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Lindsey Kuper

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Fear and excitement [Apr. 29th, 2011|02:30 am]
Lindsey Kuper

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".

[User Picture]From: rax
2011-04-29 12:54 pm (UTC)
This is definitely the case for me too --- maybe not that I should always be doing the thing I'm most afraid of, as in at least one case I was really afraid of a project because it turned out to be a really bad idea. :) But in general taking on projects that are a little scary has served me really well, both in terms of getting better at programming-type stuff at work and in terms of my academic work. ...and with people too, come to think of it. So it may generalize.
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[User Picture]From: _tove
2011-04-29 08:52 pm (UTC)
Fear of physical harm is a total killjoy for me, but somewhere in five years of living under near-constant deadline stress, I lost the ability to work without a deadline; it's actually pretty tragic. (On that subject, Ludum Dare is this weekend!)
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-04-30 08:20 am (UTC)
Fear of physical harm is a total killjoy for me

Yeah; I hesitated while writing this because I don't want to make it sound like all fear is an indicator of something we ought to be doing. Some things are scary because they might legitimately hurt us and we should stay the fuck away! Maybe a good first step when we're scared, then, is to figure out why we're scared. Some fears should be taken seriously; others, less so.
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