Two years ago, things weren't going great for me. I knew that I wanted to change my job, change my life - I wanted to be somebody. The kind of guy people looked at in bars and thought, "wow, I wish I could punch that guy", because I'm so obviously successful. But I realised that the only thing that was holding me back from success was the fear of failure. That and, of course, falling down a municipal manhole.
I started reading about all the most successful people I could think of - Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg. I saw something they all had in common - they had overcome the worry that they were shooting too high and reaching too far. And each of them presumably had to conquer their fear of tumbling down a manhole that had been left open perhaps during road works. I thought, "I'm shit scared of this happening to me. But those people must have had the same fear". So I thought: what if I started thinking the same way? Saying "yes" to that little child inside me that wanted to dream big, whilst also not falling down a manhole that some busy worker has left uncovered.
Successful people are not immune to manholes. We just don't focus on that when talking about their achievements. It's easy to imagine that as a boy Neil Armstrong, when he first looked at the moon and dared to dream he would walk on that dusty frontier of human discovery, immediately then fell down a manhole. Do you seriously think Eleanor Roosevelt, as she fought to establish universal human rights, would not have occasionally failed to pay heed to a "Water works - use side path" sign? That doesn't make sense to me.
And here's the kicker. I realised that, sure, most of the times I've tried and failed to achieve something, it was because I fell down a manhole. But it wasn't the manhole itself that stopped me. It was the me falling down it. Once I'd fallen down the manhole, all I had to do was get myself in a frame of mind and the physical position to get out of it. Then the rest was easy - just walk away. But I had to make sure I didn't then walk straight over another uncovered manhole and fall right down it. Then I'd basically be back to square one.
Being stuck down a manhole is never as bad as you think it will be. It's just we have this culture of having to constantly not be down a manhole. Figure it this way: to someone who has always lived down a manhole, you seem like someone who's fallen out of a manhole. Wouldn't it be great if just once schoolchildren were told to worry less about manholes - real or imagined - and focus on being who they want to be?
Once I started to think more philosophically about manholes, my life changed for the better. I got the job I really wanted - playing smooth panpipe music for use in massage parlours. I finally asked my dream girl if she'd go for a drink with me - and she said yes! And at the end of the evening after I walked her to her door, I plucked up the courage to kiss her on the back of the neck. Was I scared? Yes, because you never know where the next manhole is. But I decided that if I was going to live my life, I had to accept that fear and move on - albeit carefully and whilst paying attention to roadwork signs.
The moral of the story? Hell, if you haven't got it by now, maybe you never will. I guess Sartre put it well when he said "hope is the only real way of being - fear is just a lack of hope, and therefore life". He might well have added, "also falling down a manhole isn't as bad as you'd think". And he would have been right if he had added that.