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Getting eaten alive at work

Posted by Paul Hellman  August 23, 2013 11:00 AM

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"You don't follow the rules," my wife says, "for avoiding a shark attack."

We were eating lunch, reading the Sunday papers, and my wife had just read about a man who swam 400 yards off a Cape Cod beach, and then was almost eaten by a shark.

Main rule: stay in shallow water.

Sharks have been on my list of concerns for years, at least since the movie, "Jaws." I've never actually seen a shark, but still, they're on my list.

Turns out, I can worry about anything.

Lyme disease is also on the list. And of course, snakes. Bees were never on the list, but they got there recently, after a Time magazine cover story about their disappearance. With bees, you can apparently worry about both their presence, and their absence.

A lot of worry is about losing something you're fond of, such as your loved ones, or your health, or, in the case of sharks, your upper and lower body.

"Loss aversion," says Dan Ariely, author of "Predictably Irrational," "means that our emotional reaction to a loss is about twice as intense as our joy at a comparable gain."

So we'll go out of our way to avoid loss. That's why we'd rather hold onto a losing stock than bite the bullet and re-invest our money. And we'd rather hold onto a losing job than re-invest our energy.

But playing it safe can be dangerous, like sitting all day at the beach in the sweltering sun, never going near the water, but slowly dying of heat exhaustion because, let's face it, the sun can kill you.

When was the last time you took a calculated risk? Nothing reckless or impulsive. Not swimming 400 yards out, just getting your feet wet.

"They were waiting to be told what to do," says CEO Jim Donald, head of the hotel chain, Extended Stay America. To embolden his 9,000 employees, he hands out "Get out of jail free" cards (Wall Street Journal, 3/20/13).

His message: Take a chance. And if you screw up, that's ok.

What would you try if you knew you couldn't fail?

Tip: Everyone's afraid. But some people act anyway.

FYI: "More Americans were killed by collapsing sinkholes (16) than sharks (11) between 1990 and 2006" (Guardian Weekly, 8/6/13).

Note to self: update list. Add "sinkholes."

Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

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Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.