The Long Walk Back
by Mark Matteson
My recent connection from Detroit to Saginaw, Michigan was canceled. The airline said "weather" was the cause. Snow in Michigan in March? Who knew? I immediately called the Delta Airline's help line and rebooked for a later flight. I now had five hours to kill. The airport is a wonderful place to people watch. I began reading Dan Thurmonʼs inspiring book, Success in Action, when something caught my eye. Just when I thought I had seen everything, a women in her mid-fifties walked by me, dragging an eight-foot toilet paper "tail" behind her. "Maʼam," I called out, "forgive me, but look behind you." Aghast and exasperated, she turned and looked. "Oh my God," she said, as she carefully rolled up her source of frustration and embarrassment. "This is all I needed. This has been the worst day of my life." I felt bad for her. No telling how long she had dragged that tail. And, hey, itʼs not the kind of thing people will just grab and remove on your behalf out of the goodness of their heart. Why had all the dozens of people she had passed not said anything? Were they too afraid to be the one to embarrass her or too busy laughing at her misfortune?
Why was she beside herself? She was in the grip of one of the Six Ghosts of FEAR: the fear of Criticism. Yes, you heard me right. Ghosts. Fear is simply an emotional state of mind. It is a series of ever-escalating emotions that eventually, if we let it, leave us as terrified as if we had seen a ghost.
I recall my first high school dance. I was a very young sophomore, maybe 15 years old. I hung out with my jock friends leaning against the wall and trying to act as cool as I could. In hindsight, I am not sure what that adolescent posturing was meant to accomplish. My football buddy, a big lineman, said, "Man, I would dance with her," referring to a very petite blonde. Her name was Jill. She had just moved from Florida. Jill was five feet two and all of 95 pounds. He was six feet four and 250 pounds. "Ask her to dance," I said with the detachment of a celibate monk. "NOT ME," he said. I asked him, "What are you afraid of?" He just stared at his shoes. The obvious answer was rejection, but it wasnʼt the true answer. What he was afraid of was "The Long Walk Back" and everything that meant fear of criticism, the mockery and laughter of his buddies.
At that moment, I had an original thought and a plan. I told him, "Iʼm going to ask girl number one; if she says no, Iʼm asking girl number two, and so on down the line. If all fifteen girls say no, Iʼm going out the side door and getting drunk! Iʼm not coming back!" After three rejections, the fourth girl said, "I would love to" and I was dancing like a white guy. Casper the unfriendly ghost was gone.
Napoleon Hill wrote in his classic 1935 self-help book, Think and Grow Rich:
There are six basic fears, with some combination of which every human suffers at one time or another. Most people are fortunate if they do not suffer from the entire six. Named in the order of their most common appearance, they are:
The fear of POVERTY----->
The fear of CRITICISM----> at the bottom of most of one's worries
The fear of ILL HEALTH-->
The fear of LOSS OF LOVE OF SOMEONE
The fear of OLD AGE
The fear of DEATH
All other fears are of minor importance, they can be grouped under these six headings. The prevalence of these fears, as a curse to the world, runs in cycles.
For almost six years, while the Depression was on, we floundered in the cycle of FEAR OF POVERTY. During the First World War, we were in the cycle of FEAR OF DEATH. Just following the war, we were in the cycle of FEAR OF ILL HEALTH, as evidenced by the epidemic of disease, which spread itself all over the world. Fears are nothing more than states of mind.
I have learned to ask some simple questions when fears crop up.
- What is it, exactly, that I am afraid of? (Which Ghost is it?)
- What is the worst thing that would happen if this thing I am concerned about happens?
- What CAN I do?
- What is OUT OF MY CONTROL (like "weather")?
As I thought about the women with the toilet paper tail, I smiled. My day wasnʼt nearly as bad as hers. Yes, my flight had been canceled; yes they didnʼt load my luggage on the plane (I eventually got it at 1AM that morning). She really was concerned what a bunch of strangers, people she will probably never see again, think about her. Honestly, who cares? Life happens. Who hasnʼt had something embarrassing happen to him or her? Each of us has had at least one: an open zipper, a mustard spill on a black shirt, spilled water on the crotch of pants, or spinach on the teeth.
We need to get over it. What you think of me is none of my business.
I am getting better at becoming a good "Mental Manager". What is FEAR? It is False Evidence Appearing Real. The solution? Face Everything And Respond.
Life is too short to worry about a toilet paper tail. Come up with a better plan. Forget the long walk back. Ask them all and if they say no, go out the side door...