“Wait…you’re going where?”
I’d gotten this question so many times in the last week that I didn’t feel like elaborating or explaining.
“But dude, you don’t have any money.”
He was right. I had just a few grand in the bank and a mountain of student loans. I had no job. I had no chance of getting one in Brazil. I had (at max) a few months before I zeroed my bank account the way I was currently spending.
“I have enough to last a while,” I replied. Bemused more by my calm than my answers, the questions kept coming:
“What if you can’t find work because of the gap in your resume?”
“What if you can’t find a place to live?”
“What if you hate it there?”
“What if you run out of money and this winds up being a huge issue?”
I didn’t have a perfect answer. I shrugged.
“I’ll figure it out. I’ll be okay.” I smiled. A few days later, I got on a plane to face the unknown. My friend shook his head at my immaturity and went back to the “real world.”
“What if” questions control most people’s lives.
- What if my boss doesn’t like my idea?
- What if the joke I want to tell doesn’t go over well?
- What if I let this person know I like them and they don’t reciprocate?
- What if I let my friend know they’ve upset me and they think I’m being silly?
- What if quit my job and then can’t find more work and everyone thinks I’m stupid?
The unspoken answer is that catastrophe would occur. You’d fail. You’d be unloved. Your world would implode and you’d never recover.
Since the stakes are so high, you play it safe. You don’t tell the joke, quit your job, or let the other person know how you feel. Failure equals catastrophe. You never put yourself in a vulnerable position.
You take no risks. You try not to be seen. You purposely inhibit your ability to stand out. You rarely, if ever, fail because you rarely, if ever, extend yourself beyond your comfort zone.
Mission accomplished…except the mission got confused
The goal is not to avoid failure. The goal is to thrive. The goal is to connect, to lead, and to love. The issue is that we assumed that the answer to our “what if…” question was “catastrophe and failure.” The real answer to life’s “what if’s” is always this:
It will be okay. Please, please, please, realize this: No matter what happens, you will be okay.
- If you crack a terrible joke in front of a crowd, you will be okay.
- If you reveal your feelings to someone who doesn’t reciprocate, you will be okay.
- If you start a business, sink your savings into it, and lose it all – you will be okay.
- If you get fired and everyone you know thinks you are incompetent, you will be okay.
To be clear, I’m not saying that these are wonderful outcomes. I’m saying that you will go on breathing. I’m saying that even if you lose your job, you will not starve to death. If you lose all your money, you will not freeze to death. If you make an ass of yourself, you will not doom yourself to a loveless existence. You will go through an uncomfortable period. You will manage.
No matter the outcome, life will go on
Realizing this gives you license to fail. Which gives you license to try. Which is something most people never do.
Most people stick with the comfortable option. Whether it is the job, the relationship, or just staying quiet at a party instead of chatting up a stranger. So when you are trying new things, taking risks, and succeeding or failing without an existential crisis, people notice. You appear unshakeable. You are undaunted by the fear of failure that controls their lives.
People flock to this self-assuredness. It’s like a magnet. Everyone is just as deathly afraid of failure as you may sometimes feel. When you give them an example of ”okayness” you open up new possibilities for them. You lead by example. And far from judging you negatively, they will admire you for it.
I knew living in Brazil was a dream of mine. Even if it flopped it was a worthwhile pursuit. I had no guarantees, but I thought about it:
When I am 95, wasting away in bed, looking back at my life, which will I regret more…
That time when I was 24 and I moved to Brazil?
Or living my life at half tilt because I was too afraid to take a chance at the dream?
I told people that a few weeks before I left for Brazil. I’d watch their eyes light up. It was like a veil was lifted. For a second, all their excuses were revealed to be illusory.
In total, ten people actually left their lives behind to move to Rio de Janeiro. Three who were virtual strangers wound up living with my best friend Ben and I. Now they are some of my closest friends in the world.
Everything will be okay. You’ll regret the chances you didn’t take more than the ones you did. When you realize this, risks become more worthwhile and people flock to your example…
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