Fear and Progress

What early experiences have shaped your professional practice? Because we all have such experiences, I thought you'd enjoy reading about this one.

When I was a kid, I felt fearless on the water. I absolutely loved sailing, but I developed a fear on land … of rattlesnakes. It seemed like a pretty normal fear to me at 6 years old. This developed when my little sister and I were wandering through a grassy field in Wyoming at this young age, we stumbled across a rattlesnake. That unnerving sound gave it away. We couldn’t see it; we could only hear it. That amplified our fear. While I was panicking, I realized that I was wearing boots and she was wearing sandals. My protective instinct kicked in ... so I picked her up. Something hit my boot three times around the shin, but I didn’t feel anything on my skin. My conclusion was that the snake bit my boot three times. We stayed there crying, motionless and terrified. I was frozen, and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think I could carry her out of the field, but I also knew I couldn’t put her down. Thankfully, a ranch hand escorted us out of the field unharmed.

I lived with my fear until college when I bought a baby king snake - this reptile began as 8 inches long and eats rattlesnakes (and other king snakes). At one point, I owned six snakes!

Here’s what I learned - understanding what we’re really afraid of helps resolve immobility. It’s irrational to think that all rattlesnakes are bad. Think about it: it’s hanging out in a field, maybe feeding and protecting its young. All of a sudden, two giants are standing there. I didn’t like being afraid of things. It’s fine to be concerned or afraid, but not when it starts interfering with your life.

Last year my sons and I visited a reptile show, they also grew interested in reptiles. This year My 10-year-old son owns a king snake. It’s equally as docile as the one I had in college. My 14-year-old son is interested in lizards and turtles, and my 7-yearold son has two leopard geckos.

We have a small pond in the backyard, which attracts frogs in the spring. A few years ago, I noticed my middle son stalking them like a cat stalking its prey. He has developed a keen eye for them and catches them successfully to this day; then releases them unharmed. I encourage my kids to understand the world around them and have a respect for nature, but not necessarily fear it. This mindset enables them to problem solve and play creatively.

Reflecting on these pastimes inspires my professional life too. A client may have a project with challenges that they don’t have an answer for, and nobody has come up with a solution for - that’s exactly when you should hire an architect.

Michael J. Roosevelt