Once upon a time (actually, now), in a land right here, lived a bunch of creatures called humans who, for the most part, did rather well for themselves. Trouble always started when they occasionally got lost in the big, dark forest of “what ifs” on their way to doing things for which they had no instructions, and going places they didn’t have exact maps of. This is the story of one.
It all started with an unexpected call that brought exciting news, a bit of catching up on personal stuff, and a request for me to listen, offer suggestions, and maybe even do a bit of “that coaching thing you do these days”. Forty minutes into the conversation, she nearly had me convinced that expanding the business and moving to a new location was a terrible idea, and her business was a hopeless failure to begin with.
I needed to clear my head, so in the absence of an iced mocha (yes, Starbucks owns me), I ran to the kitchen to grab ice water. Hydrated and alert, I solemnly announced I’m going to have to do “that coaching thing I do these days” after all.
So we made lists…with pen and paper no less. She was expanding her business not on a whim, but because there was a need for a larger office space. Meaning…the darn business was doing well and had potential. Meaning…she was smart, creative and proved capable of doing a good job. What was the problem again?
Oh yes, the detour through the big, dark forest of “what ifs”. In it, the nasty guy at the bank would not give her the loan she needed. A few feet further up, there was the long line of customers who would suddenly and inexplicably cease to have small parties or corporate events catered. To the right, there were the two employees running off and quitting at the same time. To the left, there was the sudden loss of all skills, experience and personal resources. Beyond these, a line-up of other small disasters related to the lease, taxes, suppliers, and finally, I am certain, nothing short of the end of the world.
As thorough a reality check as we did, there were still stubborn bits left unanswered. I offered encouragement, made her laugh. But in the end, there was truly nothing I could say to dismiss all her concerns, short of somehow guaranteeing that nothing she feared would ever come up to challenge her.
So what did I do next? I scared her even more.
“Well hon, we have to be realistic. You are going to have some problems. And likely, they’re going to be things you haven’t even thought of.”
Why oh why did I have to say THAT! There was silence. I checked to make sure she hadn’t hung up on me.
And then bingo, I had it.
“Listen, it’s very simple. We all freak out in unknown territory. But even if we come across a stain we’ve never dealt with before, we have to remember we still have a washing machine. And there is always Target.”
She suddenly laughed (whew!) and asked if I was going to talk about the kids again. Of course I was. And so I told her the story of the mystery stains…how one day, the little one returned from school with clothes so dirty, I concluded there must have been an announcement for a “roll-around-in-your-lunch-markers-paint-and-dirt” contest I missed. And surely my child won first place.
Don’t think for a moment I lack experience with seriously stained clothes, but on that day, I was dealing with a beast in a league previously unknown to me. I managed to identify most of the spots, but there were a few I had no clue about, and suspected might be beyond the magic powers of any spray currently in my possession.
“How did you manage to make such a mess!” I asked my son. He shrugged of course.
“And how am I going to get these out? I don’t even know what they are!!!!”
The little one was very calm, and casually reminded me we may not know what the stains are, but I still have the washing machine. And if that didn’t work, we could always get new clothes in Target.
Indeed. To live is to expect the unexpected. How many things come with a full set of instructions or a map…except I don’t know, Ikea furniture? Coming across a challenge may confuse us, slow us down for a bit, or require some Advil and extra ice mochas, but it doesn’t mean we’ve suddenly lost our brains, personality, creativity, experience, tested skills and resources. As a matter of fact, the reason we fear or come across a problem in the first place is because we’re standing on some pretty darn good assets to have a bit of a challenge with improving or expanding!
And another thing…asking some questions is fine, but dwelling in “what ifs” only gets us lost. Why do that? Eventually we’ll come out of that big, dark forest one way or another, and all we’ll have to show for it is wasted time.
The conversation with my friend ended on a very positive note, and with much of the enthusiasm she started with restored. But there was also that delicate question I finally asked…”What is it that you’re really so afraid of?”
Like I needed to ask. It’s what we’re all afraid of when we face change and taking a risk. And it’s a fear made that much worse when we have a really special thing on the line.
“I poured my heart and soul in this business, you know that” she told me, “and I’ve done pretty well with it so far. I’m just scared to death of losing that if I change anything”.
(PS. In case you’re wondering, she did move into a new office last March, and it turns out people didn’t stop having small parties or corporate events to cater. In fact, she started doing weddings too. She sent an email two weeks ago to the day, teasing me about the “washing machine” thing. I didn’t reply yet, but it inspired a post. And now that I’m done writing this, I should probably look for a nice e-card to send her. )