Nick Nichols

Clojure Developer and Dungeon Master

Tis The Season

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Every year since the first time my Mom dressed me up as a pumpkin, I’ve decorated, stocked up on candy, and donned a costume for October 31st. I am a huge fan of all things orange, purple, and black, but I’m a complete wimp when it comes to horror; I was terrified of the Legends of the Hidden Temple intro, I get startled by the buzzer in Scattergories, and I flat out refuse to go into a haunted house. Unfortunately for me, fear is a natural part of the season, but it doesn’t have to be a part of our work lives.

We all have our fears. Some people fear taking risks, some people fear being unable to provide for their families, and at least one of us was afraid of a talking stone idol. Regardless of what your fear or fears may be, many of us respond the same way: avoidance. This even extends to things we feel anxious over and uncomfortable about. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid, anxious, or uncomfortable, but we need to be careful with how it changes and controls our actions and behaviors.

Avoidance doesn’t always work as an effective coping mechanism, and it can keep us from reaching our full potential. Avoiding risks might keep you from applying to a new, great position, since the familiarity of your current job is safe and comfortable. If you avoid tough conversations in the fear of hurting someone’s feelings, you might miss out on a chance to grow or repair a relationship. Placing yourself outside of these situations can prevent you from ever confronting and possibly even growing past the things that you fear.

In clinical psychiatry, exposure therapy is one treatment option for strong phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Over time, the patient is exposed to their stressor incrementally. For example, someone who fears public speaking might first try presenting to a close friend, then to a small group, and build up over time to presenting to their team or department. While true phobias should always be handled by a licensed psychiatrist, we can use this lesson to help combat our smaller, more intermittent fears.

Challenge yourself to push past the boundaries you’ve set up for yourself one step at a time. Try leading your next team meeting, try asking a challenging question on a safe topic, or try working with a group you’ve never met before. You might be surprised by how quickly they build up, and how confident you feel after. I might not be able to sit through A Nightmare on Elm Street yet, but I was finally able to enjoy Goosebumps. It’s all about making progress, even if it seems scary.