Why I’ll Never Go Into the Woods Again!

Poison Ivy 2

Got fear?

I do.

Or maybe I should say fears.

Like any parent—and now grandparent—I do fear the danger our children face “out there” in the world, especially on the road. It’s not stifling, but I’ve expressed it often enough to our kids over the years (now ages 31, 29, 26, 24, 19, 17, and 16) as they’ve reached for the car keys, that they have all nicknamed our residence “WSH”:

Warm Safe Home.

Because, more than once, I’ve been known to say, “Don’t go out! Stay home! It’s safe and warm!”

So now they make fun of me.


On a much less serious note, but still terrifying to me, is this:

Poison Ivy.

Yes, the plant that only Satan himself could have brought to our world! I fear it greatly. So much so, I could never live on the East Coast again. 

Karen (her parenting blog) and I grew up in Ithaca, New York. Nice place, beautiful terrain—but possibly the Poison Ivy Capital of the World!

Actually, the whole eastern United States is covered with the stuff. And, yes, I know it also grows in the midwest, probably in the south, too. But, in our 17 years in Colorado, I’ve never seen it. So I plan to die in Denver with my boots on and my Calamine lotion off!

Why am I so scared of a little green plant covered in sap?


When I was 11 years old and then again at 13, I came down with a poison ivy rash that covered my body from head to toe. The itchy-beyond-belief blisters were between my fingers, my toes, and, ahem, everywhere else. 🙂

Then, at 14, I got into poison oak—Ivy’s evil cousin. This time, the rash was concentrated on my face, neck, and ears. The episode was so extreme, I missed the last two days of 9th grade, never to be reclaimed. In fact, one ear was so swollen it pointed outward, perpendicular to my head.

I looked like Dumbo on steroids.

For each of the times described above, the doc gave me penicillin shots, and yet the blistering rash still lasted 7-10 days! I really grew tired of people saying, “Well, it just needs to run its course.”


Anyway, after the bout with poison oak in 1972—I never went into the woods again.

To this day I refer to my foliage fear, somewhat benignly, as “the green stuff”—and each of our seven kids knows that Dad will never tread where there exists … The Green Stuff.

I’m aware that as an adult I’ve missed out on some outdoor fun, but the fear of suffering through poison ivy or oak ever again is overwhelming. It limits me. It stops me in my tracks. The fear is just that powerful.

All because of those childhood experiences.

The good news is, my fear of The Green Stuff doesn’t really prevent me from obtaining any key goals in life. This is a good thing.

But sometimes, our fears do hold us back from “climbing that mountain,” “reaching the summit,” and “being our best”—all that stuff sweaty motivational speakers talk about.

And that is bad news.

How about you? Any fears that are currently overwhelming you, holding you back, limiting your ability to accomplish a critical life goal?

Identifying that fear is the first step to dealing with it—if you want to deal with it, that is. For me, I’ve simply chosen to … stay out of the woods!

Care to share a fear in the comments section below? What fear is holding you back?

A final thought:

Leaves of three—let them be!

Subscribe FREE to our emails/blogs here!


24 Responses

  1. Who boy. Fighting a case of this nasty stuff right now. Timely blog post. But I WILL go back into the woods!

  2. We have it in the South too! One year I had it soo bad I had to go to the doctor. My doctor was off but a new young doctor saw me. I was wearing as little as possible (flip flops and a sleeveless sun dress). Although I was covered with swollen sores he was interested in a freckle on the back of my arm. It turned out it was melanoma. After a couple of other doctor’s procedures it is now well over 5 years with no problems. I said God gave me the hives to save my life. Just funny how life works.

  3. John,
    Enjoy your posts. I’ve been in the training product business for over 25 years. During that time, I’ve viewed countless programs on topic ranging from leadership to customer service to harassment prevention. As a result, I don’t remember the name of the guru who came up with FEAR acronym – (F)alse (E)vidence (A)ppearing (R)eal. I fear whomever thought this up will see this posting and sue me 🙂

  4. Nice note today John on the idea of Fear and how it can limit us in our lives.
    As I read your note, I was thinking about other fears that might relate to our careers. What about our fear of failure, humiliation, being accepted by others (including our colleagues and boss) or further disappointment? These are real experiences for many people and while they can be based upon something they read, it is frequently based upon some of life’s experiences that were disappointing. This can lead to a permanent internal program that says we are a failure in various situations or areas of life. We come to fear the experience of failure due to its mental and emotional pain that we can experience. We will frequently over generalize that we have failed in the past and thus will likely do so in the future. Maybe the marketing plan we presented several years ago that went south means all future plans have a high risk of failure as well. Dealing with this kind of fear or failure, disappointment, pain, humiliation etc can be remedied in several ways. It can be a signal or a call for us that new skills and knowledge are required for the task at hand. We just need to learn new things. It may also require us to see failure or disappointment in a new way….as an OPPORTUNITY to do better next time after we have improved our skill muscles relative to the task ahead. Thus we can see our fear of failure as a stepping stone for future progress. And finally, the last issue is we need to learn to jettison or FLUSH out our mental and emotional debris of fear of failure. These fearful responses are toxic to our well being and will continue to accumulate through our lives as we are confronted with new fears or failures. If we fail to flush them, our lives may become more restricted with each passing year and this will limit our opportunities.

  5. I assure you, dear friend, that the South has poison ivy and oak! I learned early on to fear the three leaves.

  6. I never knew we had the same fear of Poison Ivy. I had it really bad as a young kid, had to take some kind of Oatmeal baths. I thought it would never go away. I stay out of the woods now for sure but live in the southeast. 🙂

  7. I was very afraid of flying. Still don’t like it. However I have had to fly to the U.S. (from Canada) in May 2014 for work. I was terrified. I had never had to fly for work and this time I couldn’t get away with not going. It was only a maximum 2 hour flight. No big deal some might say! But for me it was. I even went to see my doctor to prescribe some anxiety medication.

    Well, it went well. Not so bad at all.

    I realized that if I flew to places, I would be able to spend so much time doing other things. I usually drive over 13 hours to get home to my parents from where I currently live in Toronto, ON. Or I would take a train that would take more like 15 hrs. I have a week vacation coming up at the end of October and I have decided to attempt that again. The flight has been booked.

    I am excited but scared. But as friends have told me, with these little steps I have probably opened a very vast world for me out there. If I can continue to be less and less afraid of flying, the sky is really the limit to where I can go next! So I hope the extra 11 hours or so I save by flying will all be worth it! 🙂

    So John, the woods are not that bad! At least you are on your two feet on the ground 🙂 But trust me, I understand your fear! Some people have made fun of the fact that I cannot fly a mere 2 hours to see my family – but it was real and the anxiety was real as well. I just want to be free of that fear. So I am working on it! 🙂

  8. A former mentor of mine once gave me an assignment. He said I needed to purposely make a job-related mistake that several people would notice. It seems he knew I was a bit of a perfectionist. But I later learned he wanted me to see that I had a fear of disappointing others. I discovered his true intentions when he gave me a book called, What You Fear Is Who You Are (David W. Thompson), and chapter 9 was titled Fear of Disappointing Others. The lessons I learned from Robal have continued to shape my life for the better. In this case, I am now less of a perfectionist (but still not perfect), and I have valuably learned that making mistakes and disappointing others is not the end of the world; but instead, provides valuable learning opportunities because you are often trying new things. On a last note, growth is always good except when it involves The Green Stuff.

  9. I love coincidences and I’m pleased to share this one with you.

    Here is my story:

    My new boss is going through his new management team, one by one, sharing his copy of your book, “QBQ! Question Behind the Question.” I’m impatient so I went to buy my own copy at Chapters. I ordered it as they were out, but decided to look up some info about the book on the net and came across this forum.

    Prior to last weekend, I had never heard of Ithaca, New York, even though it’s only a five hour drive away from where I have lived for the past 25 years. Reading through your note on poison ivy was the second time in the past week I have heard of your home town of Ithaca. I spend last weekend there with another 46 hikers, mostly in the woods, hiking as many waterfalls and gorges as we had time for. You can imagine how my legs felt on Monday. For one hike we had a guide who is a naturalist. I am a horticulturalist and have a passion for teaching people about the plants they encounter in the woods. Together we animatedly pointed it out and taught our hikers about “your” poison ivy we saw along the trails. So as I was reading through your note just now, I could not help but chuckle to myself a little as it’s such a coincidence that I read your words just after spending so much time in the same old woods you were describing.

    Something that can help us overcome our fears is the support of a good guide. I strive to be that guide for people new to the woods and I also strive to be that guide for my staff, especially when they are just learning how to have difficult coaching conversations and other scaring things about managing people. Just like my new boss is sharing his knowledge and insights from your book, I will also use those insights to inspire, support and guide those who report to me.

    I look forward to the guidance of your words I am about to read when my book arrives at my local Chapters store. I’m sure it will help me with some of my own fears and insecurities. It would be my honor to repay you by taking you on a guided hike through your very own native Lucifer Falls, one of the most breath taking sights in North America … maybe even the world. If I can help you over come your fear of the woods and poison ivy, I promise that you would not regret the beauty you would encounter. One of the most satisfying things in this world is reaping the rewards on the other side of our fears.

    1. Lana, what a great story and note. Yes, the gorges of Ithaca are where I grew up … one surely wants to stay on the paths!!! Thanks for the offer, if I need a Canadian guide sometime, I will call upon you!

  10. One “activity” that goes along with fear is “pain avoidance.” It would be foolish and ridiculous to want the pain connected with poison ivy.

    However, we often become paralyzed by avoiding an uncomfortable situation or conversation. As they say, no pain, no gain. Do we not make that job change, take that risk, confront that problem, due to the real or perceived “pain” involved? It is easy to become comfortable. Which means that it can be easy to become lazy.

    My work changes rapidly due to e-commerce. The good old days were easy. We have new and complex challenges ahead. But, when we work through it, accept it, and conquer those challenges, we will be stronger and more viable in our industry.

  11. Wow! Your story brought back memories! When I was in the 8th grade, as a class project with our teacher, we decided to make sassafass tea. When we went into the woods to gather the roots, one of the students accidently got some poison ivy roots into the bunch. So, we ended up drinking poison ivy tea. What a mess the whole class was the next day! We all had poison ivy inside and out.
    As far as my fears go, I guess one of my greatest fears come from my worry that I won’t be a success in the eyes of my parents. I want so much to make them proud. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to know that they were pleased with person I had turned out to be.

  12. John,
    One advantage of living on the East Coast is the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. When we got a dose of the green stuff we would spend an hour in the waves and the itch was gone.

  13. So, at 44 now, I have had a dream of going back to school and getting a Master’s as a Physician Assistant. However, I have been married 17 years with 2 teenagers, and always been the breadwinner. The program is 3 years FT. I feel guilty taking out a school loan, and not contributing those 3 years, and then fear what if I don’t graduate at the top as I expect and be able to ramp back up in my new profession quickly in order to fill all these “gaps” I will inevitably create by taking this on?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *