count. Darwin worked on The Origin of Species for 20 years before publishing his theory. Tesla is said to have never slept more than two hours a day. What an unflagging phantom it must have been to whisper constantly in their ear, “It isn’t good enough.”
You sometimes see a person stunted by the same quality that, if slightly attenuated, could have made them great. They can do nothing for fear of failure because it drives them too hard. They abandon one project for another; they exchange the real possibility of success tomorrow for the unreasonable want of success today. They scatter their energy in a hundred different directions, rushing to do this and that. There is no concentration and no patience; their person accelerates too quickly for proper steering. Have you ever noticed that the person who is always rushing is also always late?
Fear is the first impetus of all human enterprises. We should be grateful for it, so long as we have the legs for it.
Martin Vidal is the author of The Ambition Handbook: A Guide for Ambitious Persons