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On the flight here to Dallas from Quito, we ran into heavy turbulence. And by that I mean, me white-knuckling the hand rest thinking “why oh why did I get on this plane?” while staring out the window, willing the plane to stay up type of turbulence.
Even though the experience was harrowing and extremely NOT fun, the second I walked off that aluminium tub, I promptly forgot about the whole thing.
And then once FinCon started, I barely remembered how scared I was. Even though at the time, the terror of being shaken like a rag doll while hurling through the sky at breakneck speeds was the ONLY thing I could think about.
But as I sat down to write this post, I started thinking about fear and exactly how much we tend to blow it up in our heads.
Like that time I learned how to Scuba dive.
Or that time I gave my boss my notice after working at the same company for 9 years.
Or that time I had to hit “publish” on the very first article on this site.
Every time, I hit the “Wall of Fear” (a term Pete aka Mr. Money Mustache coined during his Chautauqua presentation), I froze, like a deer-caught-in the-head-lights, and for a split second, all I could think about is running away. But every time, no matter how scared I was, I scaled that stupid fear wall, and every time I got to the other side, my fists triumphantly pumping in the air, I’ve never once regretted it.
It happened so often, I knew the drill by now. But that doesn’t mean I no longer feel the fear.
It doesn’t mean the fear isn’t real. The point isn’t to ignore the fear, but to feel it, scream in your head, and then do it anyways.
Everyone deals with fear differently, but in my case; here are the tricks I used to get over my fear:
Let Yourself Be Afraid
Don’t ignore your fear. Just because you ignore it doesn’t mean it’ll magically disappear.
Also, we don’t want fear to automatically disappear because even though it’s debilitating sometimes, fear is actually useful. Without fear, our caveman ancestors would’ve turned into mammoth chow a long time ago and we wouldn’t exist.
So as much as fear sucks, it serves a purpose.The trick is not to pretend it doesn’t exist, because that would be like trying to sleep through a rock concert. Good luck with that.
Acknowledge that your Wall of Fear is there. Then figure out how to scale it.
What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
Fear is our emotional response to a perceived threat. So, in order to scale the Wall of Fear, we need to figure out what’s the worst thing that could happen, and then figure out how to deal with it.
Take quitting my job for example. After giving my notice, my first thought was “what have I done? What if this was a huge mistake?”
My second thought was “What’s the worst that could happen?”
The first thought is instinctual but useless. The second thought actually let’s me do something about it.
So I set about writing down a list of worst things that could happen and backup plans A, B, C to combat it.
The reason why there’s plan A, B, and C, is they act like sandbags in a storm. If plan A fails, fall back to plan B, and if B fails, fall to C. That way, if shit ever hits the fan, you won’t ever be caught with your pants down because you just pull out your backup plans and go through them.
Eg. What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
The stock market crashes:
Plan A: Live within the “yield shield” of 3% (dividends + fixed income) without having to sell any assets
Plan B: Have a cash cushion that covers 3-years of living expenses (this was how long it took to recover from the last bear market
Plan C: Relocate to Thailand where you can live like a king on $20K. As we like to say “When shit hits the fan, we’re heading to Thailand.”
Our expenses go up and we have to go back to work:
Plan A: Keep coding skills up by building apps, calculators, platforms for other authors, FIRE people. Etc.
Plan B: Develop new skills like writing and public speaking. This opens you up to brand new job markets.
Plan C: Become entrepreneurs/consultants with financial consultancy, etc.
Unexpected healthcare expenses:
Plan A: If we lose our Canadian healthcare coverage due to residency requirements, buy expat insurance
Plan B: Self-insure by living in a country (like Thailand or Mexico) with high quality healthcare at low cost.
Plan C: Get a part time job with insurance coverage from abroad
Lack of friends/community in retirement:
Plan A: Stay in touch with friends back home online with Skype, FB, Twitter etc
Plan C: Volunteer and join meet-up groups to find new friends. Rent out shared accommodations on Airbnb to meet people.
Do Something USEFUL
It’s almost impossible to dwell on your thoughts if you’re concentrating on DOING something.When you’re feeling useful, you also have less reason to ruminate about everything that could go wrong.
Go out for a walk. Go for a bike ride. Go swimming or hiking. Your body AND your mind will thank you.
And if you’re an obsessive compulsive type A like me, and need to be accomplishing something AT ALL TIMES, work on putting your backup plans A, B, C mentioned above into action.
Make a list of all the things you need to do (like “look into Cigna expat insurance”, “write a book”, or “code an app” for example) and DO IT!
Surround Yourself with People Who Push You to Grow
Confucius once said:
“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.”
This is why you need people who are going to push you to grow even when you’re racked with fear. These are the people who don’t make excuses for you, don’t let you fall victim to your fear and don’t let you give up.
Let yourself by swept up by their boundless energy, their optimism, and their unrelenting ability to push past their fears.
If there aren’t people like this in your existing room, switch rooms.
Speaking at the Chautauquas and getting to know other FI bloggers and attendees was the best thing I could have possibly done to build my tribe. Now because I’ve met all these cool FI people, I now have a network of people who have pulled the FI trigger just like me that I can go to for advice and socialize with. I’m constantly texting/FB messaging Justin McCurry from www.rootofgood.com to bounce ideas off of, Jeremy from www.gocurrycracker.com to chat about travel/shrooms , and of course “GodFather” JLCollins because I need my JLCollinista fix.
And now we’ve met J. Money, Mr. Money Mustache, Alan/Katie from PopUp Business School, Jesse from YNAB, etc. Any Wall of Fear I can ever encounter has already been encountered and scaled by one of these people, and because of the Chautauqua’s and FinCon, I can go to them for advice or just a simple “What do you think of this idea?”
Dip Your Toe In the Water
Even though I wasn’t the greatest engineer, one of the best things I learned from engineering school is to test out the waters.
You wouldn’t let someone bungee jumps off a bridge without testing the rope first would you? That’s why they throw down a sandbag matching the person’s weight first.
So if you feel like quitting your job with nothing lined up feels like jumping off a cliff, throw a rock down there first to see what’s at the bottom.
Before you quit (preferable 2-5 years out), start thinking about what you want to do next. Start a side gig, start volunteering, write a blog—whatever it is that you think you’ll want to do in retirement, start doing that in spurts while working, so you feel like you have a platform to step onto when you quit.
In our case, we started writing children’s novels before we quit and started volunteering for a non-profit the year before we quit. This allowed us to have a community and a passion project to run towards when we pulled the escape hatch.
Another way to dip your toe into the retirement waters is to negotiate a sabbatical. Try a 6-month sabbatical to see if you’ll like having all that freedom and time on your hands. Do some travelling! Work on your hobbies! You have nothing to lose because if you find out you don’t like retirement, you can always go back to your job. And if you love your time off, you can hand in your notice with zero fear!
You could also use the glide path method, by stepping down into a part-time position, filling the rest of the time with your passion project, and then eventually quitting once you feel ready.
So that’s it! The Wall of Fear might look imposing and impossible to scale at first, but if you acknowledge your fear, think about what’s the worst that could happen, do USEFUL things, surround yourself with the right people, and test out the water first, you’ll scale that wall in no time!
What do you think? Have you encountered the Wall of Fear? How do you plan to scale it?
Side Note: Guess what? We’re on the ChooseFI Podcast today!
ChooseFI is one of the fastest growing FI podcasts out there and after meeting the hosts Brad and Jonathan at FinCon, I can completely see why. These guys have serious hustle and are some of the smartest people I’ve had the privilege of meeting. If you’re looking for a good podcast to check out on your commute to work, make sure to listen to ChooseFI!
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