We all have fears. The aim is not letting them define our lives.
When I find myself in need of a haircut, I tend to wait longer than I should because the notion of small talk with the stylist gives me anxiety. Just the thought of the potential anxiety gives me anxiety. It’s only when my hair becomes rounded like a basketball that I find the moxie to enter the salon to face a small conversation.
As I sat in the big chair this time, without any better gimmick, I reverted to ol’ reliable: It sure is some weather we’ve got out there, huh? Yeah, so what if it wasn’t as hot as the previous two days had been, warm is warm and I’d planted my flag. Weather’s a thin conversational line to take though, and I estimated I had about 35 seconds of material left. Unfortunately my lizard brain chose flight and directed my mouth to do it in 20.
The stylist patiently listened to my incoherent rambling, and when I finally stopped to gasp in oxygen, she jumped in with a thought so out of left field that I wondered if she’d been itching to bring it up with someone all day. She pondered aloud, what would become of her when the robots take her job?
Take her job? Cutting hair? No, I’d heard her correctly; she feared the prospect of losing her career to automation.
I was quite relieved to put the topic of the climate in the rearview mirror, and I hit the accelerator to catch up. She continued on, admitting that the unknown of tomorrow generated insomnia for her on a regular basis. I was unsure what she expected from me by revealing this information, and I wasn’t immediately prepared to offer a comfortable solution.
I probed for more, and she obliged. She admitted that the job of hair stylist probably wasn’t high on the list of most vulnerable, but it was only a matter of time until technology set its sights on hair care.
The future was always creeping forward, and the present was rapidly being lost to history. She told me that the anticipation of tomorrow consumed most of her todays.
There’s almost nothing more relatable than a fear of the future. It’s coming for us all, and those most confident in what it holds will be the ones most disappointed when it arrives. The most productive preparation we can do is to keep a flexible mind, and focus on the incremental growth of goals on a longer timeline.
Every decision we make is a balancing act between our short and long-term futures. Mastering the long-term can be accompanied by great reward, but to be fixated on possibility is to be its prisoner.
On the bright side, the first step toward a lasting solution is to recognize recurring negative patterns of thought or behavior. In this case, when the future becomes a daily burden, stepping back presents a viable way out; she and I agreed that when the world feels too big, we’ll commit our focus to mastering today.
It felt like we were making real progress, and I was surprised by my own level of engagement in the conversation. It’s an unparalleled feeling, the experience of enjoying a deep connection with a stranger.
In the end, of course, the irony of fearing the chair is that the whole experience is over in less than 15 minutes. She swept the bib off me, and I sat motionless, suddenly uneasy about entering the future I’d just promised. Maybe if I chose not to move we could hold onto this moment long enough to solve all of life’s issues.
Alas, existence is momentum, and sitting still is a denial of the inevitable. Also there was another shaggy customer waiting impatiently for my seat.
The hair stylist and I crossed to the register, and I took out a gift card to pay. I handed it to her, and she remarked how she didn’t know how to ring these up, but she’d figure it out. Seven minutes and two outside opinions later, the transaction was solved. This won’t be a problem for the robots.