PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > Scared Yet?

Scared Yet?

Being calculating...but not cold...

From political showdowns to summer drought to violence overseas to violence in our own backyards, there's a LOT of scary stuff going on. It seems all but endless. But it's notable that we go on about our daily lives, both personal and professional, coping with the pressures these various and sundry risks create. The last time that I wrote here, I wrote about paranoia and the fact that sometimes others really are out to get you. This time, I'd like to talk about the brighter side -- moving forward in an environment of adversity.

Risk is all around us. Whether or not we choose to deal with it, connect to it, or grapple with the sense of foreboding is a conscious choice. As long as we know that we can face risks, we have the opportunity to decide whether or not it's going to have a direct impact on our daily lives. Since 9/11, I have met people who were directly impacted by the tragedy. They did not have a choice. They are living with the heart-rending consequences. But it's inspiring to see how some have dealt with it. Some take the attitude that they can influence the future. Others choose to celebrate the individuals they lost by living life well. While some (justifiably) obsess over the potential impacts of similar future events, many find a way forward. Even in the face of chaos and tragedy, we are blessed with options.

In the aftermath of events like 9/11 or, more recently, the Oslo tragedy, many individuals choose to be active. They choose to talk about the need for intervention by one entity or another, and call for some type of action to be taken to prevent such events in the future. Others take time to allow the initial shock to wear off and simply move on.

The latter sounds like a cold approach. It's not. It is a calculated approach. We need to make the conscious decision as to when and how we're going to react. And there are cues when it's time to refuse to be scared.

  1. Is the last possible time to take action imminent?
  2. Are the stakes I care about directly impacted?
  3. Could this translate into either (1) or (2) in the future?


Most of the bad decisions in life are made in haste. Why? Time provides more information. More information provides better insight. Better insight provides better decisions. So if we're going to make better, smarter decisions, we should strive to make them when we're not in the pressure-cooker of a quick turnaround.

If a risk genuinely isn't imminent, then we should probably resist our first impulses to act in haste. The week following 9/11, my wife and I seriously discussed cancelling a weekend trip to the Air and Space Museum in Washington. But rather than cancel immediately, since we had two or three days to think it over, we spent the time pondering the relative risks. As we realized that 9/11 was designed for maximum devastation, we also realized that would not be achieved by any attack on the Washington Mall that weekend. The Mall would likely be (and was) a ghost town. And since we live only blocks from another government installation, we figured our chances were just as good on the Mall as they would be at home. We went. And the museums were practically ours and ours alone.

Taking whatever time is at our disposal to make smarter and more considered decisions works in everyone's favor. When your mother told you to count to ten before taking action, she was being an effective risk manager.


We all have stakes. Stakes matter. We have those elements of work, of our personal lives and of our passions that we invest in. As a former member of the media, I can attest to the fact that many of the risks reported on by the media are carefully calibrated to make you feel like you have a stake in them. That's the objective. If you feel personally touched by a story, it worked. Otherwise, they don't pass what my old journalism professor referred to as the "So What factor."

Any time a risk is identified, we should immediately drop into "so what?" mode. Asking that question time and again can inure us to risks that seem perennial but do little real harm, and can also increase our sensitivity when we come up with a solid "so what?" answer!


Our positions can and should change over time. As I spend more and more time in New York City, I find myself aware of where I sit on the train (the front and rear cars are the most dangerous). I carry my cell phone whenever I board an elevator (I was trapped for almost 2 hours on the 19th floor of my hotel). Little behavioral changes like those stem from their relative impact on my life (nominal) and the potential benefits (huge).

Just because risks haven't happened to us doesn't mean they won't. And we shouldn't forget that risks are out there just because they haven't transpired. The ticking of the clock can mean everything in terms of the potential for a risk to occur.

In much the same way, a change in our stakes changes everything as well. We need to occasionally re-evaluate what we care about in order to ensure that we have a current understanding as to whether or not our risk attitudes need to be re-assessed.

Why Bother?

Why go through this exercise? This is not about improving our risk identification or ensuring that we have found new and deeper issues to worry about. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If we spend the time required to properly evaluate our risks and to identify which ones are worthy of our time and attention, we can stop being paranoid about the others! And if we take that burden off our shoulders, we have more time and energy to shoulder burdens we actually care to undertake.

When we're not shouldering those burdens, our loads are significantly lighter. We're more positive about the world around us (both personal and professional). And if we have a structure for how we're going to handle the parameters of imminence, impact and translation, we know we're far more prepared to manage the pressures of our risk environment without the bearing the millstone of worry.

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