“Hell hounds on your trail, boy, hell hounds on your trail.”
The quote above is from one of my favorite movies of all time: Crossroads. (No, not that Crossroads – the other one.) If you haven’t seen this mid-80s gem, I’d highly recommend it – particularly if you play guitar or have an appreciation for the blues.
As a young man, Willie Brown made a deal with the devil at a certain crossroads deep in the Mississippi Delta – the same crossroads where Robert Johnson struck a similar bargain. Like the blues guitar legend, Willie exchanged the eternal rights to his soul for musical ability. Although Willie had fleeting moments of fame as Willie “Blind Dog Fulton”, his life hadn’t turned out the way he wanted. The due date of Willie’s eternal payment was quickly approaching. At the end of his life, detained in a correctional medical facility, he was vexed by that inevitability. Hell hounds were on his trail.
Hell hound inevitability
Have you ever wrestled with hell hound inevitability? Is there a dark or negative force in your life that has achieved relative omnipresence? That’s what I think of as a hell hound. Sometimes you hear distant barking. Other times the beast comes so close you can feel its dank breath as it nips at your heels. If you sit still, it will get you. There is a constant, nagging pressure to outrun it, outperform it, outsmart it.
If there are actual demon dogs chasing you and you came here in search of a 10 Steps to Escape Hellish Canines type of how-to guide, this post will not help you. In fact, you should stop reading this immediately and call Animal Control. They won’t be able to stop the evil mutts, of course, but it could buy you some time. While the mongrels feast on the flesh of an unlucky county worker, I’d recommend you rent a canoe and head out into the middle of a lake. I’m no expert, but I’d be surprised if the pooches can swim. If they can swim, at least you’d have the tactical advantage. Have you ever seen a dog swim? It’s neither scary nor fast. If you had to, you could whack the supernatural puppers with your paddle as they approach. Be strong, my friend.
Nay, we’re squarely in the realm of the metaphorical. A hell hound could be anything, really: a medical diagnosis, hurtful words or actions from a loved one, childhood trauma, or any number of fears. Mine is failure.
Failure avoidance, or nonfailure as I like to call it, has been the biggest negative-motivator in my adult life. Personally, professionally, and everything in between, my existence as a human is marked by an intense desire not to fail – to avoid living in a van down by the river. (I do realize that some people are really into the Van Life but this is not that. The van I’m referring to is not a custom Mercedes Sprinter and taking up residence therein is not by choice.)
I don’t go through each day continuously, or even consciously, thinking about failure. It’s something that ebbs and flows in the recesses of my brain-parts. But the signals can color my thoughts and actions if I let them. Left unchecked, my day-to-day interactions, tasks, and activities are reframed with an inflated sense of urgency. Each thing becomes an opportunity to fail and I work hard to prevent that from happening. On the surface, this manifests as “thoroughness”, “diligence,” or possibly “razzle-dazzle.” Under the hood, my hyper-vigilance is fueled by that fear of failure. (If you’ve read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, what I describe is giving an exorbitant quantity of F*cks to most things, most of the time.)
“A lot of what you shared just sounds logical,” you’re thinking. “Being diligent, cautious, analytical, and self-aware is just part of being a good adult earthling.” (I should mention that this blog is outfitted with the Thought Catcher 3000 – the latest in psychic probe technology.)
Fair. The outcomes are generally positive and thus labeling these characteristics beneficial, or even necessary, is not unreasonable. While the ends are positive, the means totally suck. Action motivated by the avoidance of a perceived impending disaster, tends to bludgeon one’s innards. At best, it causes internal weather conditions to be dark and stormy. At worst, it results in a “fight or flight” existence.
Why share this?
A big driver behind this blog is to share my life experiences and lessons learned. I’ve chosen, with posts like these, to lift the veil in hopes of helping and connecting with others.
I didn’t truly identify my wiring and learn to overcome anxiety-driven behaviors until my early 40s. Upcoming posts in this series will explore how I made this discovery, why it took me so long to figure it out, and my strategy for keeping anxiety in check.
What’s chasing you?