I almost always advocate that you take action in a troublesome situation. But there are times when it is advantageous to put on your blinders. Grace reminded me of that advice the other night, along with offering clues to the appropriate time to take cover.
This past week in New Hampshire, we’ve had some thunderstorms rumble through. On Wednesday night, just after we went to bed, the skies lit up with lightning as if it were fireworks from the 4th of July. Grace sleeps in a crate with the door open so she can come and go but the enclosure gives her some comfort even on normal nights. This particular evening, with the lightning fast and furious, she started to pace. There wasn’t much thunder but the continuous flashes of light were frightening. I invited her to jump in bed but she continued to pace. She knew that even in our bed she could see the same thing so that wasn’t really a better option in her mind.
I got up and went into my sewing room, fetched a large piece of fabric that I could drape over the top of her crate. Right away, she went back in, curled up, and settled in her blankets. Even though the cotton cloth had not fully eliminated the disturbance, it was enough so she could calm herself down. I’m sure she wasn’t completely at ease, but this artificial barrier had provided a cocoon of safety.
Blinders can help you get through an anxious moment
There are times in our workplaces that we can do the same thing: put blinders on to help us get through an anxious moment. Here are my guidelines for appropriate times to do so. Every situation is different so it’s hard to offer absolute parameters, but these are times that I see your best bet to hunker down under the radar:
- When you have no control over the situation
- When the conflict doesn’t have high stakes
- When the anxious moment is short-term
- When you are so overwhelmed that good decision-making isn’t likely
- When you need more time to think clearly
Blinders should be a temporary action
Putting on blinders should be a temporary action with the goal of getting you through a tough moment. But we should not default to this state for long. Delaying or avoiding needed action is only going to make matters worse for intense or important situations.
The next time a quick storm passes through your office, pretend you have a soft blanket hovering over your head. Allow this cocoon to give you space and time so the issues don’t feel so intense. Then after the heat of the moment, you’ll have a clear head and you can take the action you need.
Last week, I visited Puerto Rico for the first time. It offered the opportunity to see how one place can simultaneously offer beauty and despair, and how one person who takes action makes a difference in the lives of many.
This U.S. territory is a beautiful Caribbean island rectangular in shape, approximately 100 miles long by 35 miles wide. The tropical views and warm weather are idyllic. Yet the island is dealing with some challenges that are not as pretty as the landscape. As a tourist, it’s not immediately easy to see the dire financial crisis, nor the struggles of its residents. We stayed at a beachfront property that was bustling with activity. Over the weekend, the beach was packed with local families having fun. Dads helps kids build sand castles, young people were playing toss, and the ocean waters were bursting with exuberant swimmers splashing around. The air was filled with happiness, nothing else. At night, we enjoyed tasty meals at busy area restaurants and on Friday, we toured the El Yunque tropical rainforest, all of it delightful.
A drive two hours inland to the mountains told another story. My husband and I ventured out to a remote area southwest of San Juan. As we neared our destination of Villalba, nature still offered beautiful vistas but living conditions and commercial areas were not prospering. Off the main highway, the roads were winding and houses were in varying degrees of disrepair. The roads were paved but presented some unusual obstacles, such as wandering wild chickens with their broods-in-toe, a small pony blocking the lane, even full-size jersey barriers to indicate a sink hole (making it a challenge for one car to go around, never mind two!).
A safe haven for animals
We were headed to the shelter where Grace had been rescued, many years ago, I’ve always had a curiosity about the place my Puerto Rican street dog had her start and I was eager to visit. The directions were fine, but the signage was not, so we had to call for clarification in order to arrive at the right spot.
Bonnie Lukas, founder of Second Chance Animal Rescue, greeted us at the roadside so we could find the driveway. As we pulled it, we saw lots of fencing, a couple cars, and a beautiful view of the mountains. Here, Bonnie has created a safe haven for dogs and some cats that is nothing short of amazing. Bonnie opened the gate to the first fenced area, and we were greeted with wagging tails and voices of about 30 dogs. Talk about a warm welcome! In total, Bonnie cares for 100 dogs, each assigned a specific area appropriate to the dog’s age, size, demeanor, and physical needs. At one time, this was the home of Bonnie’s parents; now it is home to Puerto Rico’s luckiest residents: animals that would otherwise have perished or continued life scavenging and wandering. Here they receive food, shelter, companionship, and medical care.
She talks candidly of the issues she faces. Attitudes and action towards animals can be gruesome. Dogs and cats are found mistreated or neglected. Money is tight. Life is hard. But despite the daily significant challenges, Bonnie doesn’t sit and stew about it. She takes action.
Taking action despite overwhelming odds
Puerto Rico has similarities to many workplaces. There are a lot of good things happening on this island, just like within your organizations. Along with the positive, there are also areas that need improvement and no doubt that can get overwhelming–especially if you’ve been fighting that uphill battle for a long time. We need leaders who will cut through the challenges and take action, despite being faced with overwhelming odds.
Bonnie’s level of commitment is what stands out in my mind. Year after year, she devotes her energies round the clock. She climbs an uphill battle daily, but she carries on, despite those obstacles. That is not easy, but it matters. It matters to Grace, who otherwise probably would not have survived. It matters to me because of the impact Grace has had on my perspective for all relationships. I imagine I speak for hundreds who feel the same way; both dogs and humans who have some connection with this sanctuary.
It is a model we can all learn from. When faced with overwhelming odds, do what you can to take action. It matters to many.
We all experience moments of fear. Fear can help fuel us to success, but far too often, we let it stop us from doing things we are capable of. It becomes our enemy instead of our friend.
My timid dog, Grace, fears children, loud noises, and a long list of other things. She can be paralyzed with new experiences, visibly trembling as if she might jump out of her own skin to flee from the trauma. Over the years, she has become courageous in some situations and in those moments, she is such a shining example of what can be accomplished.
I fear snakes– among many other silly things, like falling short of someone else’s expectations or being judged unfavorably by someone else. Like Grace, I face some kind of fear every day. Fear can be beneficial, such as providing a warning to be careful in places where I know snakes might likely be sunning themselves in our lawn. But sometimes, fear can hold me back because it’s easier to stay within my comfort zone rather than pushing through it.
Fear has benefits
I was reminded of the benefits of managing fear this week, as I listened to an inspirational speaker that transported me through his adventures.
I had the good fortune to hear Jamie Clarke present at a business meeting on Tuesday. Jamie was the keynote presenter and by some good luck, I sat at his luncheon table. He was quiet and unassuming, joining in the conversation only a few times. That was not an accurate indicator for how powerful his presence on stage would become. I knew from his bio that he was a mountain climber and adventurer and he would be sharing lessons learned from his Mt. Everest experiences. Since I live in southern New Hampshire near Mount Monadnock, I hear and think about mountain metaphors a lot. Climbing to new heights absolutely provides a new and a different perspective than being at sea level. But I wasn’t expecting the extent to which his stories would lift me.
Jamie talked much more about life than he did of mountains (though the part about the mountains was absolutely spell-binding). I hung on every word for more than an hour while he spoke. A gifted story teller, Jamie had me near tears a few times but mostly laughing out loud, as he recounted times growing up in rural Canada with a supportive but stern mom and a grandfather who put him in his place more than once.
“On the other side of fear is freedom”
What was my biggest take-away from Jamie’s talk? One of the many lines that resonated with me was when he said this: “On the other side of fear is freedom.” Ahhh, I thought to myself, how true that is! In Jamie’s situation, achieving the ultimate challenge of climbing Mt Everest allows you to physically and mentally feel the freedom of standing atop that summit. The views, the air, the enormity of the world beaming at your footsteps. But any of us can feel our own freedom when we tackle our fears. Jamie got me thinking that you don’t have to climb Mt Everest to experience that sensation. Freedom can be felt anywhere and by everyone. It’s within all of us and I appreciate Jamie allowing me to see that.
In my conversations with business people, I am constantly aware of situations where fear is holding a person back from doing something they want to do. Here are a few examples:
- Being honest with a co-worker about something that is negatively impacting the relationship because they don’t want to hurt the other’s feelings
- Wanting more time with family but feeling stuck by heavy work demands
- Ability to have a team that is focused on the same goals and objectives but settling for what is in front of them
- Wanting to start a new career that better matches their skills and interests, but fearful of leaving a stable income
- Desire to voice concerns to a manager about a toxic work environment, but stopping for fear of retribution
- Not making a call to someone for help for fear of rejection or judgment
- Avoiding an assignment for fear of failure or looking stupid because of the learning curve
These are real situations that do not have easy answers. But when we resolve to stay in these situations, fear is our enemy. When we take on fear as a friend, only then can we feel the freedom that is ours to have.
Everyone suffers when we limit our own potential
Our work and our workplaces suffer when each of us limits our own potential. Managers need to help create cultures where risk-taking is appreciated and valued. But it is also the responsibility of each person to recognize and own your fear, and find ways to manage it rather than letting it manage you.
I hope that Jamie’s message inspires you, as it did me, to climb your own metaphorical mountain. Let fear become your friend and not your enemy.