Your Fear of Taking Risks is Holding You Back
It was the middle of the night. I could hear the small splashes formed by the waves on the California cost. I had been here many times before, but never this late and never alone. My backpack was heavy on my shoulders, and I was looking dead ahead at the parked vehicle 200 feet away from me.
I stood there for more than ten minutes. My heart was beating out of my chest. One voice in my head told me that to approach would be silly. It told me to just walk away. Another voice, however, held me firmly in place.
Two strangers were sitting inside the car thirty feet ahead of me. In the dark, all I could see that their silhouettes in the light of their car’s ceiling LEDs.
That night, I was considering doing something ‘risky.’ I was considering approaching these strangers to say hello. My animal brain, however, was scared out of its mind. Something in my nervous system had been tripped, and my heart was beating in my ears.
I took a step backwards.
“I’ll just forget this whole thing,” my brain said.
I’ll just go home and forget all about those people in the car who I didn’t know. Why take the risk of them thinking I’m dangerous? After all, it’s in the middle of the night. I’d probably scare them.
The step backwards had been an unconscious decision caused by fear.
Taking a second, I analyzed my situation.
Why was I afraid to say hi to these individuals? Thinking of the worst situation possible, I could only imagine getting shouted at and chased away from the vehicle by two frightened teenagers. Maybe, if I was really unlucky, they would have pepper spray!
If I had chosen to leave the parking lot that night, I would simply fall asleep and wake up the next morning none the wiser. If, however, I went up and introduced myself, a whole stream of possibilities could potentially flow forth.
Fighting my emotional brain, I took a step forward, then another, and another. Finally I was at their vehicle. Reaching the door, I said “Hi.”
Meeting those individuals changed my life. The girl was extremely friendly and the guy became a close friend of mine. They introduced me to a whole new world of possibilities I’d never known existed before.
Meeting these two people led to some amazing experiences. One thing I am extremely grateful for was their bringing me to crazy events occurring late at night in the woods of the California coast. DJ’s would bring generators, others would bring lights, and whole festivals would spring up in the night. Fire dancers were common at these events, and the types of people I met there have led to some of my most unique memories.
It was at one of these events, lying down on a couch in the back of a strangers pickup truck, that I remembered my night in the parking lot years ago. I had to laugh out loud.
My fear of meeting new people almost held me back from all this. My silly, unfounded fear that they might not want to talk to me almost led to me missing out on experiences that have since changed my life.
Why was I even afraid of taking the risk in the first place? In retrospect, it is so clear that I had everything to gain and almost nothing to lose from saying ‘Hi.’
What were the risks I was afraid of? They were internal and silly. The only risk was perhaps damaging my precious ego by allowing someone to tell me to ‘Screw off!’
There was no outside danger at all.
Today, when faced with a choice that appears risky, I think about that night in the parking lot. Running away might save my brain some stress, but it steals from my life all the experiences I would have otherwise given myself.
When faced with risks like this, I know the importance of questioning myself. Not questioning whether the risk should be taken, but questioning if I’ve really analyzed the upsides and downsides of my different options.
Some of my favorite scientific studies look into what we're afraid of and what we find risky. I wrote about one such study here, where men and women we so afraid to say 'No' to an authority figure that they 'killed' (not really) innocent strangers.
Often I realize that my initial fears are unfounded. Every time I dive in, I learn and grow from the situation.
Think about some time you gave in to fear and missed out because of it.
When was a time you backed down and missed out on an amazing opportunity?
Let me know in the comments below.