Tyler’s Note: This is a Riskologist Field Report by Therese Schwenkler from The Unlost. Field Reports are written by readers just like you, so be nice, enjoy the story, and take action on the lesson.
I was hanging out with my friend Julie the other day when she asked me a question I hear quite often.
“Therese,” she asked, “How did you find the courage to make such a tough decision?”
She was referring to the big leap I’d taken this past spring: despite having a steady job in corporate accounting, owning a home, and appearing to “have it all together,” I’d decided to leave it all behind in order to embark on an indefinite road trip around the country and to focus on building The Unlost community.
I thought about it for a second before responding with an honest reply.
“It wasn’t really about courage,” I told her. ”In fact, I think that sometimes relying on courage alone can lead you astray.”
She cocked her head to the side, and I could tell that my words had really piqued her interest.
“See, despite the monstrosity of the decision, this was in fact one of the easiest choices I’d ever made. While I couldn’t be sure of the outcome (when is this ever possible?), I could be 100% confident that the risk was worth taking.”
I proceeded to tell her about the two game changing questions I’d asked myself before taking the leap. Once I’d answered these two questions, my decision became crystal clear—instead of freaking out like, “OMG, am I making the right choice?” I was more like, “Duh! What else would I do?”
If you can answer yes to at least one (and ideally both) of these questions, I told her, then you can rest assured that the risk at hand is worth taking.
Today I’ll tell you what these two questions are and how to apply them to your own decision-making processes. Best of all, I’ll do so in a cool and unexpected way: through my own official internet version of Choose Your Own Adventure. (Am I the only one who used to read the Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was, like, 8? You know, where you got to choose what the main character did next? Aside from Goosebumps and The Babysitters Club, those were my fave.)
Anyhow, I digress. Let’s get learning!
The First Question: Have You Fired a Sufficient Number of Pre-Cannon Bullets?
Imagine for a moment that you’re out at sea when you spy a hostile pirate ship bearing down on you. You’ve got a limited stash of gunpowder at your side.
“HOLY CRAP, WE’RE BEING ATTACKED BY PIRATES!”, you yell.
Quick! What do you decide to do next?
- If you decide to take all your gunpowder and fire a big huge deadly cannonball toward the pirate ship, click here to see what happens next.
- If you decide to lay down on the deck, close your eyes, and cower with fear, click here to see what happens next.
- If you decide to take a small amount of gunpowder and fire one puny bullet toward the pirate ship, click here to see what happens next.
By now you’ve probably clicked through all the options (CHEATER!), and you’ve realized that shooting a puny bullet is the one decision that does not result in imminent death by pirate sword.
This only makes sense when you think about it: if you shoot a small bullet and miss, you’ve got plenty of chances to readjust before running out of gunpowder. But if you shoot a big cannonball and miss, you’re crap outta luck!
The lesson? Before using all your gunpowder to make the hardest decision of your life, ask whether you’ve shot a sufficient number of pre-cannon bullets to gauge the probable outcome. In doing so, you’ll minimize the risk of being plundered by filthy pirates.
How I Shot Bullets
When making the decision to quit my corporate job, here’s what I did not do: upon dreaming up my idea for The Unlost, I did not immediately quit my job and announce that this was it!
Instead, I continued going to work every day but began shooting lots of little bullets on the side. For an entire year, I experimented with building my blog and tested the waters to see if I, in fact, could grow a readership or create engagement with a community. I carefully evaluated the outcome, adjusted accordingly, then shot again.
When I finally decided to leave my job, the choice was rooted in a deep understanding of what I could likely accomplish given the right amount of time, focus, and effort rather than on mere delusion or wishful thinking about an untested pursuit.
In order to apply this to your own situation, try asking yourself, “How can I chunk this big decision down into smaller risks?” or “How can I experiment without going all out?”
- If you aren’t sure whether you should start a business, can you start one on the side using limited resources rather than quitting your job/using your entire life savings to fund an untested pursuit? Can you take micro steps like Tyler teaches in his Bootstrapper Guild?
- If you aren’t sure what to do with your life, can you start by volunteering after work or getting involved in interesting side projects rather than spending $67K and years of your life for a degree in a field you’ve never actually worked in?
- If you aren’t sure whether you should marry your fiancé, can you start by… oh wait, nevermind.
Once you’ve shot lots of small bullets and adjusted accordingly, you’ll be able to shoot a cannonball from a place of confidence rather than from bravado or ignorance.
The Second Question: Would You Do This No Matter What?
Regardless of how many bullets you shoot, you can never know for certain what the outcome will be. Other times you can’t or won’t want to shoot bullets, and that’s okay too—as long as you can answer yes to the second question: Would you do this no matter what?
I was willing to quit my job and leave my life and my hometown behind regardless of the outcome. If the worst happened and I ended up barefoot and penniless on a California beach (or on the Las Vegas strip), I was okay with that. Once I realized that taking the leap would be worthwhile even if I “failed” or was “unsuccessful,” it no longer felt like a risk—instead, it simply felt like something that had to be done.
It was. So I did.
In order to apply this to your own situation, simply ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen if I made this choice?” Then ask “If the worst happened, would I still feel that making this decision was worthwhile?”
Yes, it can be that simple.
Have you shot a sufficient number of pre-cannon bullets? Would you do this no matter what?
Now that you know the two important questions for decision making success, go forth and make the hardest and best decision of your life. May you never be plundered by pirates.
What should you do with your life? The Unlost exists to help you answer questions like this. Contrary to popular belief, you DON’T have to have it all figured out to end up somewhere great—click herrre to learn more.
Image by: Stephen Poff