On soul-searching afternoons, I retreat from my self-doubt and recline under the oldest cottonwood tree in Carson City and have a conversation with Mark Twain.

Although I missed him by over 100 years, the wisdom of his famous phrases washes over me like a soft zephyr. I can almost hear his voice as he whispers bits and pieces of his sage advice. Today, I’ve come to ask him for help with my self-doubt and perceived deficiencies.

I tell Mark Twain, “Sometimes I have a hard time getting rid of a habit that doesn’t serve my best interest. What should I do?”

He smiles at me and says, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time.”

“But what if I spend most of my day trying to fix these flaws? It seems like my whole life is spent thinking about them.”

Mark Twain seems to agree with me. “Life does not consist mainly – or even largely – of facts and happenings,” he says. “It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that are forever blowing through one’s mind.”

I’m interrupted by a brief rustling of the cottonwood leaves. I squeeze my eyes shut even tighter, trying to concentrate.

“Don’t you ever worry that unhealthy thoughts and habits will take over your entire life?”

Mark Twain chuckles at this remark. “I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened,” he says.

The leaves are rustling harder now. Mark Twain is preparing himself to go. But he pauses and calls back over his shoulder, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

I open my eyes. Mark Twain is gone. The old cottonwood is still standing, ready to provide shade and courage for another 100 years.