When you’re taking a risk, fear comes out to play. We’d be fools to say we weren’t at all afraid when we set various plans in motion over the last five years. It’s just that we were more afraid of not. Along with our own fears, we began to recognize fear in others as they reacted to our ideas. It’s safe to say fear runs through the entire weft of emotional tapestry associated with a major life change.
We’re pretty well acquainted with our individual risk tolerance, and, not surprisingly, as a couple we’ve noted increased levels; when you’ve got someone to pull with, the wagon isn’t as heavy. So we’ve managed our fear quite nicely by employing calculated risk and kept moving toward our goals.
But it’s funny how when you start doing adventurous or unusual things, fear shows up in other people. Naysayers pop right out of the woodwork and, literally, give you a piece of their mind. Sometimes this comes as a surprise: they’re family, friends, or co-workers, those you thought would be the first to support you. Instead, they’re a total buzzkill sundae, complete with an eye-rolling cherry on top:
“You’d be better off getting a real job.” “Normal people wouldn’t waste their time.” “That’s just too risky.” You might become aware of naysayers who are more passive aggressive – they’ll disparage your plans not directly with you, but to others. Or they come right out and predict your failure, using their definition: “You’ll be back in six months.” (My personal favorite! One day short of six months and I’m a failure, one day over six months and I’m not! Allrighty then!) Some of our naysayers still maintain we don’t work very hard. Oh, well! 🙂
You can’t let this kind of stuff get you down.
Knowing that fear is at the root of all these negative reactions can help. Whether you’re the one who’s afraid of taking a risk or there’s a naysayer who’s afraid of your risk on your behalf (how kind of them, really!), there are other fears lurking behind it all. Torre DeRoche explains:
“Most often, naysayers have not fulfilled their own dreams. They don’t live an inspired existence because they’re too busy living in fear. Maybe they made the mistake of listening to their own naysayers, and they’re just parroting words that have kept them down their whole life? . . . Chances are, they’re just scared. Fear of loss, fear of being alone, fear of change, fear of being insignificant, fear of death or injury, fear of being judged. Your wild ambitions threaten the naysayer. He/she likes to keep life safe, simple and predictable, and by pissing in your party hat, they’re hoping to keep you small and easy to manage. Your goal threatens to throw out the equilibrium of his/her universe. But the naysayer is out of luck because the entire universe doesn’t actually belong to them (as much as they like to believe it does).”
Foundational fears, according to M. Farouk Radwan, Msc. of 2KnowMyself, can be fear of failure, fear of emotional pain in the form of criticism or disapproval, fear of change, or fear of rejection. You (or your naysayers) could even be afraid of success! After all, when you’re successful, people depend upon you, they might envy you, or they may discover you’re not really good at what you’re doing, or any number of things that are well outside your comfort zone. Paralyzing, right?
There’s a strong basis for fear of failure. Randy Komisar, a successful venture capitalist with many failures under his belt, wrote Monk and the Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valey Entrepreneur. Komisar distinguishes types of risk tolerance with an allegory: the Whole Life Plan and the Deferred Life Plan:
“Considering personal risk forces us to define personal success. We may well discover that the business failure we avoid and the business success we strive for do not lead us to personal success at all. Most of us have inherited notions of ‘success’ from someone else or have arrived at these notions by facing a seemingly endless line of hurdles extending from grade school through college and into our careers. We constantly judge ourselves against criteria that others have set and rank ourselves against others in their game. Personal goals, on the other hand, leave us on our own, without this habit of useless measurement and comparison.
“Only the Whole Life Plan leads to personal success. It has the greatest chance of providing satisfaction and contentment that one can take to the grave, tomorrow. In the Deferred Life Plan there will always be another prize to covet, another distraction, a new hunger to sate. You will forever come up short.”
We’re conditioned from an early age into embracing attitudes on fear and failure that, instead of keeping us safe from harm, constrain us into boredom and mediocrity: “In school we learn that mistakes are bad, and we are punished for making them. Yet, if you look at the way humans are designed to learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. If we never fell down, we would never walk.” Robert T. Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Komisar, in an exceptional video conversation, states his belief: Most business models don’t tolerate the level of failure that innovation actually requires. Is it any wonder that in today’s western world, where every child is a winner, that “what generally is lacking is a culture of constructive failure”?
Click here if you can’t see the video.
Komisar believes personal risk is a matter of “values and priorities, an expression of who you are. ‘Play it safe’ may simply mean you do not weigh heavily the compromises inherent in the status quo. The financial rewards of the moment may fully compensate you for the loss of time and fulfillment. Or maybe you just don’t think about it. On the other hand, if time and satisfaction are precious, truly priceless, you will find the cost of business failure, so long as it does not put in peril the well-being of you or your family, pales in comparison with the personal risks of not trying to live the life you want today.”
DeRoche concurs: “If you’re determined, you can go to extraordinary lengths to avoid failure. Pursue a boring career and marry a person you don’t love. Add to that a mortgage for a suburban crapbox, car repayments on a 4WD that’ll never leave the city, a few dull friends, and a yappy dog that pees on the carpet, and you can be unpleasantly distracted for an entire lifetime.”
At the root of our fear of failure is the concept of control. F. Diane Barth, LCSW explains, “By definition, taking a chance means not being in control. Reasonable chances offer reasonable amounts of control. Risky chances offer far less control. But of course, the paradox is that not taking chances doesn’t actually give us more control at all.” Part of clinging to control is not understanding that we can build up our risk tolerance by learning about and practicing calculated risk. Joe Barton advises we Pump Up [Y]our Risk-Tolerance Muscles by embracing failure, playing to strengths, and acknowledging beginner status by starting with lower risk activities. Taking more risks is the conditioning factor.
Radwan elaborates: “If you prepared yourself for the worst you will find it easier to handle any situation that happens. A calculated risk is the one you take after you become aware of both the positive and the negative outcomes of your decision.”
Bo Burlingham, writing for Inc.com, goes further on calculated risk, dispensing with the notion that entrepreneurs and innovators are more fool-hardy than the average risk-taker: “In fact, most successful entrepreneurs try to minimize the risks they face. What turns them on is opportunity–to be independent, to make money, to change the world, to create something new and exciting, to fulfill a dream, whatever.” Your purpose can be far more powerful than your fear.
Some people get bogged down in the “in-between” of evaluating for a calculated risk. They identify the one very worst thing that could happen and deal with that. Then they move on to the very next worst thing and worry about that, and on and on and on, wasting time coming up with a potential solution for anything that could go awry. If you’re doing this (and you are if you are spending weeks and months trapped by indecision), here’s what you’re missing:
- you don’t understand how likelihood really works (hint: if there’s low likelihood, your loss potential is low, too) and
- this is an effective stalling tactic so you don’t have to actually do the thing you’re afraid of doing, whatever that is.
What can we do to ensure fear occupies a healthy place in our psyche? Eliminating fear isn’t the goal. Instead, we can acknowledge our fear and keep it in a proper place. The Confidence Cafe recommends we associate with brave people. It makes sense that if you’re part of a pride of lions, you’ll have plenty of confident role models.
We should also maintain awareness of where we are in life vs the influence of fear. Alex Lawrence, of Startup Flavor, reminds us that risk just becomes more paralyzing as we get older, because we have more financial responsibilities. Indeed, having less to lose makes it easier to take a risk. If we had kept our mainland belongings and been responsible for moving them across the ocean to the little speck we now call home, our responsibility factor would have increased to the second or third power. Instinctively, we realized that letting go is a means to more easily adapt and respond to the unique circumstance we encountered during our move to Kauai.
Ultimately, it all boils down to knowing who you are and being honest about what you want from life, and then, instead of waiting for what you want to appear, taking action.
“Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she won’t suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow. But when that person looks back – and at some point everyone looks back – she will hear her heart saying, “What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you? You buried yourself in a cave because you were fearful of losing those talents. So this is your heritage; the certainty that you wasted your life.” – Paulo Coelho
Peter F. Drucker believes, “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.” If the stakes are virtually the same, why wouldn’t you take a risk despite the naysayers in your life?
- How would you characterize your willingness to risk?
- If you feel stuck, what is the one thing you could do right now to start progressing?
- How much do naysayers influence your behavior?