How Tim Ferriss helped me overcome my fear of doing anything

I was standing on a cliff in late 2008, looking nervously over the edge, daring myself to jump off it.

I’d had a hard few months: disappointment in how my career was going, despite earning good money; a relationship I would have given everything for, not going anywhere; general boredom with life after 7 years living in London.

The cliff was metaphorical, fortunately. I wasn’t considering ending it all, but I was miserable. Could I really go on living my life as I was? I had a hard choice to make about what to do.

Along came Tim

My flat mate and brother-from-another-mother, JB, gave me Tim Ferriss’s The 4 Hour Work Week. It talked about lifestyle experiments, mini-retirements, working remotely from anywhere in the world, whilst still vastly reducing your work commitments.

It was a utopian view of a life, and largely unattainable in the compliance and control-led part of banking I worked in. But the essence of it grabbed me.

Regular extended breaks from work to travel or do meaningful side projects, whilst you’re still young enough to enjoy them.

It sounded like everything I wanted my life to be, but at the same time, like the sort of thing other people did.

People who have family money they can fall back on.

Or who don’t value a material lifestyle.

Or who have so much confidence, that they just know things will turn out alright.

But I wanted it and with my life how it was, what did I have to lose?

Considering my options

So I spoke to friends about what to do. I considered backpacking around South America, learning yoga and meditation in an Indian ashram and moving to Australia (I almost did this).

But something was holding me back.

Part of it was, none of these ideas quite clicked with me.

Part of it was, I was afraid.

You have to tackle this head-on

Tim had foreseen this. A book full of great ideas is nothing if you don’t actually follow through and implement them. Proving itself to be a future classic, The 4 Hour Work Week included a section on defining and overcoming fears.

There was someone to look me in the eyes, help me realise that it would be OK, and then push me off the cliff edge anyway.

The questions (P46-7) included:

  • Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering’
  • ‘What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily’?
  • ‘What are the outcomes or benefits both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios’?
  • ‘What is is costing you, financially, emotionally, and physically – to postpone action’?

I ran through these in my head one night home on the train after work. I remember my thoughts clearly, because this was one of those ‘turning points in my life’ moments:

Worst nightmare – I end up broke, out of work and stuck in another country having got someone pregnant. I spend my life bringing up a child whose mother I have nothing in common with and I don’t speak the same language as. I can’t afford to come home that often and people I know eventually forget who I am.

(heavy thoughts, I know)

Steps to get things back on the upswing – move back home and get a job in any one of a number of places, using my finance qualification, whilst working out a long term plan. Bring new kid and mother with me.

More probable scenarios – have a great time away, meet interesting people, get some perspective on my life and what’s important to me. Feel refreshed, have lots of ideas about what I want to do long term. If I’ve managed not to unwillingly have kids at home in the 10 years of my adult life so far, I back myself not to do it for a few months whilst travelling.

Outcomes/benefits – far more…no exponentially more than I could get staying at home and in my current job. New career/start business/move somewhere else abroad / rescue relationship / things I can’t even see at the moment because I’m limited by my negative thoughts.

What is it costing you to postpone action? My health because I’m stressed, my professional reputation, because I’m disengaged, and opportunity cost of what I could be pursuing instead. And on and on.

The fear dissipates

Once I’d answered these questions, I forgot the fear.

I had some anxiety, sure. What would I do with my things? Would I have enough money? What if I missed out on cool things whilst I was away? Would I make friends?

But I was excited. REALLY excited!

And excitement overcomes fear every time. It drifted away.

In the days that followed I mapped out a plan to learn Kung Fu in China. I found a school worked out the budget, timings and flight costs.

And then the day came to give notice at work, and it was the easiest thing I’d done.

No second thoughts.

No regrets.

No nagging doubts in the back of my mind.

Just forward-looking optimism about what was to come.

What followed

It was a great trip. I did have a great time. I did meet interesting people. And get perspective on my life, and come back to change my career.

And I stayed child-free!

And what I found in the years that followed, is that the process of working through these fears is transferrable to any situation.

For example:

Do you fear giving a conference speech?

Are you dreading having a tough conversation with someone at home?

Are you afraid of what might happen if you quit your job to start your own business?

Buy the book, answer all the questions, and see where it takes you.

For more on this, see the post about fear-setting and the TED talk on Tim’s blog.

Let me know what fears you take on and conquer?


A final note – thank you to Tanish for giving me the idea for this post.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: