Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Monster's Shadow

"Every monster has a big shadow.  That's what makes it a monster.  In fact, when you look the monster in the eye, when you calmly and carefully examine the actual monster, you discover he's not so bad after all.  It's just that the shadow is scary."  --Seth Godin

When I think about the amount of time I spend worrying about things--little things from making sure forms get filled out to bigger stuff like difficult yet essential conversations and, in the not-so-distant past, really big decisions about my personal and financial future--instead of just tackling them, I get really annoyed with myself.  I hate it when I lose sleep over things not because they are a big deal but because I am avoiding actually doing them. 

What I've realized is that taking on all of the little, easy things and getting them done in a short time helps me a lot, because a huge part of what gives me stress is just the length of the list rather than the amount of time and effort required to get everything done.  If I knock out seven of the ten things that are chasing around in my mind, even if they aren't the most difficult ones, I can focus on the three that need real attention.  I am learning, though I still slip often.  I mean, it's always somethin', right?  The list of stupid little stuff only gets smaller for awhile, then it builds up like junk mail on the kitchen counter. So it's an ongoing battle. 

The big things we generally avoid are, as Seth says, the ones that cast the biggest shadows.  But it's the sense that if we start down the road to dealing with them, we're going to get eaten alive, that stops us from taking care of ourselves.  Sometimes it's a matter of opening all the mail and looking at what we're really dealing with, then making the dreaded phone call to the lawyer or the bank or the IRS.  When we do, often there is such a sense of relief we wonder why we didn't do it a year ago. 

The real monsters, though, are the emotional ones.  This is why so many people (yours truly included once but I started again and got mostly to the bottom of things) stop therapy. They start because they really want someone to help them feel better.  They stop when they realize they have to look at the monsters.  The shadows scare them so much that they would rather hide than move in for a close-up.  For the Hannibal Lecters of the world, this is a legitimate concern.  But for most of us the monsters aren't, as Seth says, all that scary.  If we are too scared to look at them, though, they retain their power over us. 

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