On a recent summer evening, while politely chatting in the front yard with our neighbors, I glanced across the yard to see my son and a friend of his gazing up at the stars. It was a Norman Rockwell type of moment – two young boys, imagining the size and scope of the universe. It made me smile.
I then overheard my 6 year old son, who is a science fanatic, explaining to his young friend that the sun is a star and all stars eventually explode and create black holes. He then asked his friend if he knew what a black hole was. The friend said he did not, so my son went on to share that a black hole was basically the most unbelievably destructive and powerful force in the universe. He went on to explain that when the sun became a black hole the Earth, and everything on it, would be instantly ripped apart at the atomic level, “much like a human would tear up a paper bag.” (Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye would have been so proud.)
In an instant his young friend’s face turned from a wide eyed appreciation of the cosmos to a look of utter panic. “Is that true?” he asked. To which my son responded with more facts about stars, black holes, and the fate of the universe.
I raced across the yard to explain that this would not happen for a billion or so years, but his friend was now terrified that he and his family were about to be vaporized. Eventually, we assured him that everything was alright, and they soon went back to playing like little boys should. Still for one brief moment, the poor boy was simply paralyzed by fear. Fear of something that was 100% out of his control, and while factually correct, not likely to impact his life. Yes the phenomenon of the universe coming to a violent end is not the most pleasant of thoughts, but it is also not a likely scenario for our own personal demise.
This simple 15 second conversation between two innocent, imaginative boys led me to think, how much of what we do or more likely don’t do is driven by irrational fear? How often are we paralyzed by fear? Fear, which is often related to things that are non-existent, beyond our control, or simply not relevant to our daily life.
People are afraid of hearing negative feedback from their customers, so they don’t ask. People are afraid of being criticized, so they don’t take risks. People are afraid of sounding silly, so they don’t share ideas. People are afraid of failing so they don’t start businesses, launch products, or engage customers. Because of fear, people stop evolving, dreaming, doing, and becoming.
Fear is a natural, healthy human emotion. Fear alerts us to danger and often keeps us out of trouble. But… fear must be examined. The next time you are putting off an idea, shying away from a challenge, or succumbing to fear, ask yourself “is this fear justified?” Is the thing that’s holding you back truly a threat to your existence or are you, like my son’s friend, simply paralyzed by the fact that the sun is going to explode.