“But what if…?” If we could strike these words from our lexicon, we’d surely be more happy, leading more fulfilling and meaningful lives. As it stands, too often we hold ourselves back for fear of what might happen if we make a leap (or even take a baby step) into the great unknown. We conjure up fictitious, scary and narrowly plausible scenarios that masquerade as pragmatism. “There’s just too much that could go wrong – I might make a fatal mistake and lose all my savings.” “What if some unforeseen calamity befalls my family and I don’t have enough money to take care of everyone?” “What if I can’t save enough for retirement and have to work until I’m 80?” “What if this isn’t my passion? I’ll be stuck doing something I don’t love for the rest of my life.”
While on the surface these might seem like good reasons to reconsider making a bold move towards living your dreams, take a deeper look and you’ll see these are fears only serving to hold you back. As humans, we’re preprogrammed with an inherent negativity bias that makes our brains more sensitive to negative news – or the possibility of negative outcomes. We evolved to be acutely aware of danger in any form, even in the hypothetical, fairyland, what-if sense. As it turns out, we’re not actually all that good at determining risk in the first place. So, when we ponder making a bold move in our lives, away from relative comfort and security and into something that seems risky, our brains tell us to reconsider. And that’s where we start coming up with all the worst-case scenarios, far-fetched what-ifs and even paradoxical logic. The things we tell ourselves when we are up against the unknown – we snap to catastrophe and want to hold onto control. “Try to start that new business? No, what if I fail, end up homeless and my parents have to take care of me again like a child?”
We have to force ourselves to see all the upside of venturing into the unknown. The muscles that we’ll build by navigating the possibilities of something new. The things we’ll learn, the people we’ll meet, the pride we’ll feel when we’ve accomplished something we thought we couldn’t. The list goes on. Yes, it’ll be hard work – but it won’t seem like work, not in the sense of the corporate hamster wheel. Yes, there will be challenges and failures – but that’s when we grow the most (there wouldn’t be an entire page dedicated to failure as a TED topic if it weren’t a critical part of success).
As we fight off the fear of the unknown, we have to continually ask ourselves, “What’s the worst that could happen?”, and challenge ourselves to answer that question honestly and realistically. So you quit your cushy corporate job and start a small business making granola and flavored almonds. You discover a year later that after you’ve created a successful product and accomplished a ton, it isn’t what you thought it would be. Now what? Out on your ear? No, you have options (you’re educated, experienced and talented) and decide you’d like to return to the corporate world having a whole new set of tools at your disposal (this is a true story by the way). We have a tendency to underestimate our own ability to cope when things don’t go as planned (that negativity bias again). As someone once said, “things just have a way of working themselves out”. I’m not saying you leave your future to fate, but it can be liberating to trust that if our intentions are noble, we’ll land on our feet – and there’s no shame in tapping into that network of amazing people we’ve built over the years for a little help (swallow that pride just a little).
Taking a risk is an adventure (whether big or little it doesn’t matter but I’d argue if it doesn’t scare you a little, it isn’t a big enough). We don’t know how things will turn out, but that’s the beauty of it – that’s the essence of living. We are much more capable of navigating risk than we give ourselves credit for – and our tricky brains aren’t much help when we are facing uncertainty. You’ve got the tools (and tips), resources, intellect and ability to stare down the fear of the unknown and realize your dreams. Make the leap and you’ll never look back.
Neill Beurskens is Founder of This Fearless Life and creates profound change for incredible people looking to get more out of their life and work. To explore the possibilities of a life lived fearlessly visit www.thisfearlesslifecoaching.com