So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear…is fear itself.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt


I can’t remember when I first heard those famous words, but I’m glad I remember them now. They will live in famy. (This is my blog so I can make up words if I jolly well like.) They are as timely, necessary, and inspirational now as they were when FDR addressed a terrified nation in 1933.

We all have a tendency to marinate in the regret of the past, and sometimes to peer fearfully at what we imagine the future will bring. I have read that regret and fear are vestiges of the evolutionary arc of our species’ longevity (if that word ultimately proves accurate). Those emotions are critically important in a narrow range of today’s emergencies, but many can be unhealthy responses to modern stressors that don’t involve ferocious predators. Fortunately, being human also includes the ability to live with our genome instead of being ruled by it.

Let’s start with a story, then a thought experiment, a few recommendations, and a quote of the day.

The Story

Once upon a time, there was an adorable little English B & B called the Pelican Inn at Muir Beach in Marin County, California. One weekend, when my two children were around 6 and 9, I took them for a night there. My timing could have been better. The next month I, the “big important lawyer,” was scheduled to try a case for a brokerage firm. It was a scary case because my client’s defenses were few and far between.

It was a fun weekend at the Inn in many ways (my kids were as wonderful and hilarious then as they are now). But the fear of the looming case was a cloud over my head. What if I lose? What if the client fires me if (when?) I do lose? Blah, blah… This Old English proverb carved into a piece of driftwood above the hearth at the Inn just didn’t help:

Fear knocked, faith answered, no one was there.

Four weeks later, I went to the trial, my client’s defenses proved to be even flimsier than I had feared, and…nothing bad happened. As rational lawyers do, I and the inhouse attorney who worked in my client’s legal department, settled the case. Three hours later I was on a plane home.

All I had to show for my 24/7 pretrial anxiety was regret about how much more relaxing the beach trip should have been, and how to dispose of the oil can full of toxic stress that I was left with. Oh well. As Augustus tells Lorena in Lonesome Dove,

Yesterday’s gone, Lorie Darlin’…You can’t get it back.

The Experiment

Now to the thought experiment (you will need paper and pencil):

Write down the things that jolted you awake around 4 am in a cold sweat over the last twelve months. Then put a check mark next to the things that actually happened.

Now make a separate list of the bad things that actually happened over the last 365 days, and put a check mark by the ones you didn’t see coming.

Experiment over.                                                                                                               

What were our findings?                                                                                                    

List #1 had fewer check marks than List #2.

What conclusions can we draw?

Well there are a bunch and they are obvious. I think the most important is that trying to exert control is very stressful and frequently counterproductive. (Key the blues being sung by the rich clients of Rick Singer who bribed college admissions and athletic departments.) Developing resilience is far more important. The latter virtue requires patience, and the resolve and courage to walk through (rather then burrow under or plane along above) hardships, failure, and setbacks.


I’ve said enough. May faith and grace keep fear from your door, and may you carry on through hardship with a resilient heart and a focused mind.



“Manchild in the Promised Land”, Claude Brown


“The Help”


Angel from Montgomery (Bonnie Raitt)


Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.                                            The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.


“Mindful of the mundane. (Paying attention to whatever you may be doing right now.)”


  1. Pingback: Guest article: fear dreads resilience | Ronald Lavine, DC

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