0023 – Decision Points

Train tracks in Berlin, October 2023

The problem with high agency is that one feels a responsibility if things go wrong. It’s easier to point circumstance instead of oneself for failure. Knowing the bounds of what you can and cannot do and what you expect out of a situation are key. Performance anxiety is real. I remember the very first time I stood on stage. I was so nervous that I squeezed my eyes shut so tight that I couldn’t see anything and I was feeling around for the mic like a blind subterranean mammal. I kept bumping into it which added a percussive element to the song no one anticipated.

I think performance anxiety increases when ego is involved. When there is an audience and people are noticing your every move. I wonder how difficult it is for football managers to be scrutinized every single week and then subjected to cutting interviews from people who are setting up a potential newsworthy headline. Imagine having to, in your greatest moment of disappointment, be subjected to that.

There’s also an added challenge of being big enough to hold your team. No matter how disappointed you must feel you have to put that aside for the moment and be the bigger person for all the people that are looking to you for guidance. That’s difficult. The stress has to filter up the foodchain and be kept there. Everyone has their job and it’s the captain’s job to steer the boat and know of storms that crew members have no clue of. There’s a trust there. There’s a trust that the crew will do their thing and the trust that the captain will make the right decision.

Maybe this is the relaxing thing about friendships, that they exists without specific tasks. There is no ‘goal’ for a friendship, it is to enjoy each other’s presence in the world, share in it and discuss things. This is maybe where it gets tricky with relationships because many of them have a goal: build a home together, have kids etc. I do think friendships can form downstream of projects but as the stakes start to rise, many friendships can be broken on the shores of a common goal, too.

The stakes, the stakes, the stakes. When things matter, you need to step up to handle it. The easy way out is to reduce the stakes and pretend like it doesn’t matter. The difficult way out is to internalise the stakes and go for it whilst knowing that you will survive anything, even if this project doesn’t work out.

I’ve been grappling with this kind of fear a lot of my life: the ‘what ifs’. The ‘what if this doesn’t work out’? I feel like it’s happening more recently actually. When I was fresh out of university I didn’t think too far about whether the goal I was reaching for wasn’t going to work out. I was stressed about not reaching it but I was pretty sure that I would have fun or at least purpose when I got there. I’m in a somewhat different mindspace these days where there seems to be a blocker within me that even if I achieve all my hopes and dreams whether that will satisfy me. Now that I write this maybe it is a reflection on already having done that once in my life. I did everything I wanted and hoped for and when I got to the end of the line it wasn’t what I expected at all. Maybe I’m sceptical of my dreams.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I was dreaming of the Northern Lights last night. I remember scaling a hill and looking out and seeing it. Now I write I remember more. Yes, there was a hill and it was like the back of a dragon since it was rough and a consistency of hard skin, not really rock. I remember looking back and seeing how far I would fall if I slipped. It would take half an hour of tumbling through and breaking my bones if I were to slip. We had no harness, I’m not sure why.

Perhaps this is an on the nose metaphor from my subconscious, who knows.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin this year. It’s different to anywhere I’ve lived. It’s quite ugly, to be honest. There’s a roughness to it that people don’t seem to mind as much as soak in. It’s a hostile city and this hostility is reflected in how people carry themselves and present themselves. Yes, there are good people there and a lot of warmth but I feel (for the moment) that it’s wrapped behind a ‘big city’ front. A different kind of membrane perhaps. There’s also a different kind of socialisation in a city where people meet outside because usually what a city offers in the street is better and more comfortable than what people can offer in their homes.

There’s a certain brutality to the city that unfortunately isn’t even balanced out by a beach or nature. I think it’s balanced out by more brutality. I’m somewhat immune to the worst of it because it’s just ‘new’ to me rather than reminiscent of a longer history. I can imagine many people who grew up under the Soviet Union would struggle in the shadow of these buildings. We’re meant to leave and I kind of have to wonder too where we choose to end up. 

I have some other thoughts about choosing cities and how to deal with the underlying infrastructure. It’s good find one’s people but it’s perhaps a bit dangerous to be unaware of what it takes to make and have a good life in that city. People are pouring into Berlin at a crazy rate, I don’t really think it will slow down any time soon. 

I’ve drifted kind of far from my original point of dealing with high agency situations but then again, moving to a city is one of them. Things can and will go wrong but I guess they’ve gone so ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to even bring you to a decision point. 

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