Just ask Mark.
Mark was a 15-year-old paperboy - a paperboy with an attitude.
This was an enigma in conservative Minnesota. Surrounded by a populace that respected authority and tradition, Mark was a street-wise hellion who hid his devil-may-care attitude behind a facade of politeness. He had this cocky way about him that hinted of impending doom, yet his outrageous behavior forced us to stick around just to see what would happen next.
Picture Eddie Haskell with a paper route.
Mark's apparent mission in life was to search out risk - and leap into it.
Like the time he labored two hours snow-shoveling a neighbor's driveway and then challenged the man to a double-or-nothing coin-flip for the bill. Mark lost.
Or the time he persuaded us to change our report card grades with his mother's low-quality typewriter. That time we both lost.
But this day, during a paperboy meeting, Mark lost big.
Every Tuesday evening, Mr. Ludke would drive his car to a central neighborhood location and his paperboys would climb in to pay newspaper bills, discuss route issues and learn of upcoming subscription promotions.
Mr. Ludke was quick with a joke which made the job fun. Yet he commanded respect. One of his gags involved a Billy club he'd wedged next to his seat. Make Mr. Ludke the butt of a joke and he'd playfully threaten you with a rap on the leg. He never used it of course, but the mock threats kept us in line - and entertained.
Enticed by the risk, Mark chose that day to challenge our boss. After chiding him with a few jokes, sure enough, out came the club. Rather than mock-cowering like the rest of us, Mark grabbed the club. There was a brief struggle, Mark ripped the club from our boss and before anyone could react, rapped Mr. Ludke's leg. Hard.
Mark froze. Eyes growing, he looked at his hand, dropped the club and bolted from the car.
Dumbfounded, we stared at our manager. This was impossible. NOBODY hit Mr. Ludke. But his immediate grin said he was OK and he swept into action.
"Get him!" yelled Mr. Ludke. Three of the bigger kids leaped out of the car as our boss fired up the engine to head Mark off on the next block. Sprinting through yards, hopping bushes, and climbing fences, the three finally cornered the perpetrator in a fenced backyard. Fighting for survival, Mark grasped the back door of the stranger's house and pounded on it for all he was worth.
I arrived on the scene to hear Mark's desperate screams just as the three converged on their prey and started peeling his fingers off the door handle. Hysterical and crying like a baby, Mark was dragged back to Mr. Ludke's open car window to face his certain justice.
Our boss quickly sized up the situation and played the role like a master.
Cocky grin on his face, Mr. Ludke looked Mark cheerfully in the eye as the car started to edge away. "Goodnight Mark. Have a great week!"
What a lesson in fear!
Mark's only punishment was his mistaken assumption that his worst fears would play out. He'd given so much power to fear that he beat and embarrassed himself far worse than Mr. Ludke ever would have considered. In fact, Mr. Ludke was never hurt or angry in the first place. Had Mark faced the music and apologized immediately, the episode would have ended just as quickly.
Fear begins as a concern but soon mushrooms into a vision of the worst possible outcome. This outcome then plays on the inner screen of our minds as long as we run it through the projector of our imagination.
I still laugh when I remember how Mr. Ludke handled that situation, but I've never forgotten the lesson. Turn off the projector and we instantly stop becoming fear's easy Mark.
Mike Johnson is an energetic writer & entrepreneur. Learn more about Mike's offerings at www.MikeJohnson.biz