Whenever my kids express anxiety about something they want to pursue in their lives, I try and quell their fears by asking, “What is the worst thing that could happen?”
Usually the answer involves a failure such as, “I might not get the part”, or “I might not make the team”.
Once they’ve provided what they believe to be their worst case scenario, I ask, “Are you willing to accept that outcome?” It’s interesting to watch their faces as they ponder the projected outcome and weigh whether or not they want to assume the risk.
I find that more often than not, if you can visualize the worst case scenario and accept that it might be a reality, the fear dissipates and you move forward because you have made peace that the outcome might be negative. In moving forward, you hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
I’m often mistaken for an optimist but I’m actually quite the realist.
I think we do ourselves a disservice when we subscribe to the notion that everything is going to work out or when we teach our children to aim for the stars without preparing them for the long fall should they miscalculate their reach. When we force ourselves to see potential barriers, we can better prepare for the quest ahead and take measures to overcome them.
Every police officer should ask themselves when they gear up to hit the street, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?” The answer is that they may not make it home at the end of their shift. Any police officer who runs towards gunfire (or firefighter that runs into a burning building) understands intellectually and conceptually that there is a possibility that they will meet their demise in doing so. And yet, they accept that risk and continue to serve. If they didn’t, they are not suited for the profession.
We don’t just send our public servants out with superhero capes and tell them to save the day. Instead we train them vigorously on topics that depend upon the risk they incur. We know that making a traffic stop is one of the most dangerous situations for an officer. With that in mind, we devote many training hours to traffic scenarios so our officers learn to interpret body language and demeanor and assess very quickly if there is a potential threat.
We also study the failures of others and try to determine the actions that led to the failure so we don’t emulate the mistakes. Failures are just as valuable as successes because we can hardly find the thing that works until we have discovered what doesn’t.
Naturally, when we ask ourselves the worst case scenario and realize that the answer is potentially fatal, we are going to weigh our actions and take greater precautions.
But I find that most people in life who don’t take risks are still afraid to fail even when there isn’t a threat to their mortality. We are creatures of comfort and anything that disturbs or threatens our environment is sometimes too much for us to bear. We remain stagnant because we are afraid to make any movements that would upset the life we’ve settled into because we are afraid of what others might think or we fear the unknown.
The next time you are faced with a challenge or are pondering whether to pursue something in your life, ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Maybe the answer is that people will judge you or criticize you. Maybe it’s bigger than that. But once you have determined what it is, you can decide if you are willing to accept it.
Make peace with it.
Now do it.