The Fear Scorecard

There comes a moment when you are sitting by yourself in a steel cage suspended underwater waiting for your smell to attract a great white shark when you start wondering what exactly you are doing with your life.

This is a direct quote from a startup founder I’m friends with. He’s a guy I really admire because he’s constantly looking for ways to challenge himself – besides being his firm’s CTO, he practices Krav Maga and is planning to climb Mt Shasta – a major peak.

In the email, my friend describes the shark experiences as “one more way of getting over fears while having an extraordinary experience”. That phrase gave me the idea for this post: the fear scorecard.

We all have different ways of keeping score. Some do it with annual salary, others with miles run this week. Some track it with frequent flyer miles (like George Clooney in Up in the Air) others with number of children in Ivy League schools. These scorecards motivate us and give us meaning to our accomplishments.

Some scorecards are better than others though. Some scorecards (number of Facebook friends, number of cars owned) lead us to more shallow victories or cause us to ignore other important things in our lives. This is the nature of incentives – they lead us to do more when we otherwise wouldn’t.

I believe, however, there is a scorecard that won’t lead you astray. The Fear scorecard. Imagine that every day you track the number of times you are afraid and the number of times you choose to do what you think is right or needed, despite your fear.

The percentage is important but ultimately it’s quantity that matters. The more times you face down your fears, the better. Because I believe that the things that you truly fear are the things worth doing. Exploring a new career. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a relationship. Taking that trip abroad on your own.

Consider the game of Rejection Therapy, where people try to get rejected by someone else at least once a day. Something they bring up on the site that’s similar to the fear scorecard:

Buy, borrow (but don’t steal) a baseball pitch counter, put it in your pocket, and click it every time you catch yourself avoiding something out of fear. For me, it was an unlucky 13 times in a single day. That’s 13 opportunities that might have radically changed the trajectory of my mundane life.

Let incentives work in your favor and do what you are afraid of.

The full quote:

There comes a moment when you are sitting by yourself in a steel cage suspended underwater waiting for your smell to attract a great white shark when you start wondering what exactly you are doing with your life. You’re twenty miles away from land, the water is ice cold, you’re staring into nothingness waiting for a monster to appear in front of you at any time, and you have a lot of time to think, especially since it gets your mind off the approaching seasickness from the cage violently shaking continuously. You’ve slept two hours and above the surface its foggy, cold, and inhospitable. To add insult to metaphorical injury (the real one fortunately so far avoided) the suckers don’t seem to be showing up.

The truth is I don’t really mind that I didn’t see any sharks. I had an incredible time just enjoying the boat ride back and the wildness of nature just twenty miles off the coast, and I know that I’m not afraid to climb into shark infested waters. With each fear that I consciously overcome a few others dim or go away completely as well. And with every experience like that I look at the world a little differently.

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