Embracing Fear in Risk-Taking

February 21, 2021

I’m a risk-taker—the kind who thinks moving around the world knowing no one as a thirty-something is a really good idea. THAT kind of risk-taker. But I haven’t always been this way. When I was younger, any amount of risk terrified me. Looking back, my fear stemmed from the fact that I didn’t trust myself. I lacked confidence, and I was constantly second-guessing pretty much everything. The questions “What if?” “Could I have done better?” and “Was that the right call?” consumed me.

But when I started my first business, I learned the art of risk-taking—the power of it and what it could do if you just surrendered to it. I saw that while taking risks can hurt you, they can also change your life in incredible ways. I certainly do not have all the answers around taking risks, or anything figured out for that matter. But what I can do is share a few lessons I’ve learned on the front line. Perhaps it will make all of this “risky business” seem a little less terrifying—one baby step at a time. 

Risk naturally fans the flames of our fears. And our fears can keep us from embracing significant positive changes. It’s important to understand that fear is a natural defense mechanism. It’s okay to be afraid! Fear is our mind’s way of protecting us from the known and unknown dangers out there. What’s important is to move away from the scenarios our minds make up to instill fear (i.e., protect us).

There are elements of risk associated with everything from taking a new career path to making a lifestyle change or simply developing a new skill. Let’s use my all-time favorite hobby as an example: scuba diving. I’m sure anyone who’s done this can confidently say that they were nervous, if not totally terrified, about submerging themselves underwater with only a small oxygen tank as their lifeline. Two years ago, I decided this was my calling, and I moved around the world to pursue it. Needless to say, this choice came with about 100 fear-inciting risks staring me straight in the face!

Of the many, two risks stood out. First, it’s a dangerous hobby. If things go wrong 30 meters underwater and you panic, that could be it! Second—and this tends to apply to the pursuit of any new skill—is the possibility that it won’t be worth it. That taking the risk won’t provide real value. There’s the fear of not being able to pick it up, wasting time, investing money, and devoting energy to something that ultimately does nothing to enhance your life. Or its value lasts for a fleeting moment and then is a distant memory before you even can blink an eye. That dive gear just sits in a bag in your basement collecting dust. It becomes another futile effort, indeed. But with preparation and a willingness to embrace a different mindset, you can work with your fears and see positive change.

Time and time again, I’ve come back to a series of principles that have allowed me to tackle change more easily. They’ve allowed me not to eliminate fear when I take risks, but to be less afraid of risk-taking itself. In starting businesses, pursuing new hobbies, onboarding with new teams, I inadvertently developed this framework. Now, indulging this philosophy means I stop associating risk-taking with fear. Instead, I approach risk-taking with excitement, motivation, and a decent amount of fun! 

Let’s look at these principles.

Do your research and know your references.

“Ignorance is the parent of fear.” – Herman Melville

With Melville’s quote in mind, the simplest starting point when it comes to eliminating your fears is to study and learn as much as you can about your “risky” venture. In the context of scuba, this is built into the program. You can’t begin your pursuit of diving without first becoming certified. This involves a great deal of coursework, physical practices, and testing. The purpose of this type of training is to move you away from fear. You can go deeper and advance your knowledge of the sport rather effortlessly due to how much training is required upfront. And you can be confident that you’ve done everything in your power to learn and understand the ins and outs of diving. Research the craft, career path, or skill you hope to attain as much as possible. The more you know, the less daunting any risk will seem. And during that research phase, you can start to gauge your interest level. If you’re doing it all the time and loving it, the likelihood of you pursuing it further is that much higher. 

Embrace a mindset of positivity and commitment.

Accomplishing your goals requires positive thinking and affirmations. So, you want to become an expert-level scuba diver? Tell yourself every single day that you WILL become that dive master. In fact, tell your friends, family, and colleagues as well. The more you embrace this mindset, the more you and your peers will hold you accountable to sticking to your commitment. By saying it and living it, your chances of becoming it are that much greater. It’s not “fake it till you make it”—it’s “believe it, own it, and you will inevitably become it.” 

Cultivate a supportive community of mentors, peers, and colleagues.

Internalizing the age-old expression “no man is an island” couldn’t be more important when it comes to risk-taking. There’s no better way to do your research than by learning from the experts themselves. A mentor can provide you with extremely valuable insight into the field you hope to pursue, as well as resources and networking opportunities. Like-minded peers are just as important. The fear surrounding taking on new opportunities is much more manageable when you can share the experience with people who are on the same page as you. Not to mention that when you spend time with people who are amazing at what they do, their knowledge will rub off on you. You start to learn and adapt just by being around them. I realize not everyone will have access to resources like this—in which case, the internet will be your best friend. A simple YouTube search can provide access to expert-level tutorials on nearly any craft. I’ve also learned that if you find the right expert, they love to pass on their knowledge. It takes time to find “the one,” but when you do, new doors can open that you would have never imagined! 

Just get out there and do it!

This is the principle that everyone always told me but I didn’t believe it until I tried it. Just throw yourself in. It’s always easiest to put off making changes until tomorrow. There’s always a reason why now isn’t the best time, or why staying where you are is more practical. There’s a good chance that your risk-taking pursuits will leave you feeling anxious or unprepared. But sometimes pushing straight through that fear is the only way to really overcome it. There’s no better knowledge than real-life experience.

I could read every book and article under the sun about scuba diving. I could binge YouTube videos for months—and I have, trust me on that one. But nothing compares to the wisdom gained from actually going on that first dive, and every dive that follows. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Eventually, you’ll find the fear has transformed into excitement, passion, and energy. And the sense of accomplishment attained from taking on a new challenge—a new risk—can be monumental. Each time you practice and engage, you’ll find you’re one step closer to becoming an expert in something that once felt daunting or out of reach. 

I was once someone who spent a lot of time worrying and fearing the unknown. My life was nowhere near what I wanted it to be, and I spent more time thinking “I can’t” and “what if?” From where I stand now, I can tell you that abandoning a mindset of worry was the best thing I ever did for myself. I changed my mindset by taking direct action and accepting that fear will always be present. What matters most is how you manage and cope with it. Transforming fear into excitement and engagement doesn’t have to be hard. It simply requires that you make a choice. Choose to open the door to new possibilities, regardless of how hard it might feel in the moment. Don’t hesitate. You can conquer your fears starting right now!

Good vibes only.