In learning to live, I value this core skill the most

 ripples moving outward in orange-red water

It’s a skill that always builds on itself

It’s the ability to discern, to know what’s true for me.

It’s incessant curiosity and never-ending questioning.

It’s something I do that occasionally annoys others, but it’s a skill that has become one of my closest friends.

I owe it a lot for making me who I am.

It’s the ability to ask, “Why?”
And, “Is this true?”
“Is this true for me?”

It seems obvious as I write it, but it hasn’t always been obvious to me. And it rarely seems obvious to others.

Asking,“Is this true for me?” is easy to do when a politician makes a statement.

It’s not so easy when a professor makes a statement. But it’s just as important.

It’s self-directed learning. It’s building up self-knowledge, the best kind of knowledge to have.

The ability to think critically is different from being critical.

The first is a valuable skill. The second is a person no one wants to be around.

The former is forever a learner. The latter has already seen it all.

When I was in high school and college, I was obsessed with getting good grades. I made myself sick with worry if I ever made a mistake.

I thought I was going about it the right way, but it absolutely was not healthy.

In grad school, I’ve given myself permission to breathe. What mattered so much before doesn’t seem to matter very much now.

I’m not saying it’s not important.

I’m saying that I have so much more in my life that is equally important — my wife, my cats, my family, my need for sleep and sanity.

Growing up, society and school told me that there are correct ways to do things.

The trauma of life, falling down and getting up — these things taught me that life can be lived an infinite number of ways. Life almost never follows the prescribed path.

Those who succeed are those who can adapt. Those who thrive are the ones who can see the anxiety, and the depression, and the hopelessness, and the chaos — and join it all, accept it all, and dance with it all.

I’m not a classically trained dancer like my sister. In fact, I’m an awful dancer in the traditional sense — but I can dance with life.

I can split myself when I need to, and I can unite my higher aspirations to go farther than I’ve ever been.

And it’s all been a process of trial and error.

When I was a kid with anxiety, I never even wanted to try. I thought it was about doing it perfectly or not doing it all.

Now that I’m an adult with anxiety, I don’t ever want to stop trying.

Each try is another chance to improve.

The faster and faster I fail, the better and better I get.

My potential is unlimited, but only if I live my potential. If I never try for fear of failure, I’ll live my fears and fail every time.

Because battling anxiety is a battle. If I’m on the sidelines, the anxiety always wins.

But if I learn more and more about myself, I become better. I know what works for me, I know what’s true for me, and I step into a life that is always in the process of becoming.

And if always in the process of becoming something, I can’t fail!

I can’t fail you, and I can’t fail myself because I’m always a work in progress.

I’m so far away from the scared boy I used to be, but I still hold onto where that boy has been. His struggle is my talisman, a reminder of the duality of everything that has been — and will be — in my life.

And it all comes back to “Why?”

Who am I? Where am I going?

Just asking the questions is part of the answer.