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During my undergraduate tenure, I experienced a great many things. Some directly contributed to personal improvement (living overseas, founding a university-recognized organization). Some were less direct (experimentation, living with a maniac, etc.). Others, less notable at the time, have served me in furthering my business acumen.

Today, I’d like to recount one of those experiences – a possum sitting on the fence was a nit surreal at the time, but today I can draw on this experience to relate it to business philosophy.

I went to UC Santa Barbara, and the last two years I lived within a 90-second walk to the beach. Not a bad deal. The ocean has a calming effect – the breaking of the waves, crashing and rolling; the gentle breeze; it’s all wonderful. So one night I partook in an activity college students are sometimes wont to do and sat outside to clear my mind.

The Possum Ordeal

It was a slightly chilly night and as I sat on the steps and tucked my knees to my chest, pontificating the meaning of life, or something equally ambiguous. I took in a deep breath and saw a possum, sitting atop the fence, not more than four feet from me.

Years later, I had all but forgotten this experience until something unremarkable dug it out of my memory’s vault, where I could reflect upon it. And, strangely, apply this experience to business. With that, here are some nuggets of wisdom gleaned from a chance encounter with the world’s ugliest creature.

Opossum on a fence

What is Scary is  Often Intriguing

Remember, my then current state of mind was not something that allowed for lucid, logical thought process. And in many ways, I’m grateful for that. Because that thing scared the living bejezus out of me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a possum up close, but it’s an ugly, scary rodent (technically, opossums are marsupials).

Despite my fear, and perhaps because of it, I sat there, transfixed by this disgusting creature. It was huddled up in a ball, the size of a large bowling ball, from what I recall. But there was something intriguing about this possum; something I didn’t quite understand, and that fascinated the hell out of me.

Always Examine Your Options

Despite my intrigue, the reality of the situation was that I didn’t know the reality of the situation. I wasn’t aware, and still not, of what harm possums are capable. Judging by the look of the thing, it could have as easily eaten somebody’s face off, or it could have scurried away like the rat it should be considered.

I wish I had the capacity to examine the multiple possible scenarios: what if the possum ran toward the door? What if it showed its teeth? What if it came at me?

Opossum showing its teeth

At the time, I had one escape plan. Given my physical stature – knees tucked to chest on steps leading downward – my plan of egress was to jump up and back, and ascend the stairs to my right.  Or I could scream for my roommates to come out, maybe wielding a broomstick. Or I could try to find a rock and scare the thing away.

Or I could just sit there, staring the thing in its beady little eyes, and embrace the situation which was new and creepy and uncertain and altogether pleasant.

Action Isn’t Always Necessary

Fear, in its most fundamental nature, is rooted in uncertainty. We fear what we don’t understand. We fear what we are uncertain of. We often address fear by running or screaming or worrying or trying to be scarier than that which causes us fear.

But what we don’t often do is look fear straight in the eyes. We don’t try to understand it. We don’t work to challenge our own misgivings and try to overcome the insecurities which are the direct reflection of our fears.

Because it’s hard. Because it’s scary. Because we don’t know what effect that process will ultimately bring.

So we take action. But fear clouds judgment. So our actions might not necessarily reflect the best solutions. And this can lead, as it often does, to undesired consequences.

Sometimes, the best action to take is inaction. Or, better, to act on understanding. To welcome the situation of which we are a part. When we remove the blinders fear often causes, we can see the larger picture. We can see the correlating alternatives and solutions blocked from a myopic perspective.

Aggressive action isn’t always necessary. Sit. Relax. See. Understand.

Conclusion

When this situation happened, I remember thinking it surreal. Because in a way it was. My then hazed perspective allowed me the opportunity to experience the situation in a way I might otherwise have not. But, in the large scheme of things, I fully realize pot isn’t the answer. Internal reflection is. Understanding we are not perfect beings is easy to say, but much harder to display in our actions.

Lack of understanding is the root of all fear. And it took a few years, a few real-world experiences and a random possum on a fence to help me formulate this reflection. I never thought a marsupial and a joint could elicit such pedestrian enlightenment. But I’m glad it did.