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‘Fear-setting’ for an exit without regret

Progressive Dairy Editor Walt Cooley Published on 24 February 2020

Kobe Bryant’s accidental death in a helicopter crash earlier this year shocked everyone. For days, the news of his passing consumed media cycles. That scene played out before.

Remember Princess Diana and Robin Williams. The dairy industry has seen it, too. Two years ago, dairyman John Pagel died suddenly in a plane crash. These were all bright stars within each of their industries. Their charismatic personalities endeared themselves to the public. Humanity aches when we see such light extinguished earlier than expected.

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To some degree, we all fear an unexpected demise. The frequency of airline passengers in the U.S. who recently wore surgical face masks to guard against coronavirus exposure is evidence of this. (This in spite of information from health officials that the masks aren’t a guarantee against exposure.)

God only knows how much time we each have left. Yet there is something we can all do to gain peace of mind with our ending, whatever that may be.

Much attention has been focused on dairies going out of business the last few years, and rightly so. The dairy industry has consolidated by thousands of dairies in the last three years. Do you fear having to face your own exit from the industry? If so, here’s an exercise to try.

First, stop and consider a few different scenarios about your exit from the industry. I’ve provided some possible scenarios for you to consider. Answer the following questions for each one: How does facing each scenario make you feel? Which scenarios do you fear? Which one do you want most? Which ones could you live with? Which do you think will never happen to you?

I’ve left some space for you to jot some notes about how you feel about each of these scenarios right here:

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  • A voluntary exit from the industry on your own terms


  • A financially forced exit


  • A premature death within the next month


  • A death after a full life and successful farm transition to the next generation

Obviously, these are not all the possible exit scenarios. But if you’re still reading, I’d like for you to go back and listen to the story you would tell yourself for each of the scenarios if they happened to be your fate. Since none of us are in complete control of every situation, let’s focus on what you can control about them. This is what Tim Ferris calls fear setting.

I’ve written about this recently on this page, and I was surprised at the response from readers interested in learning more. So here’s how to do fear setting in action.

Pick the scenario you feared the most. Then define the effects of the feared scenario that concern you. I’ve done this for my own career as an example. Probably like many of you, I fear a financially forced exit (i.e., being fired). Why? For me, this would be a major shock to my family. I don’t doubt I could bounce back and find other work but, as a kid, I personally experienced a financially forced exit with my parents. It’s tough on kids and hard for them to understand. I don’t want that for my kids. Maybe you fear this scenario because you’re not sure you could bounce back. The reasons to fear it are endless. But write down five reasons you fear. Then write down what you could do to prevent these outcomes. Some will be completely preventable, others not at all. For the scenarios that are not preventable, make a list of what you could do to begin to repair the damage of your feared scenario.

I think you’ll find confidence in how resilient you really are. Whenever I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed by fear, doing this exercise provides me peace and direction. I hope it does the same for you.  end mark

Walt Cooley
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