Life is a roller coaster

It wasn’t until I was 22 years old, that I embarked on a roller coaster for the first time of my life. A roller coaster featuring a vertical loop, an Immelmann loop and a zero-gravity roll that is. I vividly remember the decision moment. I was in Copenhagen for language summer school and two Bulgarian girls in my study group asked me if I wanted to join them on the Dæmonen (“the Demon”) at Tivoli Gardens amusement park. I had to say “yes”. I had to overcome this fear.

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” — Seneca

Contrived anxiety

My mom was (and still is) scared of heights. She tries to avoid any activities giving her the heebie-jeebies, of which roller coasters is definitely one of them. From my childhood, I recall that that would typically entail my mom waiting for us alone to come back from the ride. I felt sorry for her and I concluded I was going to be scared out of solidarity. Voilà, my ‘anxiety’ for roller coasters was born.

Now, the opportunities for me to ride a roller coaster haven’t been plentiful, but in high school, I sure stayed clear from any gravity-defying action. So why did I feel pressured to tag along with my study friends in Copenhagen? Why was now the moment to change course?

I guess, my brain was developed enough to deconstruct my fear and realize that it was all fabricated.

Deconstructing fear

Although Tim Ferriss’ book ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ may have been controversial in some regards (e.g. delegating your life to Virtual Assistants), one of the lines I remember best is:

“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

It is fascinating, cause we usually put off that one thing, of which we know that once achieved, it will bring us further. That one phone call. That one e-mail.

Ferriss conquers this fear himself by defining it and deconstructing it into manageable elements. He calls it ‘fear-setting’ and it is really about asking yourself a couple of questions to assess better the probability of an irreversible negative outcome (i.e. ‘risk’):

What is the worst thing that could happen (‘the nightmare’)? How permanent is it? What steps can you take to mitigate the damage? What are the upsides of more probable outcomes? And maybe most importantly: what is it costing you to NOT take action?

An example put into practice

Last weekend I participated in Techstars’ Startup Weekend event in Utrecht. It was overall a blast and it reaffirmed for me that entrepreneurship is the glove that I want to fit. However, before attending the event, I was dreading the Friday night: the so-called ‘fire-pitch’.

During that activity, you need to pitch your business idea in 60 seconds and not a second more. This truly forces you to be concise and pithy or else you will be cut off. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to convey my thoughts in time. And I was anxious to choke and not know what to say.

So — Tim Ferriss style — I decided to deconstruct my fear. Spoiler alert: after having set my fear, the pitch went really well.

  • What is the worst thing that could happen (‘the nightmare’)?

I could totally flunk my pitch.

  • How permanent is it?

It would feel pretty sh*t at that moment. A loss of confidence. But I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one.

  • What steps can you take to mitigate the damage?

I can prepare my pitch and learn what I want to say by heart. In fact: I practiced the pitch for over an hour by repeating and rehearsing. Peeling off any redundant words to get my time below 1 minute.

  • What are the upsides of more probable outcomes?

I’ll feel pretty good about myself having gone up there and sharing my idea.

  • What is it costing you to NOT take action?

I’ll regret not taking the chance. Especially, because it was the main reason for me to attend the event.

Overcome a fear every day

To be truthful, I still have a propensity for acrophobia. Just like my mother. My last birthday ‘gift’ was swinging on the highest swing in Europe. It scared me to death. But I did it anyway.

It is all about accepting your fears and inoculating yourself for them by exposing yourself every time. Try to overcome a fear every day.

Life is a roller coaster. If you choose it to be.