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Mind of Jacka: Room 101

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Mar 03, 2023

Ten points to anyone who identified the reference in this post’s title. I’ll confess, I had forgotten about it until the other day when I was reading an essay about movies. Room 101 is from George Orwell’s “1984.” It is a prison chamber used by the Ministry of Love as a last resort to break down those with whom they are “working.” Within Room 101, a prisoner’s worst fears are manifested. For the protagonist of the story, his fear is being trapped and unable to get away from rats.

I kind of get that one. Rats are not my favorite. However, for me, it is snakes. Part of that may come from growing up in the Southwest where you quickly learn respect for rattlers. I could regale you with tales of close encounters that still make me shiver. And that may be why my respect for snakes tends to lean toward fear. Heck, it climbs the wall between respect and fear and takes off running as far away as possible. I quiver at the sight of something as harmless as a red racer — a snake with which my cousins often played. (That’s all the evidence I need to prove their inherent, twisted sickness because, well, snakes!)

Just writing this now is giving me the heebie-jeebies. Snakes. Blech. And no, thank you.

Everyone has their own physical Room 101. Yours may be snakes, rats, spiders, pointy objects (I had an auditor…), or any of the other creepy-crawlies, dark places, or physical manifestations which cause abnormal terror in the otherwise normal person. But we also have psychological Room 101s. And while we may not think of them as causing the instant repulsion we associate with the physical, they can be just as debilitating. And we avoid them like they were, well, snakes.

For example, it seems the number one fear for many people is public speaking. In fact, a large number of those individuals have a greater fear of public speaking than of death. They would rather die than speak in public. You may be one of them. (Would you like to tell the class all about it? No? You can’t get out of that fetal position you adopted at the mere mention of the opportunity? Very well.) But there are a lot of psychological Room 101s, fears that can be as paralyzing and fear-inducing as any physical object. Fear of rejection, fear of inadequacy, fear of imperfection, fear of time, fear of poverty, fear of change, fear of loneliness, fear of uncertainty, fear of being hurt, FOMO, and our old buddy, fear of failure. (Sheesh. Just typing that list depressed me.) Did I miss yours? Well, there are a lot of them.

We all have them. And any and each of the above can affect us. On a scale of one to 10, you may have nothing that hits you at a level 10. But I’m willing to bet there are some eights or nines. And it doesn’t take much to send us into paroxysms of ineptitude by bringing one of them out of the dark and into our consciousness — even the ones we think are resting comfortably on the scale at one or two.

Meaning, if we are going to work with others (and with ourselves) we better comprehend, understand, and appreciate these potential fears, as well as the impact they will have.

Leading to three rules. Rule number one: Understand your Room 101s. Rule number two: Understand the Room 101s of those you work for and those who work for you. And rule number three: Understand the Room 101s that are impacting your clients and others you work with.

And now a moment of honesty. At this point, in an early draft of this piece (and, yes, I write and rewrite them, no matter what they may look like), I went on at some length about each of these lessons – the importance, the steps to take, etc. But, seriously, haven’t we all been down these roads before? I hear some of you mumbling under your breath, “Yeah, I heard all this in my organization’s Introduction to Supervision class.” And if you’ve spent any time around emotional intelligence, well, yeah, it’s all in there, too.

Instead, here is the point I really want to make.

Think about the fears that motivate and demotivate each of us. Now, rather than thinking about something as abstract and potentially mundane as fear of failure (for example), what if we equated that fear to, say, a fear of snakes — a visceral, physical, body-jumping, nigh-on-painful, get-me-out-of-here reaction?

Think about Room 101. Suddenly, those psychological fears become more real. Suddenly, we recognize that dealing with such fears is much more important than we first thought. And, suddenly, that fear becomes more important than any other tasks we may have set before us.

We all have our psychological Room 101s. Know what yours are. Acknowledge they exist and take what steps you can to face them rather than run away. And understand, as much as possible, the Room 101s of those with whom you work. Then, with that knowledge, find ways to work with and around the fears.

We’re all human beings. And it is best if we treat each other (and ourselves) with the compassion human beings deserve.

And with that, let me just say… wait a minute. Did I feel something slither across my foot? Why’d it have to be snakes? AARRRRGGHHHH!!!!

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.