The Neutral Fallacy: There is No Sideways in Life

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I’ve been asked the question a lot since Career Renegade came out in January…

How do you handle fear?

“Well, comes my answer, “that depends. Fear of what?”

“Of failure, of course.”

“Wrong fear,” I add. “You wanna be afraid, really afraid, take a look at what your life’ll look like not if you try and fail…but if you keep on keeping on for decades. That’s the real nightmare scenario for most people.”

Whaaa?

Simple fact, there is no sideways, no coasting…no neutral.

Not in relationships, not in business, not in spiritual growth, not in life. There’s only up or down, though the rate of acceleration and the magnitude of the progress in either direction often leads us to to some very warped perceptions. When we’re rising quickly, life is grand…though very likely unsustainable. When we’re plummeting rapidly, life blows and, similarly, with even a modicum of intervention, this path is rarely sustainable either.

In each of these scenarios, though, the speed and magnitude of the change in the way we experience life is so great and, often, so outwardly apparent, that we or those around us are moved to act to either support or redirect our trajectory. Action in the context of such powerful movement is a near mandate.

But, what of those periods where we’re sliding ever-so-slowly up or down?

In those periods, we’re often governed largely not by action, but by inertia. The desire to not have to rock our own boats. “Hey,” we say, “life’s not so bad. So what if I’m not making what I’d like to make, I’m getting by. So, what if my marriage ain’t great, it’s not THAT bad. Who cares if I’m a little fatter, sicker and in just a bit more pain. It’s not such a big deal.”

Problem is, “I’m getting by, it’s not THAT bad and it’s not such a big deal.” may be “workable answers now. But, the only reason they’re workable is because you’re assuming that you’ll stay largely at these same levels over time. That if you don’t do anything substantial to change, 10, 20 or 30 years from now, your business, income, health, relationships will just keep going pretty much sideways, coasting…and you’re okay with that.

Except there is no coasting. There is no neutral. No sideways.

It’s a myth, an illusion. There’s only up or down.

Which means, if you’re teetering on the edge of happiness, health, liquidity and contentment now, then 10, 20 or 30 years from now, if you really paint a vivid picture of your “do nothing to change” scenario, your life will likely be somewhere between really unpleasant and really dead.

Because unaddressed over time,

  • Nagging pain becomes chronic, acute and debilitating
  • Unrewarding work becomes soulless, lifessucking agony
  • Passable health becomes obesity, disease and, for many, early death
  • Unattentive relationships become estranged, angry, bitter, dysfunctional and nonexistent, and

Your currently “passable” life becomes increasingly painful as you enter the long, slow slide toward death. Because you failed to accept the knowledge that there is no sideways, there is only up or down. Even if the pace is slow, barely detectable. There’s no such thing as sideways.

Which leaves you with a realization and circles back to my original question.

How do you handle fear?

Don’t just ask the fear of failure question, add two others…

  • What if I succeed?
  • What if I do nothing?

Then, paint lush, vivid, highly-sensory pictures of each. Play out your failure scenario, along with it’s recovery. Play out your success scenario. Then, play out your do nothing scenario, 10, 20 and 30 years from now. For far too many, that become the real nightmare, the outcome most important to abort. Then tap your fear of manifesting that outcome as a core driver to break your state of inertia and go after the vivid success scenario.

And, the next time time you feel like inertia, sideways, coasting…neutral is enough. Think again.

Let’s discuss…

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72 responses

72 responses to “The Neutral Fallacy: There is No Sideways in Life”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Havi Brooks and daverendall. daverendall said: What happens if you do nothing? There is no neutral. No sideways. It’s a myth. There’s only up or down. http://is.gd/3YEEg @jonathanfields […]

  2. Tracy says:

    This post really resonated with me. Around the time Career Renegade came out, I’d discovered the blog of Tim Brownson (he reviewed CR, which is how I came to read it) and I thought my life was pretty nice and I kept arguing to myself “why change anything?”

    But I couldn’t stop thinking about it and finally stepped up to say, this is nice, but it’s not all I want out of life. And now I have a plan and goals and am full of zest and energy.

    There have been several times in my life when I failed. I was miserable for a few days, but you know what? I’ve come to realize that there is something about failure that rallies me and pushes me to try something else.

    There have also been times in my life when I coasted and it felt impossible to summon the energy to change. Being stagnant doesn’t work for me, it dulls my mind and saps my motivation. I don’t feel safe or secure, I just feel sort of blandly there. That’s no way to live a life.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      That has been such a huge lesson for me. It’s odd to say that I’m hugely thankful for my failures, but I am. Because they’ve taught me that very little is beyond recovery and once recovered, you’re usually far better armed to excel in your next great adventure.

  3. Cath Duncan says:

    Brilliant! I love your suggestion to play out those 3 scenarios, particularly with a long time-frame. I like to imagine having conversations with my 80yr old self (and I find this works a dream with my clients too!), where I ask my 80yr old self what it’s like to have not taken this risk that I had been afraid of – she’s always got much more perspective than me! Or I’ll imagine that I do take the risk and ask her what that was like and what advice she can give me and so on. Sounds a little kooky, but I’ve unearthed some powerful learnings this way. I first thought to do this after spending a year with my grandfather, supporting him in his cancer journey and seeing how he reviewed his life and felt a mixture of pride and regret as he approached the end of his life. You can access some of that wisdom just by imagining being old, and hopefully have more to feel proud about than regrets when you actually get to being old one day.

    Cath

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Interesting, Daniel Gilbert talked about affective forecasting in Stumbling Onto Happiness and said, though we’d never guess it to be true, very often asking complete strangers who’ve arrived later in life and accomplished what we hope to accomplish (or not) how they feel about certain experiences provides even more value than visualizing our own answers because we tend to project our current emotional state and assumptions into the future when answering. And, that often leads to horrible forecasting. You’ve taken a kind of blended approach by creating an avatar and asking her. Cool.

  4. Oh man, this is right up my alley. We are all motivated by that sometimes loud, sometimes unconscious voice that tells us, dude, you are going to die. Fear can be a great motivator, as long as it doesn’t become an immobilizer. Great post!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Eli, no doubt, fear is a complex issue. It’s the way we tap it that either leads to power or paralysis

  5. I have a friend who is perfectly willing to have unaddressed conversations with his friends. His thought is that its better to keep quiet then stir up trouble. The downside- he has this deep submerged rage that comes out in the most vicious of ways.

    “Your currently “passable” life becomes increasingly painful as you enter the long, slow slide toward death. Because you failed to accept the knowledge that there is no sideways, there is only up or down. Even if the pace is slow, barely detectable. There’s no such thing as sideways.”

    I have observed an exhaustion that has set in with my friends. I’m certainly guilty of given into the Neg. Monster and bouts of whining. Energy is needed to get past anything. Sometimes you have to be willing to take a hard look at your life and shift gears if necessary. People hate to fail. It would seem easier to just do nothing. I have seen enough of older cranky people who have done nothing to know I rather fail then just wither away. My friend with his submerged rage is a door about to become unhinged. Maybe I will mention this to him- “Then tap your fear of manifesting that outcome as a core driver to break your state of inertia and go after the vivid success scenario.”

    And I will mention it to my exhausted friends and remind myself when the neg monster wants to take over that there is still a possible better tomorrow.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      And, since we’re both NYers, I think we tend to see that pace-driven exhaustion even more often, eating away at an individual’s humanity day after day. I’ll take repeated attempt and failure with the hope of success any day over a long, slow inevitable decline

  6. This ties in so much with my latest post, “The Lifestyle Design Anthem: My Way”. You want to be able to look back on your life and to feel the regrets are not worth mentioning.

  7. Charlotte says:

    Absolutely fantastic post.

    I do something similar to Cath whenever I’m faced with a big choice or big fear. I imagine that I’m on my deathbed, and ask a few questions:

    1. What kind of people has this choice gathered around me? People I love and respect, or people I hate, or no one at all?

    2. What kind of circumstances has this choice gathered around me? Has it made me richer or poorer? Happier or sadder? Wiser?

    3. If my on-my-deathbed self was sent back to where I am in my life now, what would she decide?

    Generally, I get an instantaneous answer that jolts me out of inertia very quickly indeed. You only get one life, and the joy is in _living_ it, not merely muddling through.

    @Tracy – I totally agree with you. After failing big once or twice, failure becomes a lot less scary. My failures have had me literally end up homeless with $50 to my name. And you know what? I’m still here – and better and happier than ever. Well said.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It’s the old Scrooge exercise, lol! And, there’s a reason the story’s become epic. Because the exercise has power in it.

  8. Ah, yes. I spent a couple of years at a job that was pretty good, even though it was unfulfilling mentally, spiritually and financially. Somewhere around the last year I realized that if my job were a relationship, there’s no way I’d stick it out just because it wasn’t terrible. Mediocre is not acceptable. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I figure out the next step in my career.

    I also love flashing forward to my deathbed to keep things in perspective!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Thing, is even though it doesn’t sit well with me, some people would be okay just getting by…if that’s the way things stayed. But (a) what a travesty to give up on the hope of more and, (b) getting by inevitably turns into not getting by

  9. NomadicNeil says:

    Like Andy says in the Shawshank Redemption:

    “Get busy living, or get busy dying”

  10. I talk about planting flowers a lot. Look at a patch of dirt.

    What do you get if you plant flowers?
    Flowers.

    What do you get if you plant weeds?
    Weeds.

    What do you get if you plant nothing?
    Weeds.

    In the absence of positive effort, weeds naturally grow; you don’t get bare dirt.

    Life is a spotlight that’s always moving. If you’re not moving forward with it, you’re moving backwards. There is, as you say, no such thing as standing still.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Joel, love that analogy and phrase “in the absence of positive effort, weeds naturally grow.”

  11. […] and Jonathan have both done a very good job of ass-kicking today. This is my own riff on their fantastic […]

  12. Wow! This is one of the most vital questions you’ve ever posed. How we deal with fear, inertia, etc. determines the kind of life we lead.

    I was fortunate enough to have considered this many decades ago as I watched people around me settling, complaining, never reaching or reaching for their potential. I decided in my 20’s that when I’m old, going back and forth in my rocking chair, stroking my gray hair, that it’ll be more fun recounting stories about things I tried that did and didn’t work out, than lamenting all the things I wanted to do but never did.

    My way of dealing with fear when approaching a new concept, venture, challenge is to step right into it. Even if the results are not as I hoped, finding out and adjusting my course is a quick and satisfying process. On the occasions when I’m slow to take action and inertia tries to set in, I shake myself and admonish myself, “Hustle, girl.”

  13. Perfect timing, because this post addresses something that I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve been attempting massive change, only to find the path of progress is littered with a string of failures. Over the last few days, I have had to totally reevaluate my goals, my progress and how the failures are affecting me. I will admit I almost got so discouraged that I was tempted to give up. Instead, I have decided to alter the steps to make my goals more achievable. This post encourages my resolve to do so. It also reminds me that any progress is better than none. We appreciate the reminders, the tips and encouragement. Keep up the good work!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I can’t deny the pain of failures, but if they’re woven into a process led by the desire to learn and grow, at least that process gives your failures context…and makes them less likely to be repeated.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Steve, like you, I’ve been failing alot lately and sometimes crave the stability of zero to little change. Jonathan’s post makes me realize that a life of zero to little change is a fallacy and that in fact we’re either growing or contracting. I recognize that at this time in my life, after I quit my corporate job and have started my own business, I’m growing at a rapid pace. But the failures and not knowing how it’s going to turn out sure are difficult. There are days when I just want it to go back to being predictable and easy. Jonathan reminds us that predictable and easy comes at a greater cost than failure and uncertainty.

  14. Al says:

    This is a hard gospel to preach Jon!

    I think that most people just want to get by and have a quiet life with their family…

    Concepts of growth are alien to most and even if the concept is accepted the idea of up or down and no sideways…grates!

    I accept it enthusiastically in some areas of my life and with reluctance in others.

    Interestingly I have little fear of so called “failure”. Whether I am a success or a failure is up to my notion and my goals. By other people’s standards I may well be a “failure” but I judge my course by my standards and as long as I go from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm ( Winston Churchill quote) I feel I’m progressing.

    🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Agreed, Al. It’s not an easy pill to swallow. But, I think that’s also largely because we buy into the viability of “enduring sideways.” And, btw, there’s nothing wrong at all with leading a simple, quite life with your family. For many people, that’s a wonderful existence. But, there’s a sea of different between quiet contentment and quiet desperation.

      • Ivy says:

        “But, there’s a sea of different between quiet contentment and quiet desperation.”

        At first, when I read your entry, I felt like I couldn’t agree with what you were saying… but I could not put my finger on why. This is why and I’m glad to read that you get the difference. It’s not always necessary to shoot up like a rocket. You can decide instead that you’re at a place where you want to grow slowly, like an oak. Life has inflation and you have to always grow to keep ahead, but we don’t all need double-digit returns on our life every year. Sometimes that’s not even sustainable.

        • Jonathan Fields says:

          Totally agree. It’s not about speed, it’s really just about ensuring there’s movement. Like the inflation analogy, too.

  15. Your job is not safe.

    You are not safe. Shit happens.

    There is no stasis, no “arrival.”

    There is no someday, there is only today.

    Now that I have quit my job and become a “career renegade,” I see this more clearly than ever.

    Fear is a highly motivating force. It’s not “negative.” It’s a way to gauge your reality. Living in fear is no way to live, but fear (along with love and compassion) is where the inner power is.

  16. Some folks can be beneficially motivated by fear, but it’s not universal. Humans only have two motivations: to move away from pain, or towards pleasure. You have to know which works for you.

    Moving away from pain never works for me; I focus on the negative and get stuck. I have to see the reward beyond the next hill in order to endure the pain of the climb. A bear chasing me doesn’t do the trick, it just messes with my head.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Joel, interesting observation about yourself. Truth is, too, a lot has to do with how we frame identical scenarios…either as loss avoidance or acquisition. Research is pretty clear that almost everyone is more strongly motivation by the desire not to lose what they have than the desire to add to what they don’t have.

      • Agreed; humans are, by nature, risk averse. There’s a difference between avoiding loss, that is, being risk averse, and moving away from pain.

        If you try to take my watch off my wrist, I’ll fight you much harder than I’ll work to obtain a new watch. We fight to keep what we have, more than we work to get what’s new.

        Moving away from pain or toward pleasure is different from that. Both involve risk, just different flavors of it. What I’m talking about is purely perceptual: for instance, I can think of losing weight as ‘losing weight’ or I can think of it as ‘getting fit.’ The first is moving away from pain, the latter is moving toward pleasure.

        Different animal from being risk averse vs. the exploratory nature of seeking. Any change, away from pain or toward pleasure, involves risk, because change can’t come without risk.

        That difference is one reason so many people work to change their lives by a focus on what is, and so few change by focusing on what could be. (Okay, now I’ve crossed over into UltraEsoteric Land. Sorry 😉 I think I need to draw a picture. Where’s Dan Roam when you need him? )

  17. Jonathan, this post is full of strength.

    Fear is a gem in the inner tool set (of emotions), to show you what you have to risk and what you have to be willing to lose. Just like Michael said, it’s highly motivating — when it’s picked up as a tool.

    It’s when you freeze and start hyperventilating because fear is not something that you’re “supposed” to feel, that your internal compass gets all screwed up… and you start coasting sideways — er, down.

    I read from one of your tweets that blogging is often writing out loud to kick your own ass (same here!). Well, this post kicks ass, especially when you brutally assess the four deadly “unaddressed’s over time.”

    Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Thanks, Melissa. Fear is definitely a tricky thing. There’s actually interesting research on it’s motivational power in contrast to desire and it’s generally considered twice as effective. But, there are a lot of “buts,” the main one being that fear of pain without a clear path to contentment can become not motivational, but immobilizing and destructive.

  18. You really NAILED THIS. I also loved how you addressed the nagging pain —> chronic pain relationship. So many people ignore their bodies until it is too late.

    This is powerful.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Hayden, no doubt, and I’ve been guilty of this, too. Which is why I think I end up writing posts half the time to remind me to get up and act, lol.

  19. Hey Jonathan this is cool.

    You’re giving us some good long-term perspective here, which we normally lack. Neutral doesn’t go anywhere, other than down over time. Nagging pain always leads to the chronic condition if it is not dealt with, but we let the nagging pain continue like it will go away(most of us that is). I think that nagging pain concept hits hard on readers(in the right way) because health conditions usually build up very slowly, and can be handled if they are pro-actively responded to.

    Solid point about the fear as well. We fear the wrong stuff.

    Thanks for this.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I sometimes wonder whether we just assume what’s nagging now can just treated with medication over the years, which stops us from doing something more proactive to stop the process of decline

  20. Jim Valeri says:

    Jonathan,

    This reminds me of Tony Robbins concept of “Constant and Neverending Improvement.”

    An old mentor of mine once said “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time!” Moving sideways is much like this. Every time I meet with a new client, I ask them to envision their best life, and then once we have a picture of that, we can then work on achieving that life.
    Point being, you can’t get there until you can decide that “there” is a destination you need to go to.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Jim, agreed. Though, I’ve been exploring exactly what we mean by defining the destination. For me, it’s a bit different, it’s more about creating a very clear picture of the qualities, values, people and experiences I hold dear and working to ensure they are as much a part of my life on a daily basis as possible. This really helps me not only strive for something in the future, but it ensures the moments carry both equal weight and equal reward

  21. This is equally applicable (and motivational) to people who are both stuck and a rut and have never really taken off, as it is for over-achieving highly motivated people.

    One of the scariest things about living a goal-oriented life, is that if you’re good at it, you end up achieving those goals. It’s easy to stop there and think, “Hey, I made it. I’m done. Cool.” Unfortunately, what keeps people motivated is having a purpose and working towards a goal. Once there’s no next step, no next goal, doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved, you’ll still find yourself unfulfilled. It’s the reason why so many highly motivated people can never bring themselves to retire. They feel that they’ll lack purpose.

    It may be cliche, but it really is all about the journey, and not the destination.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Adam, agreed, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on “flow” states shows pretty convincingly we are happiest when we are working toward something.

      But, one of the ways to not end up goalless or constantly searching for a new external benchmark to hit is to fold into your major quests more intrinsic goals and processes, like the goal to be more present in everything you do, to meditate, to be more compassionate, loving, creative. To explore an artform.

      We tend to think only in terms of hard external goals, but, there’s a whole world of goals that are deeper and timeless, experiences you can practice and keep improving at and enjoying for a lifetime.

      • Agree with you, Jonathan. There is often too much emphasis put on hard external goals and not enough on intrinsic goals. However, I think the hardest part is figuring out how to achieve those intrinsic goals. That’s what people need the most help with. It’s hard to measure your level of “presence” or state of inner peace. If we can’t measure it, how do we know if we’re progressing? And if we don’t know if we’re progressing, we lose the “flow” state. I think this is probably the single biggest challenge anyone trying to work towards an intrinsic goal has to deal with.

  22. Andy says:

    I disagree, there definately is a sideways. Sidestep your problems, change your career rather than trying to improve your current situation, read a different website etc. Focusing too closely on specific goals means you can miss the bigger picture.

    This theory also implies that the world is not changing, it is, at a very rapid rate. What about those people who slaved away to become the worlds best banker to the detriment of their home life only to find that their job evaporated. Surely the slow riser who had a more balanced life is now more employable?

    I’ve seen many goal centric people who are just never happy as they always want better. We need to enjoy the journey as well as always focusing on the destination.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Andy, thanks for the comment…you’re actually agreeing with me, though. Sidestepping over the long haul never leads to consistent levels of fulfillment, but most people will only realize this in hindsight. And, the theory actually implies that the world IS changing constantly and part of your exploration is to evolve along with both the world and the way you respond to the world. Being goal-centric is neither good nor bad in a vacuum, it’s the nature of what you’re striving for and the process you choose to follow that makes it so. We absolutely do need to enjoy the journey…it IS the destination.

  23. Oleg Mokhov says:

    “If you’re not growing, then you’re dying.”

    Hey Jonathan,

    You work at making something better or stay the same; if you just let it be, it’ll get worse. Life, work, creativity, relationships, garden, whatever. The biggest risk is not taking a risk; if you don’t try to grow, you’ll atrophy. Even staying the same requires an effort.

    The good thing is that the really great things in life are insanely awesome. Working for it makes it not only sweeter as a reward, but more unique since you developed it into something really personal. If everything was pre-packaged and easy to have or maintain, life would be the same for everyone and stuff will be ridiculously boring.

    I make electronic dance music, and if I don’t make tunes for a while, I have to relearn some things when I resume. If I keep a casual pace of music-making, I’ll stay the same. Only when I constantly make new music–what I do now–is when I notice my tunes getting better over the span of a few months. I have to put in an effort, but I’m prouder of my music as a result, and I’m developing my own voice and quirks in the tunes – something no one else can have.

    Great article. Keep failing often to succeed faster,
    Oleg

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Oleg, agree, the biggest risk is never taking a risk. People tend to regret the things they never tried far more than the things they tried and failed at.

  24. I’ve been doing over a decade of coasting, interspersed with short bouts of inspiration and inertia. Thanks for this. I started a blog a few months back and was getting some nice feedback, then I let it all drop due to something else in life. Well, time to get back on it, start writing again and make it happen! Besides, in this economy, I need to be able to afford to lose my job. 😉

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Glad this post gave a bit of a nudge. True words – “in this economy, I need to be able to afford to lose my job.”

  25. Can’t believe I just found this place. I could get lost in here…especially since writing isn’t my gift. (But, I have others.) I have skimmed through this site in a whirl and can’t wait to go back to read more of your posts. I have never been so compelled to read on and on.

    Simply put. You are an artist.

    My comment for this specific post, fear is the opposite of faith. Yes, you might have to look fear full in the face and call it like it is, but, no, it doesn’t have to destroy your dreams and goals for a great future.

    Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. Helen Keller

    We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them. Livius

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Jan, So glad you’re enjoying our community. And, thanks for the kind words. Interesting thought about fear being the opposite of faith, I wanna think on that one for a while. And, btw, love that Helen Keller quote. In fact, I closed my last book, Career Renegade, with it.

  26. Jonathan,

    Thanks, thanks, thanks. Your post had a quite big impact on me, so I couldn’d help to quote it in full in my blog, and included a link to your web. Most of us should carefully think about “COASTING” since, almost always, the word ends up reading like “COSTING”. Life is like a plant in a flat: no proactive care leads to disaster.

  27. […] The Neutral Fallacy: There is No Sideways in Life A thought-provoking article. I tend to agree, for the most part – everything you do in life is either a step forward or a step back. I don’t really think “sideways steps” exist – they’re usually steps back. (@ jonathan fields) Related Posts The Simple Dollar Morning Roundup: Post-Super Bowl EditionThe Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Places to Follow Me EditionThe Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Birthday Update EditionThe Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Crunch EditionSlowing Down, or Starting on My Dreams Did you like this article? You can get the complete text of all the latest articles at The Simple Dollar in your email inbox each morning by entering your email address below. Your address will only be used for mailing you the articles, and each one will include a link so you can unsubscribe at any time. No comments yet. Be the first. Leave a reply […]

  28. Hal Torson says:

    Ouch I see my picture next to this article as a poster boy for idling… what am I teaching my children?

  29. prufock says:

    Good idea, but simplistic. Sometimes pursuing one avenue means letting go of another. Improving a relationship can cause work to suffer, and vice versa. Chasing adventure can send your finances into the red, but building your finances can cause you to miss opportunities for adventure. Etc.

    I like the idea of contemplating the possible scenarios, though.

    • Dom says:

      Prufock says in his comment above:

      “Good idea, but simplistic. Sometimes pursuing one avenue means letting go of another. Improving a relationship can cause work to suffer, and vice versa. Chasing adventure can send your finances into the red, but building your finances can cause you to miss opportunities for adventure. Etc.
      I like the idea of contemplating the possible scenarios, though.”

      I agree that Jonathan Fields’ idea is good, but I don’t think it’s simplistic at all. Some people’s interpretations of the idea can be simplistic though, or even completely miss the point.

      Prufock says he likes the idea of contemplating the possible scenarios. But surely the key to this blog entry is not merely to contemplate scenarios, but to take decisive action in the face of fear.

      And pursuing one avenue doesn’t mean you have to let go of another. Humans are capable of multi-tasking! It’s perfectly possible to advance your work and your relationship simultaenously, particularly when you become a career-renegade and work for yourself, doing what you love!

      If you choose the right work for you, and the right relationship for you, the two become sources of energy, and enhance each other. That’s why working for yourself doing something you love is so liberating and life-enhancing.

      “Chasing adventure can send your finances into the red” (implying that it might be better not to chase adventure) again is a simplistic view. The fear of going into the red (and succuming to this fear and not taking action) can result in the loss of a fantastic opportunity, missing out on future wealth and spiritual enrichment too. Taking action doesn’t mean being reckless and ignoring risk, it means weighing up risk, facing up to fears, and taking action boldly but intellegently too.

      So although chasing adventure could potentially send your finances into the red, this isn’t a valid example to support the notion that the concept of taking action is simplistic.

  30. Good read –

    Most people are familiar with this –

    You hate your job but stay because you fear what the future may hold… You can’t stand your girlfriend but stick around because you fear you may not find someone better… Despise your fitness routine but don’t take the time to find a new one because it’s outta your comfort zone…

    Everyday that passes and you don’t make the change, you take one step back. Just remember what the stakes are: Your success. Your livelihood. Your happiness.

    “I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me” Frank Costello, The Departed

  31. kelly says:

    definitely one of my favorite posts to date. and one of my favorite parts: “there’s only up or down, though the rate of acceleration and the magnitude of the progress in either direction often leads us to to some very warped perceptions.” i find this point cool and necessary; that, though there’s only up or down, sometimes it’s not a rapid increase or decline, it doesn’t have to be harried. so many people are actually trying to slow down life a little and achieve a bit of neutrality, and that note makes it clear: it’s totally possible to “practice stillness” and still climb upwards, still make changes, just more in a marathon sort of way. good food for thought.

  32. […] Except there is no coasting. There is no neutral. No sideways. […]

  33. […] Sideways Jonathan Fields has an interesting post on the subject of fear. In The Neutral Fallacy: There is No Sideways in Life, he talks about the danger of coasting through life and succumbing to the fear of failure. When you […]

  34. […] As humans, we grow or we die. There is no sideways. […]

  35. Corvus says:

    Man. I like this post. I’m printing it and putting it on my inspiration wall in my office. Thanks!

  36. Steve B says:

    Jonathan:
    Thanks so much for this post. It really resonated with me.
    Thanks.
    Steve B.

  37. I have found it to be true that most people would far prefer to stick to a stagnant boring situation rather than shake things up change things and perhaps and make a few mistakes along the way. The only way to learn is to try and any time you try you will always have some amount of failure.

    As we say in the martial arts “A black belt is just a white belt who never quit”.

  38. I bookmarked this web address a while ago because of the new content and I have never been let down. Continue the quality work.

  39. […] The 3:1 ratio predicts this “upward spiral” of flourishing. The thing this, if you are not flourishing, you are languishing, or spiraling downward. As Jonathan Fields puts it, There Is No Sideways in Life. […]

  40. […] destroy our dreams. We call upon it to become a fact, or we cancel our previous instructions.”There is no sideways, we’re always choosing, moving up or down, even when we choose not to […]

  41. […] There is no sideways, we’re always choosing, moving up or down, even when we choose not to choose. […]

  42. […] On the surface that might not seem like a big deal, especially if you believe yourself to be perfectly happy where you are.  But, as Jonathan Fields pointed out – “There is no coasting.  There is no neutral.  No sideways.” […]