Fear and Permission: Chris Guillebeau at TEDxCMU 2010


Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Mauricio Gutiérrez A few years ago,
I was working in West Africa, and I had a day off in the Gambia, a smaller country almost completely
surrounded by Senegal. I was with my wife,
and a few of our friends trying to figure out what to do, and someone said,
“We should go to the crocodile farm.” I was like, “OK, let’s go
to the crocodile farm, sounds good.” So, we load up in the Land Rover,
we go to the place, we meet this guide. This guide kind of takes us on a tour
and tells us everything we’ve ever wanted to know
about crocodiles. And then finally, we come to the swamp. At first I don’t see anything.
I’m like “Where are all the crocodiles?” Then the guy stirs the water,
and 50 shapes rise to the surface, and I’m like,
“Oh, those crocodiles! OK, great.” (Laughter) I noticed that the 50 shapes
start swimming, paddling toward the bank, and there is this one croc,
he is like grandmaster croc, he is like in front of all the others,
the others are holding back. He crawls up on the bank by himself, and just kind of hangs out. So the guy turns to all of us and says,
“Who would like to pet the crocodile?” (Laughter) Nobody says anything. He looks at me and says, “You sir, come on and pet the crocodile.
he is very friendly.” (Laughter) I said, “No thank you, I think I’m good.” He said, “No, really, it’s OK.”
And I said, “No, really, no, thank you.” (Laughter) So, we have this little bit of a standoff, and finally, somebody else comes
before Ne, and he says, “I’ll do it.” Maybe more brave,
maybe more foolish than me. He starts walking toward the crocodile, but as he gets closer,
he drops his sunglasses, by mistake. His sunglasses fall on the ground, and all of a sudden, the crocodile,
which had been completely docile, comes to life,
in this blaze of crocodile glory, and starts paddling,
as fast as the crocodile can paddle, which is quite fast, actually,
after the sunglasses, and before anybody can do anything, he grabs the sunglasses in his mouth,
smashes them, and then retreats. (Laughter) So, we’re all kind of freaking out,
and the guy has a really big stick, so the guy starts hitting the crocodile
in the head with the stick. (Laughter) No response, so the guy keeps whacking
the crocodile as hard as he can, and we are watching this
with a mixture of horror and fascination, because we don’t want to see
a crocodile being beaten to death in front of us, but at the same time,
we are kind of impressed, because the crocodile
doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. So, finally, the crocodile opens his mouth
and releases the sunglasses, which were completely smashed. The guide retrieves them,
gives them back to the guy and says, “I’m so sorry, this never happens.” (Laughter) He is like, “Normally, they’re very tame.” I said, “I’ll have
to take your word for that.” So, I thought about this story recently, when I heard another story
about the killer whale at Sea World, that decided it didn’t want to play
by the rules anymore, and it drowned its trainer. Now, this is a sad story of course,
but, when I first read the headline, I thought it was something from The Onion,
“Killer whale, lives up to its name.” (Laughter) And I thought,
“What do we expect from a killer whale? What do we expect from a crocodile?” The way it works at the crocodile farm is, there is this deal, there is this bargain
that’s supposedly made with crocodiles, and the bargain is:
don’t bother the tourists, you behave around them, and then, later on, after they leave,
we are going to feed you. So, the whole problem is, the crocodiles don’t play
by our rules, right? And what works one day,
with the crocodile or the killer whale, may not work the next day. So, here we are, talking about fear, and I think that fear
is like a crocodile or a killer whale. It has the same untamable power, it has the same ability to really
ruin our day or even our whole life, and because we don’t know
how to engage with the fear, we don’t know
how to react or respond to it, we try to make a bargain with fear, we try to make this deal with fear. And the bargain that we try to make is, “OK, I won’t take any risks, I won’t do anything really drastic, and, in return, fear is going to let me
have my little life.” Now, sometimes, it works, but just like the crocodile, sometimes fear decides
it wants to break the bargain, it doesn’t want to play
by the rules anymore, and when it does that,
it introduces us to a few of its friends: discontent, dissatisfaction, and regret. And the little life
becomes a life of quiet desperation, where we find ourselves starting
to ask questions, and we are like, “Is that it? Is that all there is? I’m not really changing
the world at my job, but, you know, I’ve got benefits. My partner and I are not really happy
in our relationship anymore, but it works. Those dreams that I had when I was a kid, I used to think of all this stuff,
but really, that was just silly, I didn’t really want to do that, and besides,
now I have responsibilities, right? We make these rationalizations, because we know that if we are really going
to acknowledge fear, and if we are going to engage with it,
and find a way to overcome it, then, it’s probably going to involve some kind of dramatic,
uncomfortable personal change. Let’s pause for an audience survey, because I don’t want to assume anything. It’s never good to assume. So, raise your hand if you really like
dramatic, uncomfortable personal change. (Laughter) There is one guy back there.
You must be the next speaker. (Laughter) I look forward to hearing
what you have to say. So, I think most of us
like the idea of change. We like somebody else changing, we like the promise of change, which is why so many of us
were so excited about Obama in 2008. We were like, “All this change needs to happen,
this guy is going to do it for us. This is great!”
(Laughter) He was very good for his part at going around and saying, “This is not about me,
this is about all of you.” I was sitting there, and I was like, “No, this is all you, this is great.
You take care of this. Here is my 25 dollars.
Please handle this.” And so — (Laughter) when we realize
that change is actually difficult, it might involve compromise,
it might involve sacrifice, worst of all, we actually might have to do
something about it, we are like, “That’s not what I bargained for,
I want my 25 dollars back!” (Laughter) So, the thing about change, though, is
you can’t always just change one thing. And once you start going
down the road of change, you don’t always know
where you’re going to end up. So, when I first went to Africa, I was volunteering for a medical charity,
and I had no medical skills, and I had pretty much
no marketable skills of any kind. I still don’t. That’s why I am a blogger. (Laughter) And I had an Honors degree in Sociology, which qualified me
for a job carrying boxes. Now, I kid you not, carrying boxes was really,
the greatest job in the world. It really was, because most of the time if you work for a charity, you don’t always get to see
the direct relationship, you don’t always get to see who is helped, but, in my case,
I could load up my Land Rover, with the crate full of medical supplies, and drive six hours
into the interior of Sierra Leone, and deliver those supplies to a clinic that had been destroyed
during the civil war, and basically, whatever I brought them,
was all that they had, or I could go to
a well dedication ceremony, and I could see
the faces of happy children, who are no longer dying from bad water. So I thought that was
a pretty good return on investment. But as great as a job it was, as great as a job of carrying boxes was, it didn’t involve a great deal
of executive decision making. For the most part, I just carried the box. We were a group of about 400 people
– the same size as this group here – and every week, we would meet in a room,
you know, kind of like this. It was our volunteers, partners,
doctors, local people, and various leaders and executives
would get up to make announcements, give progress reports,
and answer questions. And let me tell you,
as good as I was at carrying boxes, I was even better
at sitting in the very back of the room and judging those people
who got up to speak. I was very good
at correcting them, in my head, and thinking of not nice things
to say about them later, and generally saying, “If only I were in charge,
then things would be different.” I’m sure I’m probably the only one
who has ever done something like that, but since this is fearlessness, I figured I would confess
that to you, today. So, funny how life works. Six months into what I thought was
a four-year commitment to carry boxes, someone was deluded or desperate enough
to see some kind of potential in me, and I went from being probably the 375th
member of the organization, to being, you know, like the number-2 person
in the organization. So, all of a sudden, I was in charge, and in addition to visiting
crocodile farms, I got to travel throughout the region, and negotiate
on behalf of the organization, meet with presidents,
and all kinds of great stuff, but then, I also now had to be the person
who came up in front of the room to make announcements, give progress reports,
and answer questions. So, I learned two lessons, very quickly. You can probably guess
what the first one is. First lesson:
this is harder than it looks. I had no idea. And so, I would look out
at a sea of faces, and I would see my friends, my supporters,
smiling back at me – thank God for them – but I would also see a number of people
kind of sitting there, like this, and I would look at them,
and I would think, “I know exactly what you are thinking.” (Laughter) wanted to go to them and say,
“You don’t understand, but I’m here, and you’re there,
but I used to be here, and now I’m there,
and it’s more difficult.” Really, it is. (Laughter) And the second lesson that I learned was if you want to acknowledge your fear
and overcome it somehow, at some point,
you have to come up on the stage. You have to become a believer
and not a cynic. At some point,
you have to be willing to step forward, whether it was a stage like this,
or a stage like this one here, or whatever the stage
represents in your life. There is some good news about this. The good news about fear is that it’s not always the really big things
that we are really afraid of. Sometimes, it’s the details
of the things around the big things, so, when Jolieen and I went to Africa, we went to Sierra Leone in 2002, a lot of people were saying,
“Oh, you’re so brave.” We kind of felt like it was a fraud,
because when we actually got there, it was very meaningful and rewarding. It wasn’t scary at all.
It totally made sense. But what was scary was
packing up our dishes at home, and figuring out how to forward the mail, and saying good bye,
not just to friends and family, because we knew that would be difficult, but saying good bye to your routine, and the security of knowing
what your day is going to be like, and that was where the fear, and the insecurity,
and the anxiety kind of came into play; which, Seth Godin says, “Anxiety is just repeatedly
experiencing failure in advance.” And so, I think that a lot of us
live our lives and make a lot of decisions out of the fear
of what other people think, and out of the desire for approval. I was talking with our friend Jen
in Washington D.C. about this, and she said,
“Chris, I think you care too much. There is an incredible power
in not giving a shit. There is an incredible power
in just not caring.” And I sat and listened to her,
and I thought … I said, “Jen, I think you are right.
I agree with you. I can see how a person can go far in life by just not caring. But, for better or worse,
I’m not that person.” And I think there is
a lot of us like that, I think there are a lot of us
in this fearful category as opposed to the fearless category, and there are a lot of us
who are really waiting for someone to come along
and give us permission to live our lives. It’s like when you are a kid,
and you can’t go to school, and your mom or your dad
writes you this note, and then, the note is like, “Please excuse Jonathan from school today.
He’s got somewhere else to be.” That permission slip
then becomes very powerful to you, that permission slip
becomes like your weapon. It’s your validation. It’s like, “No one can bother me,
because I’m excused.” So we are waiting for
some kind of permission slip like this to come along that’s like, “It’s OK, really. You can do that. You don’t have to live your life
the way other people expect you to.” I thought about creating
a downloadable permission slip and putting it on my site. It was like you can come
and download this permission slip. And then I realized that,
as much fun as that would be, I can’t do that, because I don’t have
the authority to do it. It would be like
issuing a medical degree or something. I don’t have the authority
to make someone a doctor so I can’t give this kind of permission. This kind of permission is not something that is given,
it’s something that is taken. It’s not bestowed upon
by some kind of expert. It’s something that is acted upon
by an individual, right? If you really want to do something great,
if you really want to overcome fear, then, you have to start
by giving yourself permission. And then, you start by looking around,
at the people that you met this morning, the people you will meet this afternoon,
the people that you know, because, here we come
to the all-important question about fear. What is really the goal?
What is the point of overcoming fear? And there are two ways to look at this. Here is the first way,
the conventional approach: Fear vs. Courage. Be fearless! Choose courage! Jump in the tank with the killer whale. Do extreme sports. So, I’m a little bit skeptical. I’m skeptical of the fearless. I think they are lying. I think some of them are hiding something. I think, maybe,
they’re not afraid to pet a crocodile, but there is probably something else there
that they really are afraid of, and whatever that thing is,
it’s probably, actually more important. So that’s why I like to look
at Fear vs. Courage another way, like this, “The small man builds cages
for everyone he knows, while the sage, who has to duck his head
when the Moon is low, keeps dropping keys all night long
for the beautiful, rowdy prisoners.” This is from the Persian poet Hafez, and here you can see a clear choice
between building cages, and dropping keys. Building cages is all about
keeping people hedged in to that life of quiet desperation. It’s all about restricting freedom,
limiting choices, assigning busywork. Pretty much saying like, “Whatever you do, don’t ask why.
Never ask why.” There is no shortage
of people like that in this life, there is no shortage of cage building, there is also no value in it. That’s why I think
if courage really is the opposite of fear, then courage has to be about
refusing to build cages, and insisting on dropping keys. And courage is about helping someone to write that permission slip,
for themselves. It’s important to say that you can’t open
the cage for someone, they have to do it themselves. But you can help them see that there is a life available
outside the cage. You can’t write
the permission slip for someone, but if there really is
an incredible power in not caring, then I think I believe
there is also an incredible power in equipping, encouraging,
uplifting, and inspiring someone to acknowledge that wall of fear
that is in front of their own life; helping them find
a way to smash through it. One more story. I’ve always liked the zen proverb
of a monk running through the forest. He is being chased by a tiger,
and he is running as fast as he can. The tiger is right behind him. He knows that if he slows down
he is going to be eaten, so he comes to the end of the forest,
and there is a cliff. He jumps off the cliff
because that is the only option, and he grabs onto a ledge
a few feet below the cliff, and he looks down, and he sees
a mile down there are rocks, and he knows if he falls, that’s it. He looks up, and he sees the tiger,
the tiger is just hanging out, not going anywhere. Ao, he looks to the side,
and he sees a strawberry bush. He reaches over and picks a strawberry, and then he eats the strawberry. And then he thinks to himself,
the only thing he can think, which is, “This is the best strawberry
I have ever eaten. (Laughter) I’ve waited my whole life,
for this moment right here.” I’m so grateful to be with you here today
on Easter Sunday. Watch out for crocodiles,
enjoy some strawberries. Thank you. (Applause)

43 thoughts on “Fear and Permission: Chris Guillebeau at TEDxCMU 2010

  1. The small man builds cages for everyone he knows, while the sage who has to duck his head when the moon is low, keeps dropping keys for the beutiful rowdy prisoners.

  2. the cage is the establishment, the status quote, the bankers and politicians the offices. Working 9-5 your whole life, thats a cage. Understand the system because the system understands you. They have no problem keeping us in cages, mental and physically. Research the Truth break the chains. STAND UP FOR SOMETHING!

  3. It’s impossible for a company to get what it wants most if managers have to make a choice between their own values and company priorities. slap Company

  4. the only thing one needs to stand up for is one's own self – and somehow, some way that creates a tidal wave of effecting 10s, or thousands or millions of people who are relate to that desire to come to terms with some imperfection, meet that goal or trail that hope for a new beginging or a new way. As long as its done in Hope and Aspiration, not for fear or greed, standing up will succeed. Fear, Pretend, Lies and Secret vanish when one calls it by its name.

  5. So what do you do then for a living??? are you still in the cage?? VERY interested in escaping this cage. (whisper) I know knowledge is the answer but which knowledge and where do I get it?! help me I'm suffering, I need answers.

  6. It's good to know that when you go to the crocodile farm, they aren't fed when you see them and are looking to feed soon.

  7. Good analogy – cage building – key dropping for self-defeat v empowerment . Absolutely true. We wait for permission … And wait … And wait. And then we find a key that someone has dropped, maybe an inspiring teacher or just someone who believes in us…. And then …we're out- free.

  8. 'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.' Marianne Williamson.

  9. what works one day .. might not work the next day. THAT right there is important about all animals. especially children!

  10. Chris, unless you wrestled a bear or fought a killer whale, you sound like a tool. A tool for all the "non-conformity" people.

  11. TED chooses which TEDx (independently organized event) it releases onto the web. which seems reasonable given that they (the TEDx) are using TED "trademark" and they do so under the agreement that their talks will adhere to certain guidelines decided by TED.

  12. These video clips are excellent. I'd been so confounded looking at my best mate move from being a loser to a ladies man. He went from zero to hero. He pretended he failed to notice. He ultimately came clean two days ago. Turns out he uses the Jake Ayres Master Attraction Formula. Google it if you'd like to know about it… He's seeing a beauty…

  13. The lip smacking is all I heard the first time, so I watched it again and made sure I ignored it second time around.
    Then I enjoyed the speech. Learned much.
    I'm sure you could melt someones brain with your awesomeness … share the link so we can all enjoy your awesomeness.

  14. holy crap that was boring..

    also poem quoted is not from Hafez…it is a "rendering" by Daniel Ladinsky who wrongfully attributed his own poetry to Hafez/Hafiz as "translations"

  15. tMy freakish step-brother managed to make the best stripper I’ve ever seen fall in love with him as he used the Cupid Love System (Google it). It’s bad but I wish I found myself pleased for him but I want such a gorgeous lady to fall for me. I’m really green with envy. Does that make me a horrible human being?

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