Staring Down Mountain Lions: When Contingency Plans Become Excuses

Years ago, I was hiking with some friends outside Boulder, CO. I’ll never forget a sign posted along the path. It read, “Warning: You are in the home of a mountain lion.” That caught my attention and I carefully noted the suggestions for avoiding an attack. The few that I still remember?

Wear a bell. (Make noise as you walk. You might scare them off.)
Walk with small children between adults. (Apparently, they’ll pick off small stragglers!)
If you come across a mountain lion, speak firmly. Make yourself as large as possible.
If attacked, fight back. Protect your head and neck.

We continued our outdoor stroll without incident, but returned to our vehicle with the confidence a newfound set of animal attack prevention tips brings. In the almost twenty years since that day, I’ve never once had to use that advice. I konw the mountain lions are out there, I’ve just never had to stare one down. I suppose, however, that if you let the warning sign bounce around in your brain too much, you might let yourself get spooked out of hiking altogether.

This is the verse that prompted me to recall that moment: 
Proverbs 22:13 The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there! If I go outside, I might be killed!”

Notice what kind of the person this doesn’t describe. 
It’s not the fearful person, the cautious person or the paranoid person.
It’s the lazy person. Why? Because the sloth has already decided he doesn’t want to go outside today. He’s not going to get dressed and leave the house. 
There are shows to watch, video games to play, naps to be had and microwave pizza rolls to be consumed in comfort and safety.

But we can’t say, “I’m lazy. I’m going to stay home.” We have to retroactively rationalize the choice we’ve already made. Instead of just telling ourselves the truth, we magnify potentially real, but statistically improbable threats, into clear and present dangers.

I can’t -
- submit this book proposal… those editors can’t appreciate what I’m trying to do.
- apply for this grad program… I’m not sure it’s what I want.
- buy this house… I don’t know what’s going to happen to the market. 
- commit to this relationship… He probably has some baggage.
- try out for the team… I hear the coach plays favorites.
- give my best effort in the class because … I’ll never use this in the real world anyway.

According to Proverbs, there is a common, deeper, underlying issue for all of my excuses: 
It’s not that I’m truly anticipating a lion attack, the honest answer is:
“I just don’t want to do the work.”

Yes, every endeavor of value comes with some level of risk, some possibility of failure. But they also come with an upside. There is a miniscule chance you’ll get jumped by a mountain lion, there is an excellent chance you’ll enjoy the hike with friends and catch an unforgettable sunset over the Rockies. And those moments, those tend to be worth it in the end.

Craig Custance