What is one of the first things that crosses your mind when making an important decision? Like changing jobs or buying a house? I found that for many, there is this little voice that asks: “What if it doesn’t work?”
What if it goes terribly wrong?
And it ignites fears inside us. Fear of failure. Fear of losses. Fear of not being up to the expectations we and others place on us.
To fight these internal demons, I like an approach explained by Tim Ferriss in his 2017 TED Talk, which requires us first to consider the worst that can happen after making the decision.
If you are jumping ship and starting a new role in another company, you might see the worst outcome as not passing the probation period and becoming jobless.
If you are buying a house, maybe the worst could be your loan being refused after agreeing to the purchase. You would lose your deposit, the house and, since you gave your notice, become homeless.
Then, as we imagine the worst scenario, we ask ourselves, are there ways I can prevent this? Even slightly?
You could ensure the new job description overlaps significantly with your current one, discuss with the hiring manager and her team to ensure you would be up to speed rapidly and deliver great results.
You could get a pre-approval letter from your bank before making the deal, stating that if your financial conditions remain unchanged, they would lend you the money needed to buy the house.
Even if these actions don’t entirely prevent the worst from happening, they will decrease its likelihood.
Finally, if the worst does happen, how can we repair it? How can we overcome it? To help us, we can find out if anyone has gone through a similar issue and how they did figure it out. Most of the time, we can learn from other people’s lived experiences.
As we uncover solutions to this disastrous situation, the intensity of our fears diminishes. We are like apprentice firefighters learning the procedures to extinguish a fire.
Somehow, we start learning.
Most importantly, it is essential to understand that even if our attempt ends badly, there might be silver linings and some benefits. One of them is the experience we gained from facing this challenge.
No amount of theory can fully prepare us for firefighting; however, after we fought our first fire, we will never be the same. Our fears won’t have the same power. They won’t influence us as they used to.
That’s why I like to reframe the idea of “cost of failure” to “cost of knowledge”.
By making mistakes now and finding out how to sort them out, you are becoming this person who can help others, giving them the advice to prevent a disaster or even mapping out the steps to sort out the situation. This expertise is valuable; and some people are willing to pay for it.
To remind me of this, I like to think of a quote from Thomas John Watson Sr., former President of IBM, who stated:
“I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?”
In our personal life, mistakes forge part of our wisdom, which we can pass onto the next generations — our kids and grandkids — and share with our communities.
From a professional point of view, when leaders promote a culture where a mistake is not a fireable offence, it creates psychological safety. In this environment, difficult and innovative decisions can be made by employees as they understand they don’t have to fear failure and can advance the company’s knowledge.
Bridgewater is one of the most successful hedge funds in the world and its founder, Ray Dalio, understood how essential it is for a company’s success not to punish an employee for making a mistake (of course — when it is not repeated over and over). Instead, he asked them to document it and add it to a “mistake log”. This knowledge ledger was shared with everyone in the company so that anyone could learn from others’ mistakes.
So, obviously, when making decisions, we should aim for success, for a great outcome. But if you find yourself paralysed by fears, there is a way to confront them and push forward.
Reflect on the worst that could happen, how to handle it and reframe its consequences. If you can manage the most difficult outcome, which might not even happen, then fear will have no hold on you.
And lastly, Act! Thinking alone will never overcome fear, but paired with action — nothing is impossible.
I hope you liked this newsletter and let me know what you think of it!
To your success,
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