April 29th, 2011

Fear and excitement

I have this friend from college; we sang in choir together for four years. He's now a sociology grad student, and he recently figured out that he's really interested in statistics, which comes in awfully handy for the quantitative part of his work. He wrote on Plans a few days ago that he's figuring out "too late" that he should have taken more math or computer science courses so that he could do stuff with R. I pointed out that it's not too late for math and CS, and that 29 isn't too late for anything.1 One of the things he said in response was, "R scares the bejesus out of me."

My first reaction is to say, "Don't be scared." Thinking about it a bit more, thought, I wonder if maybe fear isn't such a bad thing. For one thing, R is kind of scary. More to the point, though, there's a fine line between fear and excitement. It's best if one can be excited about learning something, of course, but being afraid seems like a pretty close second; it sure beats the hell out of indifference or derision.

Speaking for myself, I know that in order to move forward in my career I have to do things I'm excited about, but I also have to do things I'm scared to do. If I'm not doing something that's a little scary, I'm probably not making progress. This suggests that if I don't know what to work on next, I can use my fear as a guide: the thing I should work on next is whatever I'm most afraid of. I don't always have the energy to do that, but whenever I can summon the energy, I find that it ends up being pretty worthwhile.

What works for you? Are there ways in which you find fear to be useful? How can fear be pushed over the line into excitement?

  1. I learned to program... has been making the rounds lately. (As I flip through, I'm really happy to see lots of names I know.) It's nice to see a wide range of ages represented, from "when I was five" to "during my midlife crisis".