As she gets older, her tolerance for risk is growing. She’s no longer afraid to jump into the pool’s deep end and swim underwater. She’s asking how old she has to be to stay home by herself while I run to the grocery store. She straps on a helmet and rides her bike. She's more ambitious when she plays.
Of course, some of these requests and new behaviors - while seeming to do away with the fear she once had - stir up new fear within me. As she gets older, I tense up a bit at the thought of her getting a phone, driving, and making decisions about relationships.
But, I also know - and have known from very early on as a parent - that this is the goal. The point is not for me to protect her; it’s to guide her into a mindset and life whereby she can make these decisions in a way that is smart, wholesome, and true to herself. Preventing her from getting a phone until she’s 38 doesn’t help her; talking to her about proper usage and how the phone is a tool and not an idol does (no matter how old she is when she has one of her own).
How big is your risk pool?
As we get older, we swim in ever increasing (size and depth) pools of risk. We take out loans to go to school or buy a house. We commit to long term relationships. We start companies. We start families. We move to new cities to chase opportunities, be they in the form of people or jobs. Gone are the days when going down a water slide was the scariest thing we’d do in a given week.
As we encounter these risks, fear sets in. Evolution has given us this gift so we slow down from time to time. Our hunter and gatherer ancestors couldn’t eat just every berry; they had to weigh the risks of certain ones and consider which ones had made fellow tribe members sick in the past. Others had to weigh whether trying to spear that snarling wolf for dinner would be worth the effort if their aim was off and then the tables turned.
We do the same today. We weigh whether the status and comfort of that house for that sized mortgage is worth the stress that comes with such a financial commitment. Is the upside of our new venture (financial independence one day) worth the short term cuts to our personal budget?
How fear shapes our actions
And so we can evaluate any given situation by being either fear-based or fear-aware.
Fear-based prevents us from taking action. Basing our decisions on the fear that is present means we’ll do less and less. The risk is too great (even if the statistics are in our favor). The threat of the worst possible outcome is too overwhelming for us to move forward.
I know people who didn’t see a movie in a theater for an entire year after a gunman opened fire in a Colorado movieplex years ago. The likelihood of a copycat was extremely rare, but many people made a fear-based decision and only chose to watch movies at home for a good long while.
The list could go on: people are still afraid to fly post 9/11; some people won’t buy a home because of what happened in 2008; people stay away from traveling to certain countries because they rank high on a kidnapping list; kids aren’t allowed to play outside as much; we still have to take off our shoes when getting on a plane; religions are profiled based upon the extreme actions of a few adherents - you get the picture.
Fear-based decision making locks us in to our way of thinking, assuming that the worst case scenario is the most likely scenario. As such, we live isolationist, paranoid lives. This is no way to be.
The better (fuller, deeper, richer) tactic is to live fear-aware lives. This mindset acknowledges the risk inherent in any given situation, but lets you move forward. It does not trick you into naive decision making (that would be fear-ignorant), but instead helps you take the smartest course of action while still actually taking action.
Last year, I went to Alaska. One of the highlights of my week there was a hike up Mount Roberts. My biggest fear that morning wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the steep climb or the rocky terrain. My biggest fear was that I’d encounter a bear and be eaten alive. I hear the bear community is spreading the rumor that entrepreneurs taste delicious.
The way to make completely sure I wouldn’t be eaten would have been not to hike at all. I could have stayed in town, browsed some gift shops, gotten lunch, and called it a day. But where’s the adventure in that?
So that I could press on, I first reminded myself that bear attacks are extremely rare. I then took into account that during that time of year, vegetation that attracts bears was not yet fully in season where I was. Taking into account other factors - densely populated area, highly trafficked trail - and my odds of attack kept dropping. Then, by employing recommended behaviors related to noise and speed, the chances of my becoming bear brunch that day were nearly eliminated. (Nearly, not completely.)
And hike on I did. And oh, the views.