Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

I chided my eleven-year-old son last week on his insistence that the lights in his room be left on at bedtime (ever since seeing the “Ghostbusters” remake this summer.) “Nothing’s going to get you,” I teased him. “Don’t be afraid of the dark.”

“I’m not afraid of the dark … but leave it on anyway.” he urged me.

I will say his twin sister has no problem sleeping in pitch black so it’s obviously got nothing to do with nurture!

Kidding aside, being afraid of the “dark” or the unknown is not just an issue kids grapple with.  When I eschewed a highly-paid respectable career to pursue my dream of starting a consultancy a few years back, I was treated to a virtual smorgasbord of other people’s fears. Friends and strangers helpfully volunteered:

“I would never be able to start my own business. The stress would kill me.”

“Can’t believe you did that. What happens if everybody hates you and money runs out?”

“The problem with me is that I like to see way out into the horizon. You can’t see 2 feet in front of your face in your situation.”

“I would hate to have to scale down my lifestyle at this point.”

And on.

And on.

A lot of people know where they want to go or what they ultimately want to do but are put off by the ambiguous zone in-between their current and future states.  It’s a scary place because we don’t know what’s going to happen on the way. Because it’s dark.

So the question becomes, “How do we navigate this dark zone between where we are and where we want to be?” The answer? “Leave the lights on!”

We need to expose the issues to daylight before we decide they are indeed too big and hairy to contend with.

There are four strategies for assessing the boogeymen that reside in our psyches:

1.      Conduct triage-  I once worked on an improvement project for a large medical provider. Part of the issue was the crazy wait time in their urgent care unit. They were set up with 3 triage areas to process incoming patients. However, the triage process varied greatly depending on the provider manning the desk! The triage wasn’t working as it should. Ask yourself, is what I’m worried about really going to bring ruin to my career or family? Will it potentially cause some short term pain but worth the upside? Or maybe nobody will mock me at all? Are the risks less likely to occur than the benefits are to manifest?

2.      Ask “What’s really the worst that can happen?”– I used to hate giving presentations. But I realized (eventually) that while the audience might indeed disagree everything I had to say, if I provoked thought it was a success. The worst that would happen is a question would be asked that I didn’t know the answer to or that they were bored silly. That’s it. The human mind is second to none in its creativity. What are the specific disasters your brain has concocted for you? Take those, figure out the probability and seriousness of each, and plan preventive actions for the hairiest ones. For extra credit, plan a contingent action for the one you are most worried about in case your mitigating plan falls flat.

3.      Recognize the horizon problem–  I’ve always loved the ocean, having grown up not far from the beaches of South Carolina. As a kid, I always marveled at how far I thought I could see into the vastness of the sea. I later learned the average adult standing at sea level looking at the ocean horizon can only see 3 miles before the curvature of the earth interferes with seeing further.  Thus, the horizon problem: you can only see so far.  Those that take risks in life are faced with low visibility- that’s just part of the deal. But just because you can’t see very far out doesn’t mean there aren’t good things just around the bend. It’s just that you don’t see them yet.

4.      Resist natural inclinations– I had a person who once worked for me admit a during a performance review: “When I get scared, I get very defensive and I WILL lash out.” What’s your tendency when faced with adversity or darkness? Realize that most issues are merely actions to be properly categorized. They are usually:

a.      A problem that just needs to be solved

b.      A decision that just needs to be made

c.      An implementation that needs to be carried out

d.      Priorities that should be clarified and managed

The list above offers personal examples of how to make needed change happen. Your examples will differ but the fundamental questions are the same:

What are you afraid of in the dark?

Is it really there?

That being said, my eleven year-old still keeps the light on.