“Moderation?” He leaped up on the desk, like an evangelist. “Moderation? It’s mediocrity, fear, and confusion in disguise. It’s the devil’s reasonable deception. It’s the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy. Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence sitters of the world afraid to take a stand. It’s for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those afraid to live or die. Moderation”—he took a deep breath, getting ready for his final condemnation—“is lukewarm tea, the devil’s own brew.”
Way of the Peaceful Warrior
by Dan Millman

“Why are you always so serious? Why don’t you smile more?” From parents to girlfriends. From wives to a few close friends and many workplace acquaintances, it’s been a constant refrain. From every possible perspective I’ve heard some variation of, “Why can’t you relax, be silly, and have a little fun?” It’s been gently pointed out with maternal concern by classroom teachers. It’s been shared by objective observers whose opinions I respected. I’m sure my mother, a bubbly social extrovert, always excited to meet new people, has often wondered if I was mistakenly switched at birth in the hospital nursery.

Echoing in the back of my mind for years, I’ve been on the receiving end of a girlfriend’s wrath, laced with frustration, sarcasm and ridicule: I was embarrassing her. I couldn’t relate to her verbose girlfriends and certainly hadn’t developed the extroverted social skills necessary to fake a shallow hug and an empty air kiss on the cheek. I’ve tried being silly, conforming to fit in, but instead of feeling like part of the crowd, I usually felt awkward and distant. I’m sure the group around me felt the same.

Why isn’t it enough to enjoy the simple pleasures of a mindless day without trying to compete, sometimes with others, but mostly against the face reflected in the mirror? Why does the unrelenting desire to grow turn everything into a mission? A number of times I’ve tried letting go, pretending to be a leaf on a stream. Existing without purpose, passively accepting life as it came, I hated every complacent minute. Instead of relaxing into the moment, I was fighting an internal battle. Without a significant load, an impossible goal, or a set of challenging problems, the relentless engine of my mind implodes from boredom.

I’m fifty-two now, so why can’t I surrender to age, safely sliding through the rest of this life before slipping into a soft hospital bed and a quiet, peaceful death? It’s because I’ve never been able to let go. I don’t know any other way of living. I relish the adventure of life and the interesting problems it presents. Swimming in deep pools of curiosity, I continue to savor the intensity of new challenges as I examine the unwinding mysteries of the world.

I stepped into my first martial arts dojo at twenty-eight. I started water-skiing on a slalom course at thirty-two. I ventured into the Canadian Rockies at thirty-eight to learn how to snow ski. This year, I entered the dynamic worlds of motorsports, heli-skiing, and skydiving. The more difficult the obstacles, the more unexpected twists and turns, the greater the satisfaction during the journey. I have an unyielding need to explore, expanding my knowledge, not only of the natural world, but what I’m capable of as a man.

When I reached five decades of life, I frequently heard new questions. “Dan, when are you going to stop doing these crazy things? When are you going to quit playing and join the adults?”

My response? “Never. I’m not playing.”

The questions surprised me. Why would I knowingly walk away from pleasure? What possible reason could I find to deliberately close a door on curiosity? When do I become too old to set new goals? I don’t want to retire from work or play, sublimating my thirst for new challenges. The interest and intensity pursuing new goals has never diminished. I continue to discover, and sometimes rediscover, untapped physical and mental abilities. Even more interesting is experiencing deeper levels of emotion, particularly the unique resonance of satisfaction. I want to savor all of it until the moment I depart this life.

I hope I meet my end on a steep mountain-side skiing at the limit of my ability, on a golf course admiring a long slow draw falling towards the green, or slumped over a chess board, my mind intensely contemplating the variations of moves six steps ahead. Better yet, my heart pumping its last ounce of oxygen filled blood, I’d prefer to die in the arms of a woman I trusted enough to set aside the thick armor of my emotional protection.

At fifty-two I’ve spent most of my life immersed in the hyper-competitive worlds of banking, technology, and sports. I’ve devoted years to introspection, carefully observing my thoughts and reactions to structured process and long, drawn-out strategies. With a little maturity and perhaps a tiny bit of wisdom, all built on a mountain of mistakes, I’ve made inroads into the moments when I perform well. These rare moments of inspired performance have always followed a process of setting a large, almost impossible goal before developing an incremental, step-by-step plan to achieve that objective.

This book began as a daily journal charting my attempt to challenge an internal monster: my lifelong fear of heights. Once the journey began, I noticed my entries becoming an evolving mystery. Each day revealing new insights, I wondered how fifty-two years of life had prepared me to challenge my most dreaded foe. Would I finally overcome it once and for all, another satisfying check mark of achievement or slip into the dangerous shadows of my many weaknesses? My journal, unfolding into a day-by-day mystery, eventually became a memoir, a mirror into an intimate relationship with fear.

This is that story