First, a confession: I used to be terrified of the dark (I was a little kid, gimme a break). I’m over it now, but it was a fear that terrorized me every night before I was forced to confront it. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
Each one of us spends much time every day thinking about something important to us that’s beyond our reach.
You have an idea you’d like to bring to life but seem to feel stuck on—you don’t know what to do first, and you’re afraid of everything that could go wrong in the process. So, you just put off getting started.
Chances are, you’ve done it for awhile.
This isn’t an indictment! We all struggle with this in some form. But what’s behind it? What keeps you from actually taking action on this thing that feels so urgent and important.
Maybe you want to skip town and travel the world. Maybe you want to start a non-profit that helps your local community. Maybe you just want to quit your job and try something else.
At the end of the rope, of course, is fear. And where does the fear come from? In all my experiences, it comes from not fully understanding the risk you want to take. It feels risky because you don’t actually know what’s involved. The variables feel outside your control.
This is what I call the Risk Taker’s Boogeyman Syndrome.
When I was a little tyke—not much of a Riskologist yet—I slept with the light on in my room every single night. I was terrified of the dark. There were shadows, there were noises, there were all these things happening that I didn’t understand, and they frightened me. Certainly, if I left the light off too long, the boogeyman was going to crawl out of the closet and disembowel me.
Luckily, I had a simple solution that worked every time: leave the light on!
The only flaw in the solution was that when you leave the light on all night, every night, you get horrible sleep, and you spend your days tired and unhappy.
One day, my mom got tired of dealing with me being a Grumpy McWhineypants that couldn’t sleep through the night, so she forced me to spend the whole night in my room with the light off. In fact—if I remember right—she locked me in my bedroom and took my light bulb away. (If I don’t remember right, I’ll be getting a phone call shortly.)
I was stuck in a lightless hell! I was going to die!
I don’t remember all that happened next, but it seems I survived, no boogeyman made off with my intestines, and while I probably didn’t sleep at all that night, the exhaustion from an all night panic attack put me right to sleep—sans lightbulb—the following night.
Today, the idea of trying to fall asleep with the lights on sounds horrible. When I realized my closet is, essentially, exactly the same with or without the lights on, I no longer feared what was inside it. I knew what was inside it—my clothes and some old baseball cards. Aside from my Batman costume, pretty harmless.
Every kid goes through a realization like this growing up. Many of them, in fact. Kids have all kinds of irrational fears that go away once they’re familiar with what they were scared of. That’s just part of growing up.
But then… it stops.
For some reason, it’s a parent’s job to help their kids deal with irrational fears when they’re young but once you’re an adult, it’s perfectly okay to have a whole other set of fears, and no one expects you to get over them!
For many of us, the boogeyman is still alive and well. He just doesn’t live in the closet anymore. Instead, he lives at work. He lives across the world in different cultures. He lives in the attorney’s office or at the bank.
And, for the most part, we’ve all agreed that’s okay. We don’t challenge each other on these grown-up fears.
Except at AR. You’re not getting away with that here!
I don’t think the boogeyman ever really goes away, but your job as a smart Riskologist is to continue to move him from one place to another. As long as he’s on the run, you’re doing something right; you’re overcoming fears and moving onto new ones.
Each time the boogeyman moves, he goes further away than he was before. And each time you find him, he’s a little less scary to face.
Your Homework Today
This is my favorite part of every article I write. I love giving you little homework assignments to do because it shows me who’s reading here and actually taking action to become a better risk taker.
Today, I challenge you to look at your own boogeyman. Where is he, and how long has he been hanging out there?
If he’s been in one place for a while, it’s time to take action on your fear and put him on the run again.
Share your answer in the comments.
Sidenote: I’ll be following up on this next Monday with 5 strategies a smart risk taker can use to overcome any fear and get started on a big, meaningful project. Stay tuned.
Update: I did receive a call from my mom explaining that my memory is not quite accurate. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.