Beware of The “What If’s”

Let me set the stage for you…

You’ve mustered up the courage to take a different path.  Maybe you’re attempting a new skill.  Perhaps you’re meeting with a new prospect or client.    It could be you’re attempting to do something that involves a higher degree of risk than you are typically accustomed to.  One thing is for sure; you’re heading into the unknown and you’re stepping out of your comfort zone!  Can you feel the energy and excitement?   After all, risk-taking is what keeps us alive.

It’s also what give us heartburn.  For the record, it’s called risk-taking because the outcome is uncertain.  You don’t know what’s beyond the bend.  Sometimes it’s success, and sometimes it’s failure.  The rewards far exceed the dangers because both success, and failure, can provide valuable lessons, and help form future strategies that can lead to growth.  That said, it’s not the risk-taking that concerns me, it’s the “what if’s” that follow.

The “what if’s” are the nagging, invented scenarios that run through our heads, typically looking to misuse our imagination, exploit the unknowns that go along with risk-taking, and damage our confidence.  For some reason, once we get a case of the “what if’s,” logic and reason are pushed aside by negative thoughts that create fear.

For instance, let’s say you’ve stepped up to the plate, and volunteered to give a presentation you’ve never given before in front of an intimidating audience.  What often begins as a courageous decision to face the unknown, can soon spiral into a sea of, “what if’s…”

  • What if the audience doesn’t like me?
  • What if I lose my train of thought when I’m on stage?
  • What if the equipment I’m using doesn’t work properly?
  • What if I’m asked a question that I don’t know the answer to?

Any of the above could actually happen, but realistically, what are the chances that any of the above actually do happen?  Afterall, they are made up.  I could debunk them one-by-one if you’d like, but you’ll just come up with more, “what if’s” to replace them if I do.  So, rather than telling you these “what if’s” couldn’t happen to you, I’d rather tell you two things: The first thing I’d tell you is that, in fact, there is a tiny chance that they could happen, but the odds are negligible. The second thing I’d tell you is that we could also make up other scenarios, and those scenarios would involve unexpected levels of success, and deep appreciation from others who are impressed with our ability to handle the risks we are taking. Jim McMahon, the former quarterback for the Chicago Bears, once put it this way:

“Yes, risk-taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called ‘sure-thing-taking.’”

The biggest problem with being scared off by the “what if’s” is that each time you do, you’re more prone to being scared off again.  Then it becomes a pattern, and then it overwhelms your decision-making.  I can’t promise you that you won’t fail at a task that carries a lot of risk. Failure happens a lot in life. We only have one shot at this thing called life; isn’t the risk taking a big part of the things we remember most fondly?  Those around you admire risk-takers. They are impressed with your success, and in awe of how you handle your failures.  Let’s keep the “what if’s” in a drawer somewhere, and replace it with a drawer full of phrases like this: “I sure can do it!”

Related: Seller’s Remorse