Friday, March 8, 2013

Why I Shaved My Beard: Thoughts on Fear, Chaos and Community

James Harden, beard, Oklahoma City, Thunder, basketball
Fear the beard.
by Ben Howard

I shaved my beard yesterday.

That may not mean a lot to you, but it means something to me. The only time I shave, or get a haircut for that matter, is when I'm in need of some kind of emotional catharsis. And lately, I've needed that kind of emotional release.

Let me explain. I'm terrified.

I'm terrified by this endeavor and how it's become such a huge part of my life.

I'm terrified by how much it has grown. I track my page views daily (which I realize is crazy narcissistic, but it's part of being a blogger), and I honestly can't believe how much the place has grown.

I'm terrified by how I feel things have matured, both in terms of other talented writers joining me and the way I can see my own writing improving.

But what I'm really terrified of are none of those things. I'm terrified of failing. The better I feel about this endeavor, the more I realize that it would hurt if it all turned south and went down in flames. Or even worse, if it just wasted away, starving until nothing was left but the shell it left behind.

But I am scared that in an attempt to stave off failure, I'll change, and that I won't like who I become. I want to bring you beauty, and humor, and spur your mind and your imagination about what it means to be live in this world, and what it means to seek after a better one.

But I also want you to like me. I want you to read my posts. I want you to say nice things about me. Sometimes these desires work together, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes I worry about which one is winning.
Smurfs, tug-of-war
Ugh, feelings.

Life is messy. I know it's messy, but I don't want it to be. Sometimes I pretend it's not. Sometimes I let it all show. That's why community is so useful. It's a place to let it all show.

I assume this chaotic tug-of-war is present in everyone. We battle our own emotions, desires, needs, and fears on a daily basis. Too often we seek easy answers about ourselves and others. We attempt to clarify our emotions and motivations in an attempt to explain ourselves. We attempt to uncover the motivations of others by dissecting their actions.

We assign grand narrative arcs to ourselves and those around us that look very tidy and clean and believable, but which ultimately bear little relation to the jagged, chaotic tumble of everyday life. We rarely know the whole story, even when it comes to our own interior struggles.

This is where I find the importance of community. We let people in and we let them know us, and in the process of letting them discover who we are, we attempt to know ourselves a little better. 

It's scary to be that vulnerable. I'm nervous right now that you'll read this and see me as self-absorbed, or needy, and to be honest, that is who I am. I'm a chaotic mix of diverging emotions most of the time. I rarely make sense even to myself.

Through that vulnerability and through this growth within our communities, experiencing pain and joy alongside others, we learn about them and about ourselves. The discoveries we make aren't always pretty, sometimes they're quite disappointing, but they allow us to grow and develop.

These communities allow us to overcome fear and failure, insecurities and chaos, and live into a better version of ourselves and a better version of our world. Sometimes they help us to know that we just need catharsis, that we just need a release.

That's what I needed.
And that's why I shaved my beard.


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