What Are You Avoiding?

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What Are You Avoiding?

I’ve always been quite fond of semicolons and em dashes; they’re both pretty neat pieces of punctuation.

Despite my admiration for both, it’s been over a year since I started this blog and I don’t think I’ve ever used either in my writing—until today that is.

My college essays used to be sprinkled with both and they would be in every other sentence. My English professor eventually told me to stop using them because it was obvious I didn’t know how to properly use either.

There are probably at least a dozen grammatical errors per article—but I try my best. Even even after a year of writing and nearly 100 articles published, these are two basic pieces of punctuation that I’ve refrained from using because I didn’t know how to use them.

It’s funny because it only takes about five seconds to Google; I just searched for how to use the em dash and semicolon and here I am, using both!

It may sound silly to you, but it really makes me wonder what else I’m avoiding. We’ve all got something.

Just think about how many times you’ve stayed away from something because you were afraid of what others might think. I always get the urge to insert em dashes and semicolons into my writing, but I didn’t want to be criticized for mistakes while using them.

How often do you have to say “No thanks” because you didn’t know how to do something and you never bothered to put the effort in to learn? Look how long it took for me to Google two simple grammatical rules.

There are so many things I either don’t know how to do, or am too afraid that someone will point and laugh, that I decide to stick with what I know.

Dashes and semicolons? I’ll stick to periods and commas, thank you very much!

Not anymore—I’m tired of it!

I’m done avoiding what I don’t know. I’m also done being lazy and apathetic.

I think it’s time we teach ourselves and stop being afraid.

Tell me—what are you avoiding right now?

Photo Credit: Peter – Flickr

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway. After landing his dream job with Empire Flippers, he dropped out of college and began living a location independent lifestyle (still always drawn to coffee shops though.) Don't worry, he still publishes every Monday and hasn't missed a single week since starting this site in January 2013.

Latest posts by Vincent Nguyen (see all)

35 responses to What Are You Avoiding?

  1. It is interesting that you again talk about things I thought about lately …

  2. I personally avoid going to huge parties because I tend to be afraid of meeting new people. The funny thing is, I love being around people being half an introvert and half an extrovert. I think it’s just the initial hello gets me all the time which has the potential to lead to an awkward silent.

    I think you’ve used the colon and semi-colon quite well in this post. It never occurred to me that they’re a tricky punctuation. :)

    • I’m the same way! Almost every time I’m getting ready to go out with a group of friends there’s a part of me that’s nervous (even if I’ve known everyone who will be there for a long time.) My nervousness is often followed by “Maybe I should just stay home” and I have to snap myself out of it. 99.99999% of the time I end up being glad I went.

      Here’s a conversation starter for the next time you have awkward silence and you don’t know what to say. “Have… You heard of SelfStairway.com?” Heh, joking. :)

      If anything I can just claim “artistic choice” if there’s a comma where there shouldn’t be.

  3. Ahh, punctuation. I used to read a lot of overly descriptive fantasy novels when I was younger. The kind that has page long sentences separated by only commas, so you can guess what my English teachers had to say about my punctuation over the years.

    Using long sentences still comes naturally to me, but I’m starting to learn how to add some shorter ones in there as well. Haha.

    I’ve been avoiding a couple of things until very recently, and I am sure there are a few more that I am forgetting. For example I had been avoiding focusing on getting back on track with my daily habit., And it ended up with me taking 3-4 extra weeks to get any noticeable amount of actual work done. I guess habits really are pretty damn important, huh.

    I’ve also avoided meeting new people recently, which is a huge waste of opportunity. Will add to my to-do-list for sure, and actually follow through, whether I think I’d like to or not. (Like you I tend to worry about it beforehand, but end up enjoying it and being glad I went later on, haha. )

    • That reminds me! Although I’ve mentioned this in a recent article, I’ve been avoiding traveling and taking more private lessons. Someone find me a drum, swimming, tango, and bartending coach please. :)

      • Maybe you’ve also been putting off becoming a master at finding great coaches. Maybe it becomes a skill you can base your first business on: “FindyaCoach.com” “Are you tired of trying to find professional coaches on the internet, and only getting self-proclaimed life coaches as results? Then you’ve come to the right place! *infomercial smile and thumbs up*”

  4. You forgot a bunch of commas between independent clauses, Vincent. xD This article made me laugh. Life challenges using a rather silly example–I love it. Maybe the things we avoid so aggressively really aren’t as big as we make them out to be. As a Lit nerd, the trick to getting semicolons and em dashes right is to use them sparingly for dramatic effect since the difference is that they’re a slightly longer pause without breaking the sentence. Have a good day, Vincent.

  5. Good one, Vincent! I still don’t really know how to use them to be honest!

  6. I avoid getting started in tattooing. I like to draw, made a t-shirt for my brothers first amateur fight (turned out great). Drawing on paper and peoples skin are two completely different mediums, I am terrified to mess up. So, even though it’s part of the process of being a new tattoo artist it scares the crap out of me but I could make so much money doing tattoos. Thanks for your articles, they’re very insightful!

    • That sounds like an incredibly fun hobby, David! I know nothing about tattooing, but is there any way you can practice on yourself? Obviously not with permanent ink–and you may not have the best tools to start out with–but at least you’d be getting some hours in!

  7. I avoid avoidance. This is a definite mindset. I have phobias. Everyone does. For me one is public speaking. I have and still speak in front of hundreds but still the anxiety and sick feeling that rise in the approach of the event are not pleasant. Doing the speech in spite of the fear is therapeutic since every next talking engagement gets easier. One phobia for one of my friends is spiders and snakes. Now they can give a speech no problem but put them in a room with a little garter snake and they’ll wet their pants. When they finally get out the door it’s as if their hair is on fire. Practice systematic desensitization to become better adjusted to the holes or gaps in our strong inner fiber. How could our forefathers and mothers have survived all of the real world tragedies they had to? They had the power and so do you. Go out and do something you are afraid of today.

    • Great advice, Nick. I also find that bringing myself closer to the fear and getting through them over and over helps me conquer them. Public speaking is still a big fear of mine but whenever the opportunity presents itself I try to give it my best. It gets easier but it may never go away. I’m okay with that, as long as there’s improvement.

  8. I know that a ton of yoga studios sell these t-shirts. I do not know the legalities… But, they do fly of the rack! Great idea! And, great article as always:)!

    • Thanks, Jessica! Not too many people responded showing interest in the t-shirts (out of ~800 who opened the email,) so that tells me there isn’t enough people to warrant it just yet. :)

  9. I am doing the dating scene and it scares the crap out of me, I go to social dinners and online dating but it disheartening on so many levels.

  10. Just don’t abuse those semi-colons and dashes. I hardly ever use either, less because I fear using them and more because they are often not needed. Semi-colons are probably the most misunderstood and misused punctuation. Dashes can be cool for a break that needs more emphasis than a comma from time to time, but again, I hardly ever use them. Way to step out and take a chance though.

  11. Hey Vincent,

    I’ve been reading your blog for about 6 months now, just about as long as I’ve been writing my own. I must say, for a young man you have some terrific insight on things, and I also appreciate your honestly and transparency about things.

    As an older guy who also writes about lifestyle and personal development, I see things from a different perspective; and the first thing I took from todays post was that your English Professor was a jerk – he should have HELPED you understand – not condoned your lack of understanding – of how to use the semicolons and em dashes. We call giving this kind of direction “Leadership”, and it’s what separates “Those who do” from “Those who don’t” in life… and trust me, you are one who does, and who will do well in life.

    Congratulations on all your success, and please stop by my blog and say “Hi” if you get a chance. David

    • David,

      Glad you decided to stop by! Thanks for the kind words and for being a fan for so long.

      Quick question, have you noticed any changes in my writing quality from when you first started until today? I sort of want to hear this question answered by as many people as possible because I’m always looking to improve. :)

      Nah, the professor was definitely the OPPOSITE of a jerk. She was probably one of my favorites back in my college days. Kind of weird that she didn’t show me how but hey, when you’re correcting hundreds of papers on a weekly basis I can see how one-to-one help can slip through the cracks.

      Will be stopping by!

      • To answer your question, I can’t say that I’ve noticed a difference in your writing per se, but your posts are well written, thoughtful and always have a beginning, middle and end – so I think your writing has been pretty good all along! Good to hear that teacher was supportive of you – I’ve had a few bad ones in my time, by hey, probably because they were from a different generation!

        Cheers and thanks for stopping by my blog – what did you think of it?

        • I’ve only read one article so far because that was the one that I found of interest from skimming through headlines. It offered practical advice almost right off the bat thanks to your “money rules.” The headline in itself was excellent was it had me wondering what the two sentences were the whole time. Great tie-in. All in all, valuable advice, especially for a youngster like me. :)

  12. There is only one thing in life better than a semi colon; and that’s an article about semi colons.

    I also write my em dashes with a hyphen – I don’t know why – probably because I’m lazy.

    • Another good reason to use hyphens instead is the fact that some places format the em dash strangely. Instead of merging them into one solid line it keeps them separates as two hyphens. Let’s test it out–boom!

  13. Great article Vincent. I pretty familiar with semicolons but haven’t really used much dashes in my writing. I now understand them a little better.

    My biggest fear is seeming like I don’t know what I’m talking about and leads to avoidance of many things. That may be direct conversations with strangers, presenting and voicing my opinions. I think you bring up a good point here that it boils down knowledge. More knowledge increases confidence. Confidence hopefully prevents avoidance behaviour.

    • That definitely was a big point in the article and I’m glad that was clear. :)

      Knowledge can come from experiencing something over and over again. The more you have direct conversations with a stranger or voicing your opinions, the easier it gets. I think we all know this but getting that first stone rolling is the toughest part. It’s sort of like procrastination for me where the hardest step is just starting in the first place.

  14. I avoid…

    1. Professional wrestlers (good guys and bad guys, but especially good guys, because I get a sense they’re bad guys in real life).

    2. Talking about stuff I avoid, other than with my most trusted posse, or if I’m using it as a teaching tool. It gives power to it in ways I’m not comfortable with.

    Sidenote…I don’t know if you’re technical writing has gotten better or not. But your insight is inspiring, no doubt to the younger generation. Great job, Vincent!

  15. I needed to read this today! The most rewarding goals that I accomplish are the ones that are the hardest and seem the most scary. Like Dori says in Finding Nemo, just keep swimming!!

  16. I’ve been out of work for a period of time now, but am having difficulty completing an app on line- really avoiding completion to be honest. Not sure what figures more highly- being rejected or actually getting the job. And does it even matter?

    • I think of it like cold calling potential clients for a business. You have this nice long list of leads and you don’t pick up the phone/write the email/etc. because you’re afraid they’ll say no. So you keep them in the queue because then you can at least save yourself from a “no.”

      But it’s crazy, isn’t it? Because if you don’t pick up that phone, write that email, or fill out that job application, you’re basically getting a no already. The end result of the rejection is the same as inaction. You won’t get anyone to say “yes” until you pull the trigger and actually ask or try.

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