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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Nightmare Scenarios

I am afraid. Continuously afraid. I can demonstrably be paranoid as hell even through massive success and over two decades.

But I believe only the paranoid survive.

My fears are legion. And multiplied with the addition of another interwoven life.

  1. Can I maintain my abstractions?
  2. Will my constructive attitude regarding continuous improvement, the attribute that allows me to tolerate the honest and sometimes hurtful feedback, degenerate into retributive punishment (as appears to be the natural tendency of humans)?
  3. The unholy trinity of effective self-ignorance: is one of the following true:
    • Will I change so much that the assumptions upon which I have bet two lives will no longer apply?
    • Have I deceived myself in my self-analysis to date?
    • Have I convinced myself to behave in a manner other than what is possible over the long term?
    • Are there other factors I have failed to consider? For example, do I have the cheating gene?
  4. Will I be able to satisfy my mate to the degree needed to achieve long-term success?
  5. Will other random events displace the carefully constructed system we have put into place?
  6. Will my work become competitive with my personal life? Will I miss some aspect of my work life that I may have consciously or unconsciously given up?

And there are many others. Unlike many other people I know, and perhaps surprising to people who know me, I find little utility in listing the possible downsides of an endeavor. That is the optimist in me — I prefer to focus on the constructive ingredients and add a pinch of preventive planning, but to go overboard on the risks is only a way to convince myself to build an excessively defensive position. Like great chess, it is more about position and sense than it is about a eight-ply plan.

But my basic approach to avoiding the nightmare scenario is simple:

Never sleep.

And that is ultimately the plan. Stay vigilant and careful. The asset here, the relationship, is important. Thus it is ok to create artificial mechanisms to move things to alert status (without overstimulating the alert response). In a sense, much of the chaos we have embraced as well as our incorporation of conflict and honesty, is really about keeping the relationship near alert status. And since our lives are largely about dealing with a constant stream of emergencies, we are used to it. In such lives the key skill is triage, and this approach keeps issues concerning our most important asset high on the triage list.

Evolution has given a baby an important tool for survival — crying. Babies require a lot of attention. So they start crying well before they start dying. Humans are sensitized to respond to crying, that’s why it sounds so darn annoying. A relationship needs this, too: a crying reflex so we’ll pay attention. That is the value of honesty in my relationship with Jenny. It creates tension and argument, which is our relationship’s version of crying. As long as we understand the value of it, we’ll treat it appropriately. But the value of argument is a topic for another post.

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