It’s too hard.
This isn’t fair.
It won’t work out.
I can’t do it for sure.
I’m not good enough yet.
There’s no point anyway.
It’s clearly impossible, I’m sure no one else did it before.
These are just some of the lies we constantly feed ourselves, to make ourselves feel better because it seemingly shifts our role from a culprit to that of a victim. These are the lies that plague us incessantly, impede our very ability to take risks, to dare greatly and vulnerably. But let me tell you something, you’re not the victim, you ARE the culprit of your failure to achieve what you want. You are the very reason why nothing is happening, why life is boring. You are the very reason why something is not happening, why opportunity isn’t knocking. You are the reason.
This fear of taking risk stems from the greatest fear of all — fear of failure. This fear of failure manifests itself in many different ways, such as fear of disappointment, ridicule, rejection, losing, and pain. Do you not agree that if we were incapable of feeling fear, we will do whatever, whenever, relentlessly? In this regard, fear of failure, to a certain extent keeps us in check. But ultimately, this fear of failure, this fear of taking necessary risks is unhealthy, and it ultimately cripples creativity, innovation and the progress of humankind, and eventually diminishes our happiness.
I hope this post sheds some light as to why we are constantly afraid of putting ourselves out there, and also to provide some suggestions on how to keep our worst enemy, fear, at bay.
Why are we afraid of taking risks — Society.
I’m tired of listing society as a problem, but it is. If you had read all my previous posts, you’d realise society is indeed a huge problem. Problem is, society views failure negatively and only rewards success — but how can you succeed if you don’t fail? Society had us conditioned that if we failed, we are incapable of succeeding — but how can one learn if he doesn’t make any mistakes? At many levels, society has failed us and it continues to do so because we are already flawed at the very foundation, education. In schools, we are taught failing isn’t acceptable, only straight As’ is. Quite often, when we fail, we are punished. This in turn further perpetuates the fear of failing. We are punished both physically (Asian parents huh?), and mentally (shunned by others for being a loser — and since when did failing equate to a loser huh, or is it just me?) We simply forgot that failing is a process of learning, and failing is the reason why you will eventually succeed.
We daren’t try the new, the unknown, the uncertain, the undiscovered. We daren’t try because we daren’t fail with society looming over us with its watchful eyes.
“Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.” — Robert A. Heinlein
Why are we afraid of taking risks — Ego.
Much like alcohol, ego is intoxicating and will have us believing anything — that we are the mightiest of the mighty, the strongest of the strong, the smartest of the smart — and we love that feeling. We love the idea that we are better than everyone else at something. Which is why when we are forced to believe we are not, it tends to be a rude awakening, and it almost certainly will hurt like a damn blade being stabbed through our very core — psychologist calls it narcissistic injury. This is why humility is said to be the mortal enemy of ego; the antidote to the poison, pride. Humility basically keeps us in check.
Albeit knowing all these, you’d be led to believe that I don’t have any ego, wouldn’t you? But I am human after all, and although I aspire to have none, I still fall prey to it every single time.
So how then is ego connected to failure, and failure to take risks? Firstly, you have to understand that failure is extremely fond of ego, and it will come uninvited when ego is left unchecked. In other words, you shouldn’t be surprised to fail if your ego festered. To put it simply, when your ego becomes too big, you’ll tend to become this egotistical nutjob that won’t allow peoples’ opinions to get to you — familiar? What happens next is always almost a certainty: You fail, and fail big time because the fact is you’re not who you deceivingly made yourself out to be, you’re not the crème de la crème.
So then how does this lead to one being afraid of taking risks? Well, I suppose when your ego, if and when it really is, considered colossal, you will be too afraid to fail — because failing will be detrimental to your self-worth and injurious to the delusional image you hold of yourself — and it will send shock waves through your entire being. It will be kind of a self-awakening where you tell yourself, “Hey look, you failed. You are wrong about yourself. You aren’t the best.” So yeah, if you have an ego which is insatiably large, you will tend to avoid risk, avoid looking dumb, and better yet, prefer ignorance over the risk of failing.
“The great failing is to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.” — Goethe
Why are we afraid of taking risks — Our Expected Utility says no.
Next, I would like to introduce you to the concept of Expected Utility, EU. Well, this is something we are all familiar with, actually. It goes by many names: Pros & Cons; Costs vs Benefits; For & Against; Strengths & Weaknesses. But basically, it all points to the same concept — whether something is worth it or not. Expected Utility is the mathematical equivalent of weighing whether something is worth doing, whether the benefits offset the cost, whether the pros outweigh the cons. EU, however, is subjected to individuals’ nurture and nature, though, and doesn’t exactly and objectively qualifies or quantifies an action’s value. To put it simply, it means if one is predisposed to risk aversion, it doesn’t necessarily mean the undertaking of that risk is irrational. Just because your EU of doing the same exact thing as compared to the guy next to you isn’t the same, or lower, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It simply means that you lack the balls. Which leads me to my next point — our time here on this Earth is finite.
We know. We know we will die sooner or later, however dark that thought might sound. Despite that, we do next to nothing about it. We still constantly cower in fear, hoping the things we want will be served gently on our laps, to our comfort. The time we have left on Earth is constantly and around-the-clock depleting — yet we do nothing.
At the end of the day, what we will regret won’t be the things we have done, but the things we have not done — and ffs I don’t mean illegal stuff la. It’s only when we are already half-foot into the grave that we start to have some sense of urgency to do the things we always wanted to do without fear, because then we would have nothing greater to lose.
I strongly believe in taking on (necessary) risks in life. If you are always afraid of taking risks, you’ll never ever live a life worth living — you will always be on the sidelines, watching people who took on the risks you daren’t take reap the rewards you daren’t grab hold of, albeit you will always remain in the safety of your comfort zone.
Failure is important, too. If you don’t fail, you won’t learn. If you don’t learn, you will never change, and you will always — always — be that person you are years ago. But when you do fail again, fail better.
If anything, remember this one thing: Life is short, just fuck it and do it already, and keep at it, while at it.
Didn’t 老子 teach you that, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”