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Getting eaten alive at work

"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.

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