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Pete Michaud on Fear and Freedom

by Pete Michaud

When I first moved to Jacksonville at 18 years old, I lived in a Riverside duplex shared with a woman who insisted on using 4-ply toilet paper. It would block the 80-year-old plumbing at least every two weeks. Mike, the landlord’s plumber, would make the trek from Baldwin every time it happened, and his goatee would always drag in the dirt in the crawl space underneath the house. He’d emerge time and again, oak leaves ensconced in the 10-inch-long goatee, wearing no gloves, hands full of weeks’ worth of fetid, 4-ply toilet paper.

He always seemed happy to do it, and after he slopped the wad of toilet paper into a trash bag, he would give me a big wave and a smile and say “See you next time!”

The thing about Jacksonville is that even though a lot of people are shoving their fetid 4-ply down the pipes, there are just as many hard-working people happy to get their hands dirty to clean it up. It’s not a glamorous city, but it works.

The missing element from public life in Jacksonville is people with a vision for the future and the strength to make that vision a reality. I don’t pretend to have the answers to the city’s issues, but I want to share some stories from my life that may inspire vision and strength in you. This collection of stories will challenge your beliefs and admonish you to be uncomfortable in pursuit of personal growth and achievement.

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“All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
-Steve Jobs, Cancer Patient, Apple CEO

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When I was 7 years old I died, face crushed under the back tire of my dad’s Isuzu Trooper. While the team of surgeons was rebuilding my face over the next 13 years, I earned the right not only to nod along with Jobs on this one, but to echo him: in the face of death, there is nothing to fear.

It’s not possible to overemphasize this point. Living in fear of losing what you have—both material and social—is insane.

Think about this:

  • You live in a universe of possibility. There will always be more stuff, more people, more love. Whatever you lose, you can replace, probably with something better.
     
  • The stuff we worry about losing comes at a cost. By acquiring a house, we are saddled with the need to have a steady income of a certain size. Friends demand time. Lovers demand attention and often exclusivity. When you lose one, you gain another.

Lying on the cold bedrock of your life, with nothing left to lose, you gain the ultimate freedom to do what you want to do, go where you want to go, and be who you want to be.

To rephrase:

  • You will never fail so badly that you can’t try again.
     
  • Having fewer things means having more freedom.

Blocks to Freedom

If you don’t quite feel what I’m telling you yet, I want to make you aware of a couple well-known problems with your brain:

  • Sunk Cost Fallacy. You think the investments you have made in life obligate you to finish them or follow through on them. You are wrong.
     
  • Loss Aversion Bias. You will work harder to avoid losing the things you already have, than to gain the things you might be able to have. That is a mistake.

It’s important to understand what these are and how to beat them because they are diseases that can tie you down. They will make you feel as though you are taking risks by just living and experiencing life, even while the biggest threat you face is apathy and boredom. Always remember that you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Go change the world.

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Pete Michaud is an author and entrepreneur living in Jacksonville, FL.  His mission is to inspire people to think clearly, to live deliberately, to conquer fear and embrace possibility, to express beauty, and to love completely.  Find out more at his website: PeterMichaud.com

This article was first published in the January print edition of the Jacksonville Observer.

3 Responses »

  1. We absolutely spend more time hanging onto what we have than pursuing new and better. Is this always a bad thing? No, but the fear that it is keeps us hanging on to perhaps too many things...

  2. I get what he is saying but it is a bit simplified and relates not to Jacksonville and direction which is what got me to read his article... People have responsibilities to family to community to god.... His writing is good but should be directed to children in grade school or bums downtown in-front of the library. But I guess, yes it's good enough for the Jacksonville Observer.

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