Ride the Vacuum Cleaner

I actually had a different post planned for this week, but I was driving home last night and I caught part of an interview with film director, Ken Burns, who is part of the documentary series inspired by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s powerful book “The Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer.”   The interviewer was asking Mr. Burns what pulled him toward this subject.  Mr. Burns revealed that his mother had coped with cancer throughout much of his early childhood, and had eventually died when he was eleven.  He stated that he felt as though every day of his life since then has been impacted by cancer. (Right about now, you might be wondering why I am talking to you about a film director.  Hang on. I’m getting there. I promise.)

Mr. Burns said that the thought of cancer as something frightening, and shared a story from his family.  He explained how his daughter, when she was very little, was terrified of the vacuum cleaner.  He said that her terror persisted, until one day, she walked into the room with the loud, scary monster–and sat on it.  He explained that, to this day in their family, when they talk about doing something that is scary, they say it’s time to “ride the vacuum cleaner.”

I love that analogy.  It is such a good fit for our real life.  Because there are a lot of things that feel large, scary, and overwhelming to us.  Much like a vacuum cleaner would look and feel if you were a small child.  Just take a minute and think. Is there a “vacuum cleaner” in your life?  Something that you tend to turn and avoid?

There are a lot of reasons that we avoid our virtual vacuum cleaners. We might be frightened because we don’t know what our “vacuum cleaner” really is.  We might be frightened because our “vacuum cleaner” includes a lot of noise and chaos.  Maybe the “vacuum cleaner” hurt us in the past.  Maybe we aren’t ready for the change that our “vacuum cleaner” might bring.

Avoiding your own personal vacuum cleaner may seem to make sense in the moment.  But I’d like to encourage you to take a step back and think about that avoidance a little bit deeper.  Is avoiding the vacuum cleaner preventing you from making progress in other parts of your life?  Do you have to take extra steps to dodge your personal vacuum cleaner?   Does it take up a lot of your emotional energy?

If the answer to any of those questions was yes, then I have an invitation for you.  I’d like you to think about what you might be able to do to start moving towards taking a ride on your own personal vacuum cleaner.  If you have a “vacuum cleaner riding” story you’d like to share in the comments, we’d love to celebrate it with you.  If you need help in taking steps toward confronting your own vacuum cleaner, just click that button on the right side of the screen.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

2 thoughts on “Ride the Vacuum Cleaner

  1. Hi Ann,

    Thank you for this inspiring post on confronting one’s fears. I so admire Mr. Burns’ little daughter deciding one day to tackle the scary vacuum cleaner monster by sitting on it! I wonder what shifted for her on that particular day that she had the courage to face her fear…

    Your post brings to mind this wonderful saying by Judy Blume: “Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”

    May we all have that little girl’s courage to face our own vacuum cleaner monsters!

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