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Melchior de Hondecoeter: A Cock and Two Hens, with Chicks, in a Landscape Setting (1656-95)
"A BigChicken will swallow anything."

My face mask might successfully cloak from the usual observer the fact that I'm a BigChicken. Pin feathers successfully tucked in beneath an over-sized N95, and anyone might mistake me for a man. Inside, behind that mask, lies a deep truth and a continual embarrassment. I tend to move forward by first crouching behind. I will not lift up my head to survey the territory before me for the longest time, choosing to nurture terrifying fantasies rather than getting to the normal business of slaying dragons. I am evidently not brave. Oh, I've accomplished plenty in my time, but not nearly as much as I've fled from or declined engagement with. I first imagine failing, and failing big, before getting over it and proceeding.

What courage I do exhibit tends to be of the counter phobic kind.
I seem to have no difficulty engaging in some theatricality, like the time I showed up for an interview with an executive board wearing a wizard suit. I got the gig, too. Or the time I dressed up my executive client in a straight jacket and had her describe how much that felt like her behind her desk doing her job to a nation-wide broadcast to scores of her employees. These productions might seem like they required great courage from me, but honestly, I felt as though I was successfully hiding behind the theatricality, as if that actor wasn't really me, the BigChicken, who was cowering behind the scene while his avatar or somebody performed the scene. It seemed more like acting than real life.

I'm a BigChicken, but apparently not a hen. I do not lay eggs. I have only very rarely failed and never truly catastrophically. I frequently stumble but rarely fall. I noticed something when I was consulting. I noticed that the less a real threat, the greater its influence. Organizations where nobody ever got fired tended to contain more paranoia about getting fired. This result didn't seem to require any threat, but just the simple absence of itself. I'd ask after what bloodbath had sparked the paranoid spark, and nobody could ever recount a specific instance of any purge. Everybody had gotten the word, however, and everyone kept themselves clammed up tight lest they get identified as a loose cannon or an expendable resource. They even felt noble for their sacrifice. Chickening's complicated business.

I can stare at a piece of work without seeing a single handle on it. I can strut around its perimeter without finding a single point of entry. I can successfully stiff-arm my own future, knowing full well that it's up to me and still decline the invitation to engage. I can go on this way for weeks, months, years, dog-lives. I can forget why I wanted it. I can lose my spark. I can insist that it's still too dark to drive even after sunrise. I tell myself reassuring stories that it's not my fault, that circumstances cut me off again, even when (maybe especially when) I know those stories could not possibly be true. A BigChicken will swallow anything. He'll squawk discontentedly and scurry away in a cloud of dust. 'Twas always thus.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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