What are we ever really afraid of? Since we do not live in the Jungle or on the plains of Africa, hunting and gathering, what do we have to fear? The are no lions roaming around the Surrey Hills that I should be on the lookout for.
As I look at my two young daughters, I never see any sign of them being afraid of what might happen if they try something new. Amélie recently started French lessons. (And was very happy to explain to us what Red, Blue and White is in French, without a trace of “pride” though. She knew, and told us.) There is no trace of fear about this new activity. She does not seem worried at the prospect of not being good at languages, or getting it wrong.
In all other aspects of her day to day life, if she makes a mistake and it is pointed out to her, she simply notes the error, correction and moves on. It is really simple. Making a mistake does not make her feel stupid or less happy, she just learns.
When is it that we start to worry about making mistakes or being corrected by some else? Maybe it builds up in imperceptible layers over the first few years of our lives, and then by the time we reach our teenage years, we care an awful lot about what others think. Will they like me? Will I get it right? What if I fail?
Then we carry these layers with us into adulthood, our jobs or business lives, relationships and new families, building more and more, or simply hardening the layers we already have. Now we are afraid of trying new things, taking on challenges. I am quite lucky in that I care very little what pretty much everyone thinks of me. I think the only person I actively want to be proud of me, is Sophie, my wife. Sometimes Sophie would wish that I did care a little more about the opinions of others, but also know that it is not a battle she is likely to get a foothold in.
But, I do still catch myself in moments of fear. Hesitant to make a decision, or commit to a certain course of action, mainly in my business.
I can only conclude that what we fear in these instances is uncertainty of the outcome. The unknown. I know that if I leave my front door and walk over to the shop and back, the chances of anything unexpected happening is very, very slim, so there is no fear there. The same goes for driving a car. We have all been told that driving a car is one of, if not the most dangerous method of transport, yet, I would happily get into the car now and drive for 4-5 hours, without stopping, never fearing for my own safety, or imagining that I will not reach my destination.
We don’t live logically at all. If we think about driving, statistically we should be quite fearful of driving from A to B, but we are not. Unfortunately we apply the same disregard for statistics when we face major decisions in life, or even not so major, but certainly exciting decisions. Statistically, I am quite good at making choices. The choices I have made over the last 34 years has meant that I have never been in any major trouble, no real injuries, I have an amazing wife, two awesome kids, my “work” is doing something I love, I am healthy. So why when faced with new situations do I sometimes not trust myself? Remember all the other good decisions I made and take heart in the fact that generally I do alright?
I imagine the first time in our lives we are afraid of taking action, unsure of the outcome must be the first time you ask another boy or girl out, at what in hindsight seems such a tender age. You would fret for days, perhaps weeks about asking one person, one question. Hoping for a yes, but dreading a no. And it is the dreading of the no that is stopping you from taking action.
If only we could keep in mind at such times, and later in life, that if you stop yourself and never ask the girl or boy out, you simply secure yourself the no you already have. At least if you ask, you create the opportunity for a yes to become reality.
I think I have only made two really big decision in the last 34 years, and both of them in the second half of that life. First was to come to the UK from South Africa, second was to apply for, and take a job working in a bar in South London. The second would not have been possible without the first. The second decision directly lead me to meeting 3 of my best friends, meet Sophie my wife, play in an awesome band for a few years and setting out on starting my own business.
Now, of course, on that fateful November afternoon, boarding a plane to a foreign land, aged 18, I did say to myself, not just think it:”What the fuck are you doing?”, but boarded the plane anyway. And the day I took the job in the bar, I did not imagine, or even hope for what was to come from it. I just needed a job, and it meant I did not need the bench in Green Park anymore.
All I did on those two now life changing days, was to take the first step. A small action that, if nothing else, made a different life or new opportunity, a possibility. And that is what we lose out on most when we let the fear of not knowing grip us. We lose opportunity. Money can be earned, possessions replaced, relationships healed. But opportunity, like time, only comes round once, and it does not carry a name badge.
Don’t fear, just take the first step!