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Fear-based or fear-aware

I put my daughter up on this wall. It was her idea.

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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.

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If I made my decision fear-based rather than fear-aware, I'd miss that vista. If I think I can eliminate all risk before moving forward, I’ll always stay where I am. And if I stay where I am, I can’t march forward toward destinies like success, greatness, community, and belonging. 

Ethic of risk

I was part of a church community once that had as once of its core values “an ethic of risk in everything we do.” We wanted to take risks in how we served others. In the topics we discussed in our community. In how and where and when we met. This was a meaningful religious experience for me, I think largely due to the fact that risk was a value and was embraced, and not something to be shunned and avoided. 

In my life, I hope an ethic of risk can be present. Certainly, I feel this risk the second I wake up each day given what I do. No matter the size and longevity of any of my entrepreneurial endeavors, I will always acknowledge the risk present in starting something new. Even now, when things at Batch are growing and our team is thriving, I still live with the notion that this all could disappear overnight.

But the risk I feel doesn’t paralyze me. It propels me. It spurs me on. To do more. To dream bigger. To work harder. To love my team deeper. To think more critically. An ethic of risk is present for the entrepreneur and it should make him or her take smart action. 

But truthfully, an ethic of risk should be present for all of us, no matter our line of work or tolerance for risk-taking. You cannot eliminate risk. The quest to do so is futile. The better balance is to evaluate a situation and determine your stomach for it. Then, to proceed with abandon. 

Staying home and doing nothing is a risk, too. Not because a random gas leak could explode your house while you’re inside, but because you’re risking not meeting people, making a new friend, and enjoying what all can happen outside your four walls.

The difference

Fear-based decision making says don’t sky dive. Fear-aware says double check the parachute and then take the leap. 

Fear-based says never let your kid play outside because they’ll get kidnapped. Fear-aware says teach them what to do if a stranger approaches. 

Fear-based says don’t start a company because you could go bankrupt. Fear-aware says don’t start a company in an industry you know nothing about. 

Fear-based says don’t share your heart with anyone in case they break it. Fear-aware says but maybe they won’t.

Fear-based says stop. Fear-aware says look both ways. Fasten your seatbelt. Make sure the brakes work. Fill the car up with gas. 

Now, floor it.

Sam Davidson1 Comment