Fear and Maturity

Written on June 15, 2008. Written by .

Maturity

Maturity
A hypothesis about the consequences of fear in modern culture.
Photo courtesy of globalindex

After a lot of introspection and conversation with others, I have come to believe that there is a causal connection between fear and maturity. At some point an individual will be faced with the question of how they are going to make a living. For many, this problem is complex enough that it cannot be resolved in a systematic way. One may have to take a huge risk by investing in an education to enter a chosen career. This career choice was probably made based on incomplete information and potentially could be very undesirable. Concerns such as these can easily lead to worry and fear.

For example, imagine that your life-long plan was to become a doctor and you made it in to a top medical school. In your first year of medical school, you struggle to keep up with the pace of the class and you start to worry that you might not have what it takes to succeed in the medical field. A couple years later, you have managed to pass all your courses so far, but you have burnt yourself out in the process and are having doubts as to whether you really even want to be a doctor at all. You consider the possibility of changing your mind at this point, but realize that the $100,000 of debt that you have accumulated would be torturous to pay off with the wages of a lower paying job. And besides, all that hard work would be totally wasted. So you decide that you absolutely have to graduate, there is no other option that you will accept. But it is not entirely up to you, your superiors can still boot you if your performance starts to slip. This prospect scares you and you realize that you are going to have to be very careful to make sure this doesn’t happen. That means working hard, focusing intently, suppressing extraneous interests, and becoming politically correct; in other words, maturing.

That doesn’t sound too bad. Working hard and focusing intently are often seen as very commendable. But as the saying goes “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” And that is the issue – people’s personalities become bland when they put the enjoyment of life on the back burner. They acquire a social inhibition that prevents them from doing the most enjoyable things. They won’t start fun conversations with strangers on the bus like they did when they were school children. They won’t make the best jokes because it would be politically incorrect. And they will never appreciate true romance because it is not compatible with their busy schedule.

You will probably tell yourself that you are only going to be mature on the job, or you are only going to be mature until you are established in your field. But in reality, this is very likely just self-deception. It is very hard to compartmentalize multiple personalities and probably even harder to completely change your personality at some point in the future. The fear will condition you if you allow it to persist. You can either fight it or let it reprogram your mind.

How can this fear be overcome? One way is to never expose yourself to it. The more intelligent and successful students can sometimes make it all the way through high school and even college without fear because they feel safe in their position of academic excellence. This may partially explain the apparent paradox that smart people often seem immature. But not everyone can avoid the fear forever. For most of us, we are going to have to decide how to confront the problem. I think the best solution is to not take life too seriously. You just need to have the confidence that there is essentially no chance that you are going starve and that even if your life ends up in a horrible rut, you will promptly steer yourself out. Life really is a big game where you win some and you lose some. Freeing yourself from fear will only make it nicer.

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