Reframing Risk

Zach Clenaghan
August 9, 2016
“Realise that sleeping on a futon when you’re 30 is not the worst thing. You know what’s worse, sleeping in a king bed next to a wife you’re not really in love with but for some reason you married, and you got a couple kids, and you got a job you hate. You’ll be laying there fantasising about sleeping on a futon. There’s no risk when you go after a dream. There’s a tremendous amount of risk to playing it safe.” — Bill Burr

I had a final round interview with one of our applicants the other day. Let’s call him Luke. One of the questions Luke asked was how did I build up the courage to quit my job and pursue self-education and world travel. I didn’t really have much of an answer for him at the time. I just did it. For me it didn’t feel like a courageous thing to do. It was necessary. I looked at where I wanted to be, and the path I was on wasn’t moving me toward that place anymore, so I changed direction. Simple.

Luke was really fighting with a decision that I took with ease. He had a job that paid the bills, and he was trying to pursue his passion in the evenings and weekends without much luck, as is so often the story with our applicants.

He clearly thought attending one of our programs was risky. What if his job wouldn’t take him back when he returned ? What if travelling proved too challenging? What if Edumadic didn’t deliver on their promises? What if it was all a big scam?

Luke’s fear of what might go wrong ultimately outweighed his perception of what could go right. I was hesitant of going into the business of telling people to quit their jobs, so I recommended he read “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers and moved on.

But I think this is a serious issue in our society. People are petrified by fear. They’re overwhelmed with what could go wrong instead of being excited about what could go right.

It’s not their fault. This is actually a biological impulse ingrained in our DNA from the days when being blasé about danger would get you eaten by a Lion or massacred by the neighbouring tribe. 10,000 years ago “playing it safe” (aka minimising risk) was vital to survival. But that’s not the world we live in anymore.

I would argue that the real risk people face nowadays is not living a happy, fulfilling, and successful life, however you define that. The real risk is being on your deathbed having the most common regret of all:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

My greatest fear is waking up at 40, asking myself where the last twenty years went, and not having an answer. What did I achieve? Where did I go? How did I impact the world? Not having satisfactory answers to those questions scares the shit out of me.

One of the fundamental goals that drives me in absolutely everything I do is that I want to be an interesting old man. I want to be sat in an armchair surrounded by a loving family who are fixated on my every word as I recount stories about the life I’ve lived. If the things I’m doing today don’t move me towards that goal I stop doing them. Anything that doesn’t move me towards that goal in some way is risky for me.

So when I have to choose between a steady career that I’m not passionate about, that I’ve stopped growing in, or travelling the world whilst learning something that firstly is interesting, and secondly will move me towards my goals and further from my fears, it’s not really a decision at all.

In my eyes, the risky thing to do was to not do anything. To stay where I was. To collect that juicy pay check every month and tick off the years on autopilot until I wake up at 40 in a king bed next to a wife I don’t really love, with a couple of kids I never see, and a job I hate. It’s too late then, I can’t get back those years, they’re gone forever. And now I’ve got responsibilities, a family to support, a mortgage to pay.

If you’re like Luke, I’d encourage you to start reframing how you think about risk if you want to achieve something extraordinary. A good place to start is Susan Jeffers’ book, but ultimately it’s up to you to change your mindset, nobody else can do it for you.