The Squirrel Syndrome

There are lessons all around us, and it turns out one such lesson can come from a squirrel. That's right - a squirrel! When you stop and think about it, the squirrel is a pretty amazing animal; nature thought about almost everything when putting this furry creature together. Squirrels are fast, strong, agile, clever, and the list goes on and on. But, like every other creature, the squirrel does have one, significant imperfection; the inability to decide. The results of this tragic flaw can be clearly seen by many of the roads we drive on.

In our cars, we've all seen this sad scenario play out. As we approach, we see a dot in the distance. It darts into the road with lightning quick speed, with ample time to comfortably make it to the other side... and then something happens. The squirrel begins to think and question its decision.

As the gap between your car and that squirrel begins to close, plenty of time remains as the squirrel decides maybe this isn't the time to cross that road. He makes the decision to race back to the other side.

Behind the wheel, that dot in the distance has now become an all-too-familiar indecisive squirrel, and we mutter this to ourselves: "Come on little buddy, decide." As if on cue, the squirrel does decide. The squirrel decides to once again change its mind. The once ample cushion of time has now shrunk to a dangerous dash for the other side. As we get closer and closer, the squirrel could still be successful if only it weren't for the decision to yet again question the choice it had made. What makes matters worse, the squirrel is so lost in the inability to decide to go right or left that he stands weakly lost in the middle. Even when we hit our brakes, it is often the last decision that poor squirrel ever makes.

But there's a lesson to be learned from this Squirrel Syndrome, and this lesson plays out in a similar fashion in much of what we do. Many times in business and in life, we are faced with two, clear paths to take. One may be better than the other, but both will get us where we need to go. All we need to do is decide, and yet we get caught in our inability to make that decision.

So we wander out into the road, prepared to accept some risk, aware that we face a significant decision in front of us. This could be a decision to stay in a job, or to stand up for ourselves, or to confront another individual, or even to try to do something we've never done before. The list goes on and on. A rich life is one that's full of risk, but with risk comes indecision. We are frequently faced with two voices that present two distinct opinions.

The first is a voice that cries out, "Go for it!" It's a voice that pleads for us to be all in, and embrace the challenge ahead of us, holding nothing back. That's the voice that feeds on risk and reward, and that's the voice that says: "You can make it across that road!"

The second is a voice that cries out: "Wait, this decision is not a rational one!" It's a voice that pleads for us to exercise caution, and reassess the impact that failure would have on the decision we are contemplating. That's the voice that feeds on caution and safety, and that's the voice that says this: "The risk is not worth the reward. Now is not the time to cross that road!"

Like the mind of the squirrel, there appears to be two viable solutions here. After all, there are times in our lives that require risky moves, and it's these types of moves that offer us an opportunity for growth. As a gentleman by the name of William G.T. Shedd once said;

"A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for."

But there are times when good, solid, responsible decision making tells us the risk before us is not worth taking. A careful assessment of what lies before us reminds us that the risk is not always worth the reward.

That dot in the road is now us. As the time for action approaches, our desire to overcome our fears pushes us forward. We are ready to take a courageous leap of faith and we bound across the road. As the time for commitment and action approaches, the voice of good, sound reasoning takes over. It encourages us to step back and reassess our potentially dangerous decision. Neither voice is necessarily right or wrong, but together they can create devastating results. We are left learning towards the action that requires risk, while attempting to mitigate the risk by taking a partially safer position to protect us if we fail. In doing so, we wind up committing to nothing. We are in the weakest, most vulnerable position; we are stuck in the middle of the road with no place to hide.

Of course, you have various options to help you make a decision: You can seek the advice of others, or conduct research, or look to benchmark, or assemble whatever data you've collected. The problem is, you may find that you're right back to where you started from and you still need to make a decision. Committing to a solution is as challenging and as critical as it is for the squirrel. The solution is to commit to a tiebreaker, and that tiebreaker is the voice of instinct.

If that voice of instinct says "Go for it," go for it all the way! When you make it to the other side of the road, regardless of what awaits you, own the decision you had the courage to make. And if that voice of instinct says, "Stay put," stay put in peace. No matter how much the "what could have beens" entices you from the other side, own the decision you had the courage to make.

There is no way to fully trust instinct, and yet, instinct is rarely random. It is usually forged by experience. At the end of the day, the voice of instinct is the ultimate tiebreaker. Regardless of the outcome, that voice will keep you out of the middle of the road and let you avoid the fate of that poor squirrel.