Readers note: Enhance your experience: Listen to The XX "Intro" as you read.
Your life may be painful today. I know that's a tough start, but you must keep reading.
The people around you are going to disappoint you. The world is going to move faster and it may leave you behind. Your boss is going to undervalue you. Your co-workers will not pull their weight. Your love will not love you enough. Your kids will act like children. Your friends will not call.
And yet this can be the most hopeful, transformative day of your life.
I have always been in the people change business. I've worked in hospitals and churches, soup kitchens and schools, boardrooms and ballrooms, on the playing field and the public square. Every day I explore the most creative ways to move myself and every human being I meet from the places we don't want to be to the heights we dream of climbing.
We don't have to be afraid.
We have more than we've ever had and can do more than we ever thought. We can meet strangers across continents on devices in our pockets from the comfort of wherever we are. We can crowdsource with those same strangers to start a company or make a movie. We can collaborate and innovate. We can explore and inspire. We literally have the world in our hand.
Forgive the long introduction and the spring enthusiasm, but people keep saying everything is wrong and taking it out on each other.
You cannot change them. You have to realize today that you are the most important thing you can improve.
You can change the way you think.
You can change the way you feel.
You can change what you do today.
What stops most of us is that we are afraid, and some days we should be. Those same devices in our pockets show us things none of us ever need to see. They put us in contact with all our friends' and families' bad news and anything wrong in our community.
Some days we should be afraid.
But we don't have to stay there.
The moment a thought scares you, the moment you feel anxious or insecure, the moment you think what you want is going to crush you, ask yourself this:
Is there a bear?
If there is a bear around you, you should feel afraid. If a grizzly has wandered into your personal space, the alarm in your brain should be firing. On a scale of one to 10, 10 being total catastrophe and one being waking up from the perfect nap, if there is a bear in front of you right now and it is not behind three inches of glass, please feel free to freak out. Go full 10! It is appropriate to lose your mind.
But if your boss is yelling at you, ask, "Is there a bear?"
If the one you love harps on the same thing he or she did last week and all last year, ask, "Is there a bear?"
If your friend didn't call and you wonder if she loves you any more, ask, "Is there a bear?"
If you're running out of money, you should feel alarmed, but still ask, "Is there a bear?"
If you're at war, fighting for freedom, your life in danger: There is a bear.
If you are homeless tonight: There is a bear.
If your child is sick and you don't know what to do: There is a bear.
Fight. Claw. Survive. Do not let the bear win.
But if you are on base with your fellow heroes or back home with those who love you, if you have a place to stay tonight, if your children are being cared for, and you still feel panic, fear, or helplessness, ask yourself.
You do not need be afraid.
Our world is different today. It is so much better than when we didn't have antibiotics and lasers, smartphones and cheap travel, space exploration and vitamins, democracy and the Internet.
Our world is so much better, and you can be too.
If there is no bear, this day, check your fear; celebrate this moment and the next and the next. Explore. Experiment. End the voices in your head that tell you what's not possible. Find the people who will cheer you on. Find a stranger and give them a taste of your enthusiasm. Find a reason to fail and learn and try again. Wake up each morning and savor your dreams for breakfast. You do not need to be afraid.
This can be the most hopeful, transformative day of your life.
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