It’s been a long time since I talked about certainty and fear when it comes to making decisions. Fear makes bad decisions (unless the decision is to avoid swimming with hungry sharks and an open wound). That sounds simple enough to apply, but there are a lot of times when fear can sound like certainty, so how do you tell the difference?
It’s a hard question. Scared isn’t a good measure, because the choice borne of certainty is often terrifying. Fear is always there in some part. The best example I can come up with from my own life is the book. I’ve been scared the whole way. I’m still scared. What if it isn’t good enough? It almost doesn’t matter who likes it… I can’t think of an external voice loud enough to cure me of the fear that it isn’t good enough.
But if I had stayed there with “not good enough,” then I wouldn’t have pursued publication, and I for sure wouldn’t have decided to invest in help. The thing is … I’m sure that I want to do for other people what my favorite authors have been for me: company, a different perspective, an imaginary friend that said the thing I most needed to hear. I’m sure that is the most important thing I could possibly ever try to take on. So between my fear (not good enough) and my certainty (this matters, even if I’m not good enough, it still matters), it is the certainty that makes the better decisions.
Not that I’m not scared. We always judge our insides by other people’s outsides, but I really can’t imagine that there exists anyone who is more of a chicken than me. But what kind of a life will my fears lead me to? Not any kind of life that I want.
You could say that I’m afraid of who I’ll become if I don’t try. So maybe that is a kind of decision made out of fear, but I’m not thinking about that as much as I’m choosing to focus on the certainty that I’ll like myself better if I try. After all, if I fail miserably, it’s just failure. I’ve failed before. It didn’t kill me. I’m sure I’d rather be the one that tried than the one that stayed where she was and cowered in a corner.
It’s a thought experiment first, nothing risked in thinking. Think through the possible outcomes of the choices in front of you. The fear choices in one column, the certainty choices in the other. Play them out in your head. Take the perspective of yourself in five years looking back on this moment. Which is the thing you are going to wish you’d chosen? Where will one choice or the other take you? Which one gives you more choices to work with down the line?
Incidentally, I’m not ready sounds a lot like a certainty.
I’m not ready is really “I don’t know if I’m ready, but I am scared I’m not good/smart/brave/attractive/strong enough for what’s next. What if I screw it up? What if I lose?” Well, what if you screw it up? Is that better or worse than watching the opportunity go by?
Coming from the biggest chickenshit ever, this is how I manage. I feel whatever it is and I let it have it’s voice. And once I’ve heard the feeling part of me, I sit down and ask what I’m sure of. I mean, unshakably certain of. I ask what the evidence says. I wonder what a brave person would do. I ask my imaginary version of myself in five years what she wishes had happened here. I don’t try and tell myself not to be afraid. It isn’t like I listen anyway. I’m allowed to be afraid, but I’m not allowed to let fear drive.
As long as we’re talking about evidence, this decision-making heuristic started because all the evidence I’ve seen says that letting your fears run your life only gets you confirmation that your fears were justified. Letting your certainties run your life also gets you confirmation that your certainties were justified. I don’t have a good answer for how or why it works, but people that run their lives by the certainty that everyone is out to screw them only see the ways that they’ve been screwed. The people who run their lives by the certainty that others are doing the best they can with what they’ve got generally see the ways the people around them are trying. We live in the world we choose to see.
I live in a world where trying is better than giving up. In the world I live in, my fears make decisions I have cause to regret. So me and my terrified little gut shake all we must, figure out what we know for sure, and proceed accordingly.