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Edition #4
Fates and Choices
Ysabel Cacho
Edited by Andrei Andronic

Are You Still Afraid of the Dark?

There comes a time when we’re meant to outgrow the childish fear of the dark (or at least make it through one episode of the Nickelodeon show Are You Afraid of the Dark.) Only our overactive imagination creates monsters out of the shadows until the flick of a light switch reveals something else entirely harmless. After all, it’s not really the dark that we’re afraid of, but what’s waiting for us in the dark. But it turns out that instead of outgrowing our fear of the dark, we now call it a different name: “what if.”

Similar to our childhood, when faced with uncertainty, the mix of suspense and an overactive imagination can create shapes and scenarios in our heads. As adults, we may not form fearsome monsters but different scenarios as we try to imagine all possible outcomes of a situation. Sometimes in this instance, the childhood solution of switching on a light to confront the dark, unfortunately, is simply not enough.

It would have made more sense to start the essay with a line or two from Robert Frost’s iconic poem, “The Road Not Taken,” rather than an allegory of a childhood fear of the dark. Many people are familiar with the verse “two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” which prompts the speaker to stop and consider the paths before him. The speaker takes “the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (Frost, 1915). This line (and indeed the whole poem) has often been misinterpreted as an inspirational quote to follow our path, the road less taken.

Well, the joke’s on us—literally. Frost wrote the poem as a joke for his friend, Edward Thomas, and didn’t realize people would take it so seriously. When one goes back to re-read the poem (not simply the last two lines), it’s clear that the two roads are, in fact, the same, and therein lies the uncertainty.

We’re faced with our forks in the road daily—whether in a literal sense or not. Some decisions are easy to make, while others are shrouded in a cloud of darkness, which results in different methods to either move forward or stay still.

Research shows that anxiety is a response to a potential threat that has yet to happen. The possibility of danger usually manifests in the form of worrying. The thought of not knowing what will happen or when it will occur sends us into an endless spiral of  “what ifs,” especially regarding a significant shift in our personal or professional life. In contrast, fear is the response to a defined threat, expressed in the fight or flight response (Carleton, Norton, and Asmundson, 2007).

Like most working people in 2020, I was also faced with a barrage of “what ifs” about my life, living and working in New York City. I was expected to climb that infamous career ladder and work towards a more managerial role. But after six years of hustling, burning out, and working overtime in New York, I wanted to climb out, not up. (I was in a seemingly perpetual state of burnout. But unfortunately, out there are only so many times you can use “burnout” as an excuse for taking time off from work.) I was thinking bigger than career moves. I was thinking of a more physical move that could pivot me into a new and more balanced life in Spain.

My lofty dreams of moving to Europe had more questions than answers and more “what ifs” than solidified plans. While I worried about starting from scratch, I was more afraid of the regrets I would have if I didn’t take the plunge. So, I ventured into the unknown– I moved to a city where I didn’t know anybody and went back to school as all of my friends back in New York got glamorous promotions. A year later, I have yet to find the light switch to prove this wasn’t just a crazy, quarter-life crisis pivot.

A few weeks ago, as I was trying to figure out the next chapter of my life after graduation, I ended up in a bookstore. I came across Mel Brooks’ latest memoir, All About Me!: In My Remarkable Life in Show Business, the actor-producer-director-writer recounts his early days trying to make it in the entertainment industry. I landed on a page where he challenged F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once declared that there are no second acts in life. “Well, I’ve been lucky enough to prove him wrong,” wrote Brooks. “I’ve had a great second act and I’m enjoying a pretty good third act too. If I were a Shakespearean play, I’d be rooting for five acts! (Brooks, 2021)” While this may not have been the light switch meant to light the rest of my way, it certainly added some illumination.

Sometimes, slight illumination can lead our way or refocus our objective. Author Sheela Subramanian thinks the “what ifs” in decision-making are usually framed in negative scenarios (Elliot, Subramanian, and Kupp, 2022). “What ifs” are the new monsters under our beds that keep us up at night, safely tucked under the sheets. This framing can hinder people from thinking of positive outcomes. In the dark, we wonder whether the figure in the corner is either a hungry demon or a jacket draped over a chair. Perceptions such as “What if I’m wrong? What if I fail? What if this blows up in my face?” dictate our reality. But what if, said Subramanian, we assumed the best-case scenario rather than the worst?

Like our childhood, fumbling in the dark before finding the light is normal. Sometimes it’s easy to find our way out of it, but most of the time, we’re left scrambling with our arms outstretched. If anything, at least it shows that we’re not afraid of trying to find a more precise way out despite bumping into furniture along the way.

To answer the essay’s title, I think it’s safe to say yes, I’m still afraid of the dark. But I’m also more fearful that I’ll regret not trying. Nothing productive ever comes from wondering “what if.” So, while I am still army crawling my way out of this wild uncertainty, the notion that I’m doing something about it lights my way.

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Brooks, M. (2021). All about Me! : My Remarkable Life in Show Business. New York: Random House Publishing Group.

Carleton, R.N., Norton, M.A.P.J. and Asmundson, G.J.G. (2007). Fearing the unknown: A short version of the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21(1), pp.105–117. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.03.014.


Elliot, B., Subramanian, S. and Kupp, H. (2022). How the Future Works: Leading Flexible Teams To Do The Best Work of Their Lives. Wiley.


Frost, R. (1915). A Group of Poems. The Atlantic Monthly, [online] Aug., pp.221–224. Available at:

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