Quick Decisions

There are moments when, right or wrong, we must act decisively and swiftly. No wiggle room. No time to ponder and kick around ideas. No vacillating. Only action.

Two days ago, I was faced with a moment such as this:  A rattlesnake was in my laundry room. If my hands hadn’t been shaking so badly, I would have a picture to prove it.

Tom wasn’t home, having gone to assess the damage at the cabin and close for the winter (wouldn’t you know it!). I was all alone in the house with only our two dogs for company and was working at my desk in between clients. In Southern California in early Fall, we have cool nights and hot days so we’re in the habit of opening up the house at night and then closing it mid-morning to capture the coolness for as long as we can. That morning, I had opened up the garage doors as well as the door leading into the laundry room and found the cool breeze so refreshing. By 11:00 it was already 85 degrees and so, between my client calls, I had closed all the open windows and doors including the garage and laundry room doors and got right back to work.

Ten minutes later, the dogs suddenly went ballistic. Barking isn’t all that unusual for them since a leaf blowing by in the wind can set them off as if a savage beast was tearing down the door, but they would usually at least head outside to do it.  This time it was all coming from inside the house, specifically the utility room.  When I rounded the corner, fussing at the dogs to be quiet, I saw they were intently focused upon a small, dark object on the floor. As my eyes adjusted to the low light, I realized it was a small rattlesnake backed up right against the closed utility room door to the garage, tightly coiled in striking position, tail pointed straight up and faintly rattling, tongue darting in and out.

I’ll admit to a split second of shock but then in the next split second, it registered that I was alone with no one but me to remedy this dangerous situation and not much time to do it. If I didn’t want this snake crawling up under a washing machine or into a dryer vent to haunt me for the next few weeks or months, I had to make a decision… now.

I’m going to tell you the end of the story first so that those of you with ophidiophobia (an abnormal fear of snakes) can go ahead and begin breathing again. I killed the snake before it moved an inch, and neither myself nor the dogs were hurt in the process.

Looking back, I tried to break down the process.  It ran like this:

  • Determine the outcome: Get the snake out of the house.
  • Weigh the top two options & risks:
    • Option #1: Scoop it up and throw it outside. High risk that it doesn’t go willingly and slides off the shovel on the way out into the house or garage.
    • Option #2: Kill it before it has the time or inclination to move at all.  Moderate risk that if you miss, you have the same result as above, or the snake strikes first, and you or the dogs get bit.  (Spoiler alert: Option #2 was the winner.)
  • Assess (and don’t second guess) your resources: I remembered our shovel sitting in the front flowerbed while Tom had been working on sprinkler lines. But I feared that if I left, the snake would move, and when I returned, I would have no idea where it was. I looked around for something else in the room that I could use but there was nothing. I decided that keeping the snake on edge was the key so I carefully picked up a large handled blue bag we had on the counter that we keep our dogs’ treats in and placed it like a shield between me and the snake, close enough to it to keep it nervous and coiled, but not so close that it would strike. Then I ran like hell through the house and out the front door to retrieve the shovel.
  • Stop thinking, breathe deep, and ACT: As I raced back into the utility room, my greatest fear was that the snake was smart enough to make its escape in my absence. Thankfully, it was not and was in the exact position where I had left it, ready to strike at the bright blue monster in front of it.  As I raised the shovel slowly, my heart was racing … not so much from fear of the snake as much as knowing that I’d have one shot at this. I breathed deeply, found my center… and then I struck a fatal blow in one fell swoop. I will admit to not lifting the shovel blade until the snake had stopped moving completely as well as worrying that I had struck the shovel blade to the floor with such force that I had likely severed the tile as well as the snake’s head. But it all worked perfectly.

And step number 5?  Celebrate success:  I believe there is absolutely no shame in drinking wine at 11:30 in the morning on a Wednesday if you’ve just killed a rattlesnake in your laundry room all by yourself. You’ve earned it.

This week, give some thought to moments when swift and decisive action is required in your business or life. The steps will likely be the same. Stay calm, decide on the outcome, weight the top options, assess your resources, and act. And if you’re still standing, celebrate.

We do not need, and indeed never will have, all the answers before we act … It is often through taking action that we can discover some of them.

~ Charlotte Bunch

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