Head Coach: Actually, you can be too careful

Feb. 2, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 1, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.

By Lane Johnson

Are you familiar with the phrase, "point of diminishing return?"

It means you can do something too long, or take something good too far, and the results begin to diminish from the initial positive outcomes. An example is when a 5-year-old does something humorous and everyone laughs. The child is delighted by the positive attention and repeats the behavior.

After a few back-to-back repetitions, the laughter diminishes. The little rascal escalates in an attempt to win back the approval that is drifting away. Reactions from the adults eventually shift to displeasure and facial expressions reflect that the child is now being obnoxious.

How can a 5-year-old even begin to understand what just happened? Try to explain the concept of diminishing return to a 5-year-old.

If you are reading this column, however, I suspect you are not 5 years old. So, let me point out to you that too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.

There is a point of diminishing return. I know this because I was recently reminded while driving to Coleto Park for a weekend camping trip.

I was pulling our vintage 1982 Viking pop-up camper. There was a lot of traffic and I got real focused on safety. Whenever I'm pulling a trailer, however small, I always feel more vulnerable. So, I engaged my turn signal early and pulled to the shoulder while maintaining a reasonable speed.

My eyes focused sharply on the traffic, the approaching turn and the width of the shoulder. I vaguely noticed a small spot in the road, but it just didn't register as significant. Actually, it wasn't. I passed over it cleanly with my truck. But, the wheel of the camper struck it. It was only a slight bump. Nothing dangerous. I ignored it.

My wife quietly asked, "You know that was a dead skunk, don't you?"

I hadn't noticed, really, but responded, "So what, it's already dead?"

She pointed out, "The skunk may have been dead, but the odor is very much alive."

I was so focused on being careful that I didn't even notice the smell of skunk in the air. Until now. And it didn't go away as we put distance on the carcass.

In fact, it seemed to be following us. I soon realized that the smell wasn't actually following us. It was with us. The camper smelled like a skunk.

We arrived at Coleto Park. It was a busy weekend with lots of campers. Every group we passed caught the aroma and watched us as we made our way to our assigned site. By the time I parked the camper and stepped out of the truck, everyone around was looking at us.

So, I called to my wife in an amplified voice, hoping they would all hear me as I glanced about, "My gosh, Honey, there is a skunk around here somewhere!"

I've salvaged that experience by turning it into a philosophical lesson. There are a lot of things that stick to us when we run into them. Our words follow us. Our behavior stays with us. Our attitude attaches to us and displays to those around what kind of a person we are.

If we get too involved in what we are doing and fail to think about or notice the words we say, the actions we display, or the attitude we project, we might run into something that stays with us in an undesirable way.

We can become too focused or too careful and miss the subtle peripheries.

If this is a problem for you and you get carried away, overlooking the subtle but important things around you, I have a solution. Find a dead skunk. Focus on it sharply. Then kick it as hard and as accurately as you can.

You will have done a good job of kicking, but the lingering effects will remind you that maybe you should have stopped while you were ahead.

Lane Johnson, M.Div., LPC, is a licensed counselor. He welcomes your comments. You can contact him by email at lane@StrategicConnectionGroup.com.



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