Monday, May 09, 2011

Dealing with the unknown

When we were younger, almost every situation we encountered was one we had no prior experience with. We hit an inflection point at a certain age, and most of what we do or experience from that point on is more of the same. If enough time passes without a new experience, the part of the brain that responds to the unknown begins to atrophy. This is when panic sets in...

Our initial reaction to the unknown is panic; the heart rate increases, the ability to think clearly vanishes and breathing gets labored. In such a situation, the key is to take a step back and regain a measure of control over your surroundings. Often times, the onset of panic is triggered as a para-sympathetic reaction to humiliation or embarrassment. The social beings that we are, how we are perceived by other people drives a lot of what we do. The feeling is fresh in my system; I experienced it when getting on the bus with my bike today.

Buses in Seattle have a bike rack up front; riders secure their bikes on the rack prior to hopping onto the bus. Last weekend, I learned how to secure my bike onto the rack thanks to a bus driver's timely intervention. Today, I figured would be a cinch now that I knew how to use the clasps. When I walked up to the front of the bus though, the rack needed to be opened up before I could put my bike onto it. My brain froze...

As the seconds ticked by, the paralysis spread from my brain to my limbs. As I floundered, I heard the driver mention a handle that needed to be pulled, and by some inexplicable instinct, I looked at the middle of the rack. The yellow handle was like the rip-cord that broke my free-fall. I pulled the rack down, regained my composure, fastened my bike securely, and took a seat on the bus.

The rush of blood to my head was invigorating, and it taught me not just how to deal with this situation in the future, but how to handle new and unforeseen circumstances in the future. With a new job and a new role on the horizon, I am going to face a plethora of unknowns. How I react and handle these situations will underscore my future. As the synapses fire in my head, I must remember to stay calm, not worry about being embarrassed because I don't know something, and use my experience to figure out a solution. Net result: profit!

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