How You Lose Your Edge (and How to Find It Again)
“We waste our lives trying to recreate these zones of safety, which are always falling apart.”
Late one evening, my best friend and I walk home to my small apartment in Hollywood when two men emerge from the sidewalk and point guns at our bellies. Don’t scream, they say. It’ll be okay, as long as we don’t scream. My friend whimpers. I hand over my wallet, look away, and the men bolt. We hear their feet slap the pavement until the sound becomes distant then disappears. My friend and I put our hands around each other’s shaking bodies. Fifty feet away, the intersection bustles with partygoers in Halloween costumes. We thought we were safe with so many people around. But that night, we learned that danger is often closer than it seems.
When I tell the story, I joke it off — the muggers were so polite! — but it was still a traumatic experience, an event that undermines your sense of self and confidence to navigate the world. It’s not like we went to war, but you still lose something when you experience an event like that. And life is full of events like that.
When we got mugged, I had just moved to Los Angeles from Houston because I wanted to be a writer. One doesn’t really need to move across the country to do that, but it felt like a bold move to a new place would inspire a bold move in my career. Weeks before I left, I got an email out of the blue. Subject line: You’re making a huge mistake! It was from an old colleague, an engineer I used to work with who got wind of my plans. We used to have long lunchtime conversations about how he felt trapped and unappreciated in the same job for decades. About how he felt trapped and unappreciated in his marriage, but divorce still tore him apart. I should get out when I can, he said. Do something with my life. If anything, our conversations inspired me to leave. But now, he insisted that I would fail and come home with my tail between my legs, as though the embarrassment of failure should keep anyone from trying. But I couldn’t be mad at the email. We get older, life happens, and we become skeptical of enthusiasm. Playing it safe becomes a survival mechanism. You reject anything that takes you out of your comfort zone.