Putting Fear on Mute

Fear (and its flip side, anger) is going to win on election day in 2010. Either Republicans and the Tea Party will convince voters that the Democrats/Obama/Nancy Pelosi are a huge threat to their pocketbooks or other things that voters worry about, or the Democrats will convince voters the same is true of the Republicans/Tea Party. Rather than voting for what we believe in, we are voting for what we’re least afraid of.

Monster emerging from TV

You don't have to kill your TV to ratchet down your fears. Just use the mute button.

This bothers me for all sorts of reasons. Mostly, because it reflects how fear has become the dominant way to make decisions in far too many aspects of far too many people’s lives. Including, of course, unhappy lawyers who want a better work life.

Why? Television, for one thing. More specifically, the commercials on television. Not the political ads so much as the products and services ads. Watch them carefully: An extraordinarily high percentage of commercials are about hyped-up fears.

Now, marketers have been playing to fears for as long as there have been ads. But it struck me that the intensity of fear marketers use has risen to Rocky Mountain heights. This probably is only a revelation to a few oddballs like me who don’t watch much television to start with. And when I do watch, it’s often (waaaaay too often) kids’ shows.

For all the problems with advertising to kids—promoting materialism and really awful food choices, say—the one thing that kid TV commercials lack is that razor edge of fear. Mostly, those commercials are about how the heck much fun you can have with an awesome toy or how great some junk will taste.

Mainstream TV commercials? Oy. I just had a big dose of them at the dentist’s office. First, the political ads on the lobby TV, in which Californian Nancy Pelosi is apparently a grave threat to Tennessee. Then some other ads about skincare products, because if you don’t use them you might look less than dewy and youthful, or maybe even old—the horror! You could lose jobs or even friends or your spouse if you look like that.

Even on more niche channels, like HGTV, paralyzing fear runs rampant. You need to use disposable towels rather than your own washable, reusable towels, or you will be eaten by glowing, roving bands of microbes, or at the very least hospitalized and probably catch MRSA. If you don’t buy your pre-schooler some fancy computerized learning system, s/he cannot possibly learn letters and numbers and is doomed to life as a fast food worker.

OK so really television commercials are not solely responsible for the fearfulness that has consumed American culture, but they sure do play a role in it. Commercials magnify our fears, and in many cases create them. As aged and decrepit as I am, I actually remember a time when you chose a dentist for the skill with which s/he could take care of the health of your teeth and mouth. Now, thanks to whitening strips and the relentless marketing of bleach blond teeth, dentists must compete on their cosmetic dentistry abilities, if their websites are any indication.

And this has what to do with lawyers and career searches, exactly? So glad you asked! It’s about how you do, or don’t, reinforce the fears that are running amok in your head at any given moment. Fear is rarely isolated to one tiny issue, or even one medium issue, in your life. If you’re fearful about looking for a job off the beaten path, might you also be fearful about other risks in life? (rhetorical question alert) If you tend to let fears pile up and they keep you from updating your resume, are there some other dust bunnies of fear elsewhere in your life?

So here’s my challenge to you, legal career changer: Cut yourself off from what magnifies your fears. For starters, ban commercials from your life for a week and see if you feel less anxious. I’m not saying you have to do a full-on digital fast—though I think if you did, you would be amazed at how helpful it is to quelling the fear demons. Instead, refuse to watch commercials when you watch TV. Mute them (all of them, not just some), or better yet, DVR your shows and skip commercials altogether. Or, line up a few seasons of a show you’ve been wanting watch, and get it on Netflix. There’s always Hulu, too. Fewer commercials, though yes you still need to mute them.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that TV isn’t the only thing that magnifies fears. The wrong family members, friends and acquaintances can, too. Keep toxic people at arm’s length and see what happens in your life.

When you start making decisions from heartfelt desires rather than fear, your life will change. For the better. See if cutting out commercials doesn’t help with that process.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy lawyers on ways to be more fulfilled and actually, yanno, happy. Her Netflix Watch Instantly queue is pretty full, but every once in a while she gets to watch one of those BBC shows she loves. What about you? Drop her a line at jalvey AT jenniferalvey.com.

One thought on “Putting Fear on Mute

  1. Thank you so much for posting this today. I am over 90% sure that I will be leaving my current Big Law job for a career in (gulp) real estate. Yup, you heard me right. Real estate. It is something that I am very passionate about and have been wanting to pursue for quite some time. I finally decided to stop putting my life on hold, recession be damned (however, the fact that I live in NYC where one can make sustenance money on rentals alone, plus the fact that I could possibly have close to a year’s worth of savings before I start this venture doesn’t exactly hurt either). The biggest fear holding me back isn’t really failure (although, yes, I am quite afraid of falling flat on my face), but rather, all my Big Law colleagues thinking I’m insane for leaving. I’m also afraid of judgment from the outside world for leaving such a high paying, “secure” job (in the bankruptcy group) for something that will produce a much lower and unknown income (at least to start). I’m afraid that people will label me an entitled brat who thinks that work has to make her “happy.” I’m afraid people will think I’m ungrateful and foolish. But, your post has reminded me why I shouldn’t give into those fears and let them rule my decisions. Thank you.

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