Horses are Afraid, Go Karts Are Not

Horses are Afraid, Go Karts Are Not

I have a mere eight minutes to post this, but the thoughts have been with me all weekend. I will expand on this later.

The ideas I have been writing about the past few weeks have been around extracting improved performance out of my existing set of capabilities. I’m a person, flawed in many ways, with a few good properties that might work really well if I knew how to manage them. The analogy I made was that I was a kind of go kart that (assuming good maintenance) would be able to perform at my best when driven intelligently. The analogy is a little flawed…I should really think of myself as a horse, not a vehicle.

Why a horse? Everything I know about horses comes from reading my sister’s horse books when I was a kid. What I understand is that they are rather high-strung, fearful, and jittery unless they have a good rapport with their rider. As a team, the rider and the horse can win races if they learn how to focus together.

The other day I was talking to my friend Angela, and she pointed out that maybe I lacked the guts to do a lot of the things I dream of doing. And on reflection, I realized she was right. As accomplished and competent as I am, I nevertheless have let my life be shaped by avoidance and by fear. In the areas that I have grown the most, I had identified and faced those fears. However, it’s easy to forget that my “preferences” for doing things certain ways are really a way to avoid feeling under scrutiny, out-of-place, lost, stupid, trapped, or incompetent. And what is interesting is that I can divide my skillset into ones that were developed primarily as a reaction to those fears. What is even MORE interesting is that there are also some skills I have that were developed as a reaction to joy. I’d never made that distinction before, and I think this might give me a way of determining with a little more certainty which skills should be adopted into my main line of work.

But I’m out of time. I’ll expand on this later.


  1. Magnus Wood 13 years ago

    In short you are talking about motivations that either PULL you to something – driven by joy, and motivations that PUSH you – driven by fear

    I posted the other day on Drive vs. Passion – it’s this idea of push versus pull.  See:

    Passion pulls you towards something you can’t resist.  You might try – for years – but it just won’t go away.  It’s your answer to the question “If money wasn’t an issue I’d like to spend the rest of my life…”

    Drive pushes you toward something you feel compelled or obligated to do.

    Joy and passion vs. fear and uncertainty.

    No brainer.

  2. Jeff 13 years ago

    I’m surprised to hear you say these things. Not so much your ability for self-analysis, which always proves to be honest and insightful, but the fact that you say you’re afraid.

    It takes a lot of guts to run one’s own business. There’s no safety net of a benefits package (which is especially scary in the States when it’s described as the “only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage”), and you’ve been doing this for a decade now. You have to find your own work. You’re responsible for absolutely everything, and if you make an honest mistake, you could be left without nothing.

    It takes confidence to document your failings as well as your successes online, where everyone can see.

    Perhaps you lack guts in certain areas of your life, but definitely not in others, and I wouldn’t say that it’s an overall picture. Not from the way I see it, at least.

  3. Gabe Morton-Cook 13 years ago

    This post reminds me a lot of the ‘elephant and rider’ analogy from the book The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.  Basically, nearly all of our everyday actions are controlled by our subconscious (the Elephant).  The elephant works on instinct and does what is necessary to keep us alive. It’s with great practice and mental training that we can learn to guide our subconscious to work with our logical, active mind in way that is beneficial to us as a whole.

  4. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Magnus: That’s an interesting analogy, push versus pull. At first I was going to say it wasn’t very helpful, as it presumes that you know what genuinely is a life push or life pull. I think there’s an underlying mission. Here I am trying to get more specific with the sources of push and pull. What is fear? What is joy? What is reflex? What is a life pattern? However, I think it’s still a useful analysis, so I’ll add it to my mix of tests. I think the simple language, though, creates an “enlightenment threshold” because it reads the answer should be obvious when it is not (at least, not to the person seeking enlightenment).

  5. Dave Seah 13 years ago


    The danger of saying that you are afraid is that people get the wrong idea. I hesitated to post the “fear” thing for just this reason, but I figured I should start the dialog. I’m not making a declaration of fearfulness and reaching for support. I’m just stating some facts. In the followup post I’ll make that clearer. I appreciate your outreach, though, buddy!

    Fear (which I’m thinking of as any “negative emotional stimulus”) is very personal and subtly intertwined into the base emotional operating system. Some of the underlying fears are so old and under control that we don’t think of them anymore, but they manifest as barriers or compartments in our personality.

    In my case, the whole running one’s own business thing ISN’T a fear factor for me. At least, it isn’t anymore. My business is a ad-hoc shambles of impulses and luck, but I have always thought that I could get a job somewhere and survive if it came down to it. There are, however, very specific fears that I perceive as being barriers.

    I think the same thing can be said about horses. Some are great runners but are skittish with things to their sides as they run. So, put blinders on them and deal with that. The entire animal is capable of greatness, but there are a few things that maybe hold it back.

  6. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Gabe: That’s an intriguing reference…thanks for mentioning it!

  7. Jenna Puckett 13 years ago

    I’m a new reader of your blog, but I like your exploration of motivation, balance, and producing quality work. I am a college student balancing a part time research job, engineering classes, and trying to have a social life!

    I too want to make myself as efficient as possible, and produce large amounts of quality work. I continue, however, to spend large amounts of time reading blogs and random material vaguely related to my project. This randomness can be useful, but at a point it becomes unproductive.

    I am also continuing a mental debate about social time vs. alone time. A way to produce more quality work is to isolate yourself, but developing and maintaining social connections is important and time intensive.

  8. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Jenna: It sounds like we’re in similar places. I think one of my major challenges at this point in time is to maintain dynamic balance between social and alone time, and between opportunity and responsibility. The straightforward engineering solution would be to schedule and practice time and distraction management. However, when those opportunities come up, then time management goes out the window.

    I think one of my essential “fears” is that I’ll miss out on something. I missed out on a lot growing up, and I don’t want to miss any more. Actually, I’ve stopped reading blogs regularly myself because there is just so much good stuff out there that I know I can easily find it. I suppose I can apply the same reasoning to social time. It’s there when I want it, now, after having spent the past two years connecting with local communities. Since you’re in college, it’s a LOT easier to be social and find social things to do. On the other hand, it’s also so new and exciting that it’s hard to ignore it :)