Scaredy-Cats All Around

A few cats patrol my neighborhood. Two of them regularly show up at my balcony door, so every now and then, I have to enter a staring contest if I don’t want a stranger’s cat in my house. Usually, I win, and the little furball darts off. It always reminds me of what we tell children when they encounter new animals for the first time: “It’s more scared of you than you’re scared of it.”

When you are scared, it’s hard to imagine that what you’re scared of might be even more frightened than you. What would that even feel like? Can it get any scarier? But when the line works, it’s enough to calm you down. To approach the cat with equanimity, maybe even pet it, and realize: “Oh! This is not so bad!”

But what’s meant to help us survive small bouts with everyday animals also applies to humans and, if you’ll indulge the spiritual interpretation, even to life itself. In a coffee shop, everyone’s a stranger — and everyone is scared to approach anyone else. But when one person pets the cat, makes a joke, or breaks the ice with a remark about the weather, often, a whole group of people piles in on the conversation. If we remember that we start from equal instincts, we can be that person, and instead of driving away the neighbor’s cat, we’ll invite human connection.

Your bug reporting dashboard feels the same way. If our projects and challenges were conscious, they, too, would be more scared of you than you are of them. After all, you’re the one with all the power. If you show up with confidence and resolve, work and deadlines can’t help but melt away. It’s only in your imagination that they can grow into big shadows, dark and overwhelming and, well, scary. But your book can’t write itself. It has no life of its own — only you to hope for, hoping you’ll show up and complete it. That, too, is a staring contest you can win.

We’re all scared here. Every part of life is as frightened to go on, to step up, to say yes to the next challenge as you are. Remember this equality, and you’ll show yourself time and again: “Oh! This is not so bad!”