When we were in fifth grade, our options were severely limited. Not so much now.

In a world without tests and lowered boundaries (i.e. the world adults like you that read this are living in) we have far more degrees of freedom than we realize.

And yet we drift toward convenience.

Ease and convenience.

Ease, convenience and the freedom from the fear of failure.

We were taught compliance from an early age. The opposite of compliance, we’re told, is failure. In order to amplify compliance, people in authority have instilled in us not just a fear of failure, but worse, a fear of fear.

The reason it’s hard to push ourselves, even when there’s no external downside of doing so, is our fear of fear of failure. That feeling, the feeling of insufficiency and doom, pushes us to seek the comfort of compliance instead.

Wikipedia is the result of a billion edits. Each edit is fairly trivial, and the articles that are the most edited are often on trivial topics, like the more than 5,000 words written about Don Draper. It’s easy and safe and fun to write endlessly about a fictional character, while we avoid speaking up about the real things.

At the same time, WikiTribune, a news-focused site built on the same principles, has very little activity. The reason is that it’s not trying to solve a finite problem (adding a paragraph about Don Draper’s affair) but an infinite one, because there is too much news to keep up with. WikiTribune doesn’t need people to fix typos, they’re asking for contributions that are almost certainly going to be challenged. It’s not a do-able problem, so contributing feels like a brush with failure.

We see the same thing happen with books (short ones are easier to sell than long ones, even at the same price) or online education (a short course on calligraphy will do far better than a six-month deep dive into the Stoics.)

It’s essential that we differentiate between things that remind us of fear and those that are actually risky. In our adult world, the most valuable activities are actually inconvenient, fraught with the fear of failure and apparently un-do-able.

Without someone telling us what to do, without a test to prove that we did it, it’s easy to slip into the dumb lane. Dumb, simple, easy, do-able.

But what if we committed to the other path. To find a way to allocate our time to things that might not work?


[The altMBA is inconvenient. It’s not designed to protect you from the fear of fear. It’s do-able but there are days it won’t feel that way. Perhaps that’s why it works. Today is the first priority deadline.]