Thursday, June 3, 2010

The only thing to fear

I'm not what some people would call "risk averse." No, I'm not a fact, growing up I wasn't athletic at all, and I was pretty shy. I was (still kinda am) scared of heights. I wouldn't go down escalators (up was ok, just not down).  I remember one trip to an amusement park where I must have stood in line for the roller coaster 10 times, only to walk through the car to the other side without riding it. My dad was totally annoyed; my sister was thrilled...she got to ride the roller coaster 10 times in a row.

But sometime in my late teens/early 20s, I got over it. I moved away to college when I was 17 and I never went back. I managed my own money, worked 3 jobs, graduated with my undergrad degree in 3 years. I started going down escalators when I spent the summer in London and had no choice for travel except the Tube.

That's not to say I don't still get scared. Its also not to say that I'm not still cautious. You can ask any of my friends--I still pause at the top of an escalator while my heart does a little flip before I'll take that step on. But I've learned that I gain so much more when I take risks and face my fears.

What has surprised me as I've gotten older is how many people allow fear to govern their decision-making. Don't take a new job, don't try a new technology, don't seize an opportunity...all because of the fear of the unknown.

Mark Oehlert mentions fear, control, and trust in his presentations on organizational resistance to social media implementations. But think about how those same three factors effect our personal decision making...

Fear. Fear that you'll make a "wrong" decision or a "bad" decision. Fear that something bad will happen. Fear of what others will think of you. Fear that in some way, you won't be able to handle it if things go poorly, or more ironically, if things go well.

Control. If you feel like you have control of the situation you're in, if you're comfortable, then why take the risk of losing some control, losing some comfort? Taking a risk means surrendering some control. The familiar is comforting, predictable, and safe. Taking a risk means releasing that control in the hopes of gaining something new and better.

Trust. Do you trust yourself to make good decisions? Do you follow your gut, or fall back on feelings of fear and loss of control? Do you trust yourself to deal with the consequences of the decisions that you make? Do you trust yourself to be honest and open? Do you trust in your relationships to support you in whatever risks you take on?

So how do you get over your fears? Maybe you don't. Maybe you fall back to the safe position. Maybe you defend old decisions "because that's how we've always done things." Maybe you stay where you are and try to make the best of your situation, put a good spin on it.

But maybe you do. But facing your fears, giving up control, and trusting yourself takes practice. Its not easy to face your fears...if it was, fear would have no power. Every day, ask yourself who you want to be. Do you want to be safe and comfortable, or do you want to achieve great things? Settle for what you've always had even if its not what you dreamed of, or take a chance and reach for your dreams? Take opportunities or let them slip away?

Do you want to just stand in line for the roller coaster, or do you want to ride?


  1. Great post and boy, can I relate. Especially to leaving home at 17, 3 jobs... What I struggle with now is the family thing. I found it so easy to be risky and to let go of control when I didn't have kids and a spouse. I still step out of my comfort zone (self-employment being the most recent) but probably only after entering and immediately exiting the roller coaster several times (great analogy BTW). Perhaps that very process tires people (and organizations) out. It'd be interesting to study individual vs. group risk thinking. I imagine it'd be a good workshop topic.