“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.
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?