Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


A new year without fear

The new year is around the corner. If you don’t like the year that’s ending, I have some advice:  Don’t repeat it next year.

Earlier this year, one of my friends was given a rare opportunity:  a one-year fellowship on the east coast where she could pursue her writing with no expenses and with a good strong stipend. This would mean, however, leaving all her friends on the west coast, and, more dramatically, her sinecure position at a major university, where they give you all those things that so many people are wishing they had right now:  a steady job with retirement benefits and a 401k and health and medical and flexible hours and many other perks. She would have to leave that and roll the dice for this one-year gig. I told her to do it. I couldn’t imagine a reason not to. She doesn’t have any dependents. And I’m confident that some other opportunity will arise for her by the end of this fellowship — and if it doesn’t, she’ll have to go make one of some kind.

But here’s the even better story.

A few years ago the business of one of my very best friends was failing. This business had been up to then the entirety of his professional career, and it was important work, the sort that all of us need to have done at some point or another, and he was very very good at it. But his local market had shifted dramatically and business had shrunk for years, and now he was facing real trouble. During one soul-searching phone call, I could hear the panic and upset in his voice. I told him something like this:  “You know, you can do anything you want to. You don’t have to run this business any more. What do you have to be afraid of? You’re smart, and you’re healthy, and people like you. You’ve got half your life ahead of you. Go do something else. Go do something you want to. Your life can be anything you want it to be.” I know we hear this sort of thing all the time, but it’s like the muzak in the background:  We don’t really listen to it. But unbelievably, thankfully, my friend actually heard this and now — and here’s the beautiful thing — now he’s in the business of caring for people and saving their lives. Earlier tonight here’s what he emailed me (I’ve edited out a little personal information):


I’m going to South Africa in March.

Going with [other medical professionals] from [big-name university].

Visiting HIV wards out in the countryside, big hospitals in Johannesburg.
Helping nurses there, observing.
Visiting the prison where Mandela was held, on Robben Island.

I just found out, and had to tell someone.

If you think this couldn’t have been you, you’re wrong. The shackles on us are placed there by ourselves; every day should be a willful decision to lead the life you’re leading. For myself, I’m having incredible fun lately, really. My new plays are humming along (I’m always writing more than one), my business is doing very well and I’m having a blast working on what we’re working on, I’m grateful for my wife and my family and my friends and my business partner and the people I work with. Life is good. It may seem unkind to say that when so many people are struggling through very difficult economic times right now. But I think it would be crueler to not hold out the hope that for many of the people we know, they could make a change if they wanted to. If your 2010 wasn’t what you wanted, perhaps now is the time to ask yourself how to make the most of 2011.

In the meantime, I’m very proud to know the man going to South Africa to help the sick and the dying, and to call him my friend.

There is perhaps nothing so bad and so dangerous in life as fear — Jawaharlal Nehru

2 Responses to “A new year without fear”

  1. Jim Markley Says:

    Thank you and Happy New Year.

  2. Kelly Carruolo Says:

    Just catching up on your Blog in need of something uplifting.This was just what I needed hear today. I am thrilled for your friend. What an amazing opportunity for this year…What a incredible juxtaposition!

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