Afraid to Take Risks? What's Stopping You?

Last Updated Aug 11, 2011 5:11 PM EDT

Last weekend I faced mortal fear. It was me and a chainsaw against a two foot diameter, 80 foot high oak tree. According to OSHA, "More people are killed while felling trees than during any other logging activity." Reading that didn't help. I'd never felled a tree before. I was terrified.

Sure, I took all the necessary precautions, but still, one kick from I don't know how many tons of dense wood, one stumble over some twigs and brush during retreat, one kick of a pinched chainsaw, and it could have been all over. But I did it. And it was exhilarating.

I felled that tree in a day. But you know what? I spent decades agonizing over career changes, business challenges, public speeches, being interviewed on live television. That fear was somehow harder to face than slicing through a five or ten ton tree with a chainsaw, not knowing exactly what it would do when I finished the final cut.

If your current job is all you aspire to, all you're passionate about, all you've spent your life dreaming about, then great, you've hit the jackpot. Have a happy life and don't look back. If, on the other hand, you feel unfulfilled much of the time, if you wake up in the morning and go to bed at night feeling like there's got to be more to this life, then something's holding you back.
Over the years I've heard every excuse imaginable: I don't want to work those kinds of hours, it's not good to jump companies so much, what if I fail, how do I know if I'm capable, it's outside my comfort zone, I'm not this enough, I'm not that enough. Hell, I've heard them coming from my own mouth.

All those excuses have one common denominator: fear. Fear is holding you back. And there's nothing wrong with that. Feeling fear is human. But courage is facing fear and doing what you believe in anyway.

Bill Gates dropped out of school to start a software company. Steve Jobs did pretty much the same thing. Michael Dell built PCs in his dorm room. Sure, those stories are legendary, but I've known hundreds of people who took chances, and not one of them wishes he hadn't. And they're not "legends," just ordinary people like you and me.

Look, we're not just talking about compensation, living comfortably, financial independence, or providing for loved ones. We're talking about personal fulfillment. We're talking about waking up when you're 70 or 80 and knowing that you lived a full life, that you gave it your best shot.

If you try and fail, that's okay. At least you tried and learned from it. The only true failure is failing to try. Regret is a bitter pill to swallow. I've seen it. You don't want to go down that path. So go ahead, go out on a limb. Believe in yourself. It can't be any scarier than facing physical, mortal danger. At least it shouldn't be.

Note: I live on ten acres with dozens of oak trees. Sometimes they die and we use them for firewood, lest the forest use them for wildfires. No live trees were harmed during the making of this blog post.

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