September 28, 2023

Loose Tooth

Josh Gentine

Loose Tooth

While the fairy has already graced our home once before, my son’s discovery of a second loose tooth was met, not with joy and excitement, but with fear and foreboding. That wiggly fellow on the bottom was terrifying for Henry for it meant “buckets of blood” (his words, not mine), not a shiny coin beneath the pillow nor the knowledge that bigger, better teeth were to follow.

For the 24 hours following his tongue's discovery, our family experienced big emotions. Small bites of food were followed by wails of agony. Accidental mouth bumps sent our little man spinning into uncompromising tears. And let’s not even start with the exercise of oral care – toothbrushes were totally off-limits.

For Henry, his fears were understandable as he’s only known life where body parts remain intact and don’t fall out or apart. However, in talking with Henry, it was not the fear of an absent tooth that scared him, it was the idea of it coming out and the scenarios for which this may come true. Would it fall out and get stuck in his cantaloupe? What if it ends up in his morning waffle? Or, peak fear, what if it comes out at night and gets lost in his bed?

If you’re reading this you have no doubt lost your first twenty (and may even be working on your next 32), and it may be hard to relate to Henry’s anxiety, but odds are there is something else occupying the place of that preverbal tooth. Perhaps it’s a conversation that needs to be addressed, an action you need to take to improve your situation, or some other health issue that is looming on the horizon. Whatever it is, we all have a fear of the unknown, the question becomes, how do you handle it?

The fear of the unknown is one of the most common fears known to man. However, as uncertainty experts Nathan Furr and Susannah Harmon Furr state in their 2022 HBR article, uncertainty and possibility are two sides of the same coin. Galileo’s uncertainty about the cosmos fueled his invention of an improved telescope, allowing him to observe and describe the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus, sunspots, and the rugged lunar surface, leading to his advocacy of a heliocentric universe. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue looking to answer the questions that others were asking. And finally, Einstein’s uncertainty about electricity fed his drive to seek and discover.

While these cases represent the edges of the unknown, all of life’s uncertainties are closely accompanied by beautiful possibilities. Consider your spouse: what started out as uncertainty blossomed into (ideally) a beautiful relationship; your uncertainty about life with kids, a new job, or even the banal quest for a new haircut is filled with fear and the excitement of possibility.

So how can you address your fears in a way that proves constructive, not destructive? Nathan and Susannah Furr have four suggestions for consideration:

  1. Reframe your situation: Most people tend to be loss-averse, but research suggests that framing decisions differently can reduce fear and anxiety associated with uncertainty. Embracing an "infinite game" mindset involves shedding the win-or-lose mentality, allowing individuals to view uncertainty as an opportunity for growth and positive change, thereby encouraging them to innovate and thrive despite challenges.
  2. Prime yourself for new risks: Open yourself to more risk-taking in specific aspects of your life by embracing routines and habits in other areas, balancing the sum of uncertainty across your life. Understanding the types of risks one is comfortable with and gradually taking smaller risks in unrelated areas can help increase overall risk tolerance and enable individuals to approach uncertainty with greater confidence and resilience.
  3. Do something: Taking small, incremental steps and learning along the way is an effective approach to navigating uncertainty. Embracing opportunities to learn from diverse sources and focusing on values rather than rigid goals can provide the confidence and flexibility needed to make informed decisions and succeed, even in the face of uncertainty.
  4. Sustain yourself: Scientific discovery and personal growth often stem from facing uncertainty so there is a need to build resilience in handling frustration and recognizing that failure is a part of the process. Maintaining focus on meaningful aspects of life, such as love, family, and personal values, can help individuals overcome setbacks and find fulfillment. You can get through anything—not just the fear of potential losses but the pain of real ones—by holding tight to what really matters.

In the end, your reward for addressing your fears won’t be a shiny nickel beneath your pillow, but I can almost guarantee that the sense of accomplishment you feel after addressing your fears will invoke a toothy grin even if there are some gaps in that smile. Will there be a little blood and an uncomfortable feeling for a while? Perhaps. But with this uncomfortableness comes growth, and that is worth more than any fairy can deliver.


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