It’s Not Going To Hurt You

Food For Thought, Learning, Thinking Tools, Uncategorized

It’s Not Going To Hurt You

Several years ago I traveled with my oldest friend to the Caribbean for a week of sun and rest. Both of us had just been divorced after long marriages and we were in need of a bit of a diversion, so off we went on a little adventure together.

Here’s the thing you need to know about Susie: she (was) a bit of a chicken. I can say this because a) I’ve known her since we were nine years old and b) she is the most careful person I know. That said, I’m telling you this about her because it’s what makes me so proud of how she navigated this trip.

On the way down, we talked about how anxious she was feeling. She had never traveled that far, had never been in the ocean, and was nervous about being safe in the hotel. We decided that the way we were going to make sure that we had as much fun as we could was going to be to commit to doing one thing each day that scared us a little.

I went first. I signed on as the driver of our rented jeep. We were in Grand Cayman so that meant shifting my brain to drive on the other side of the road. Susie’s first “scary” thing was getting into the water with her snorkel mask on. She lasted about ten minutes. The great thing about snorkeling in Grand Cayman is that it’s like Disneyland under the water. The bad thing about Grand Cayman if you’re nervous about being nose-to-nose with a strange fish is, well…you know.

We talked on the way to dinner about how badly Susie wanted to enjoy snorkeling. We had signed up for a Scuba lesson and diving trip for mid-week and this was a problem that needed to be solved. How was Susie going to transcend her anxiety in just two days?

That’s when the magic happened.

We found ourselves chatting with an older couple that was there from Oklahoma. We sat by a window looking out at a lit-up section of water outside the restaurant that was full of very big fish. Their story unfolded quickly. In preparation for their retirement, they had traveled the world in an attempt to find the snorkeling and diving location that they would want to live in full time. The wife explained that for her, best meant safe. Her husband smiled and said “The good news for us is that Grand Cayman has the most exciting underwater world, and also the safest. There is nothing in that water that wants to hurt you.”

You should have seen Susie’s face. As we pressed for details and peppered them with more questions, I could see it start happening.

Susie’s bravery emerged.

For the rest of the week, she was like a different person. We snorkeled everywhere we could find around the island. When we popped out of the water after spending time exploring a shipwreck with our Scuba gear, we both whooped and laughed for minutes. It was exhilarating.

So what really happened?

It’s not like Susie suddenly believed that every single thing about the ocean there was perfectly safe. That’s actually not what happened at all. What did happen was that she shifted her perspective from seeing the ocean as a primarily dangerous place that had some interesting things to look at, to seeing the ocean as a primarily safe and beautiful place that also required some caution.

The perspective shift was everything.

When she saw the ocean as danger, everything in her told her to stay out of it. When she started seeing it as safe, it allowed her to go in. It still took intention, bravery and guts, but she was able to experience it with delight instead of fear. She was able to see what she was capable of.

Almost every day I see how people see their workplaces, teams, or relationships as dangerous. When we hold that story about something, the sympathetic nervous system flares up and takes charge. It’s pretty much impossible to be great at anything, let alone at your best, when you are triggered like that.

Shifting perspective can be a game changer. Like the ocean, our workplaces (and even our homes), are made up of unpredictable, diverse elements. It turns out though, that not everything is as dangerous as we make it out to be. Seeing those places as essentially safe, where nothing really wants to hurt you, allows the possibility of bravely, and even joyfully, exploring and growing.

What part of life are you avoiding because it feels dangerous?

How could you reframe how you see it? What might change if you did?

Just some food for thought.