Overcome Your Fears

Credit: Daniel Delle Donne (Unsplash)

Credit: Daniel Delle Donne (Unsplash)

“A life lived in fear is a life half lived” – Baz Luhrmann

As a pimply and shy high school kid, I was a part of the “nerd” crowd and not the cool kids crowd. I remember the biggest fear I faced back then was asking out a girl, who I developed a crush on while participating in a school project. She would always greet me with a big smile and was friendly towards me. We would joke around and chat whenever we would see each other. The school year was ending and I knew I wouldn’t see her for a while. This was before Facebook and cellphones, so communication wasn’t as easy as it is nowadays. The night before the last day of classes, I decided I had to ask her out. That night, I remember tossing and turning in bed. I couldn’t fall asleep. I was consumed with fear.

How do you get over your fear?

Identify the Worst case scenario

In my teenaged mind, I could picture the worst case scenario. I would go up to her and ask her out. She would laugh in my face and say “No!” Then she would proceed to tell all her friends and they would all start pointing at me while laughing.

Be Rational

Fear is often irrational. The worst possible scenario that you play out in your head is generally unlikely to happen. Fear is often worse than reality. Take a step back and think rationally. Sure, the worst case scenario I imagined was possible, but was it likely? If it was a random person I didn’t know, then the chances of it happening might increase. However, I was friendly with this person and knew her personality so the likelihood of the worst case scenario playing out was slim. The most likely bad outcome would be her telling me that she was only interested in being friends. That didn’t seem like all that great of an outcome either. Wouldn’t it be awkward if I see her in the future, I thought.

“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” – Louise E. Boone

The Fear of Regret

Okay, the rational portion of my brain gave me the green light, but there was still something holding me back. There was still a huge fear of failure and rejection. The fear of failure is strong and keeps many people from doing what they set out to do. But there is one thing worse than the fear of failure. The fear of regret. Regret is one of the worst emotions we face. Failures are tough but at least they can be looked at as learning experiences. The feeling of regret, the feeling of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” done whatever it is that you wanted to do can be a powerful motivator. “Failure is an option in life, but not pursuing a dream and then regretting it a few years later can be a continual source of self torment,” said Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. I knew that if I didn’t ask this girl out, I would spend the rest of the summer regretting it. I would beat myself up for being such a coward. I would wonder what if the feelings were mutual and I would have missed a wonderful opportunity.

What does this have to do with money?

This is a personal finance blog. Well I’d like to think it is. So how does this relate to money? I’ve seen a lot of people fear investing in the stock market because they equate it to gambling. You can lose your shirt, they argue! The worst case scenario they paint is losing all their money in the stock market and being homeless. Okay, maybe if you put your life-savings in a hot stock, this is a possible scenario. However, if you think rationally and learn more about investing, based on the entire history of the stock market, it has always gone up. No, that doesn’t mean there won’t be ups and downs. There will be. The stock market can have wild fluctuations and it can be a little volatile but if you invest in diversified index funds for the long term, you will reap the rewards. If you put your money in a savings account in the bank, the value of that money will be eaten up by inflation.

I feel similarly about investing in real estate. At first, I had a big fear of buying a rental property, especially one that was out-of-state and one that I had not physically seen. People sometimes ask me what if that house was some run-down place in a horrible place where no one would ever want to rent. But while there are always risks in investing in real estate such as having bad tenants, vacancies, and repairs, this specific fear is irrational. I had an inspection and there was a home appraisal. I used a plethora of online resources as well as service where you can pay independent third-parties to check it out.

Not investing your money and having it work for you because you’re fearful is a mistake. You will not build any sort of wealth if you merely put money in a bank account or other similarly low yielding investing. However, the worst thing about giving into fear is not losing money to inflation…it is that you won’t live the life that you were meant to live. Are you afraid to take the leap and make a career change, to start a business, to retire early, to travel the world? “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make.”

Just in case, you’re curious as to what happened with the girl I wanted to ask out. Towards the end of that school day, I bumped into her in the hallway. Here was my chance. We chatted briefly and with my heart pounding and my hands sweaty, I asked her what she was doing that weekend. She told me that she had plans with her boyfriend! I told her to have fun and to keep in touch. I guess I’ll never know if she really had a boyfriend or if she was just letting me down easy. It doesn’t matter though. I was proud of myself for facing my fear and I was relieved that I wouldn’t feel the torment of regret.

How do you overcome fear?

24 thoughts on “Overcome Your Fears

  1. Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds

    One of my favourite quotes was by Matt Damon in a film he did where he said “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.”

    Sometimes, we just need to take action on something, and that’s all we need to succeed :)

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I like that quote and sometimes you really just have to push yourself and get that “insane courage.” Courage isn’t not being afraid but being afraid but doing it anyway. Do you know what Matt Damon movie that quote was from?

      Reply
  2. Brian

    Fear is a strange emotion. We have to almost trick ourselves into thinking that the worst that can happen is getting a “no” answer to build up enough courage to ask or take a risk in the first place. Glad you got the closures with the HS friend.
    Brian recently posted…Mid-Year Goal Check-InMy Profile

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I feel like I’m too often risk averse and succumb to fear too often. I’m working on that!

      Reply
  3. Tonya@Budget and the Beach

    Yeah FEAR is a MoFo! I’m good at overcoming fear in certain areas of my life and not-so-good in others. I think maybe most people are that way? I don’t have a problem being on camera where that could be someone’s worst nightmare, while I have a fear of taking a leap again one day into freelancing, whereas someone else might not have that fear.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Ask Budget & the Beach: Blogging & the BeachMy Profile

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yea we each have something different that we fear and we are also different in being able to confront our different fears.

      Reply
  4. Erin

    Yes to this, so much! I’ve actually been thinking about writing on fear because I see so.many.people. stagnating because they can’t bring themselves to do what they want out of fear. I understand it as I used to be in the same situation as you — nerdy outcast, super shy and introverted, afraid of looking even worse than I already did. But over the past few years, I’ve learned that failure is essential to moving forward. The alternative is doing nothing, and since I value growth, I have to get past my fears and just go for it. Like you said, I’d rather not go, “Hm, I wonder what would have happened if I had done this…” And I agree – the worst case scenario often doesn’t happen, and things blow over quickly. You just have to choose to move on from it.

    Connecting it to finance, this is why I place such a big emphasis on saving. You never know what opportunities will come your way. If you want to change careers, move, travel, etc. having savings (aka options) always helps ease uncertainty.
    Erin recently posted…An Experiment (aka Rebooting the Blog)My Profile

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yes, analysis paralysis due to fear is rough. Good point about the alternative being doing nothing…which usually isn’t productive. Having an emergency fund/F-U fund definitely helps you overcome certain fears.

      Reply
  5. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Such a great post, Andrew. I’ve dealt with some serious fear issues myself. The “imagine the worst case scenario” is super helpful, I think. If you can live with the worst case scenario then it’s likely worth the risk, especially if the potential benefits are big.

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Exactly, the worst case scenario isn’t usually as bad as we imagine it. Sometimes our imaginations go a little to wild. And the potential benefits are often worth the risks.

      Reply
  6. Tim Kim @ Tub of Cash

    Regret is the worst. I absolutely agree. Scenarios don’t typically unfold in a worst case sort of way. So really most of this stuff is just in our heads. Thank you for sharing! As I was reading, I was wondering how the story with the girl ended, so it was good that you didn’t forget to add it at the end, LOL!

    Reply
  7. Joe

    I have a tough time overcoming my fear when I was young too. Now, I realize to overcome your fear, you just need to practice. Whatever you’re afraid of, you’ll improve every time you face it. Regret is so much worse than getting turned down.

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I was the same way when I was young. I don’t think anybody really has an easy time overcoming fear but generally age and wisdom does help.

      Reply
  8. DC @ Young Adult Money

    I’m glad you brought up the fear of regret. I’m a pretty pessimistic person which doesn’t help when it comes to getting over fears, but I always try to go back to the fear of regret. If I don’t try something will I think about it years later and regret it? Life is so short. Sometimes yo have to go for it.

    Also I can totally relate to you! Nothing was more stressful than when I asked a girl to homecoming. My sister and others even told me not to do it because they were sure she was going to say no. She said yes : )
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…12 Personal Finance Books for MillennialsMy Profile

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yea, I can be pretty pessimistic at times too. But yes, not wanting to face regret really motivates you. And awesome to hear that the girl said yes to you for homecoming!

      Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      That’s great that you made that a mission at a young age…and look at how successful you are now!

      Reply
  9. Done by Forty

    I like the angle here, Andrew. Nothing in the investing world is nearly as fear-inducing as the prospect of being rejected by the girl you have a childhood crush on. Emotions are more intense at that age, aren’t they?

    For us, we are fairly risk averse by nature. We use systems to overcome our fears. We have an asset allocation that we just rebalance once a year. The rest of the time, we just invest in equal portions into our four index funds, regardless of what’s happening.

    The irony is that our real investing lives started right at 2007/2008, so we got to see what real fear is when we dumped all our money in right at the wrong time, into a really expensive, front loaded mutual fund. We saw big losses immediately. Still, we didn’t sell, and rode it out. Took years, but it was a good lesson.

    Now, we’ve seen nothing but a rising market for years. A lot of us in the FIRE community may have never seen a real bull market, or at least really been heavily invested when one hits.

    It’ll be interesting to see how we relative newbies handle the next big drop. Fear will come, for sure. Only time will tell how we deal.
    Done by Forty recently posted…Selling a Rental We’ve Never SeenMy Profile

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yes the fear of failure, rejection, and criticism are some of the strongest fears…especially when you’re young. And you’re right that a lot in the community have only seen rising markets. While we can say that we would stay the course and ride out the storm. It is a lot easier to say it in theory than to actually practice what you preach.

      Reply
  10. Chintan @ Alpha Trading

    Glad you picked up this topic.

    There is a very thin line of difference between fear and doing things in life. Most successful people have overcome fears to achieve great things.

    I usually don’t think much. I just do what is required.

    Reply

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