I had dinner last night with a cousin that I've only met a few times. He's had a very successful business career and was nice enough to talk to me about it.
Not too long ago he had a career change. He spent his entire career working in similar positions and then jumped into something brand new in his 40's. He said that one of the reasons he did this was because of what he observed from the few people who were above him. These people were making a ton of money, had successful careers, but really had no incentive to take any risk. As long as they didn't mess up too bad they would be able to keep their jobs and inch closer to retirement. In short, they were making business decisions based on fear of what could happen. This was frustrating to him because not only was he not yet in the position where he didn't aspire to move up, these mistakes were just flat out bad decisions for the company.
His takeaway from this was that he decided he would try to never make a decision based off of fear. Whether it's his work or personal life, he wasn't going to let fear of what might happen influence the decisions he makes. He was interested in a new career path and didn't like what was ahead of him in the current one, so he bailed and tried something totally new. That's a big risk to take when you have a great job and a family to support, but he thought it through and it felt right so he went for it.
I left our conversation thinking about how people let fear influence the decisions they make. Sure, it's human nature to be scared of risk. But in a time where we are all connected by social media and our phones, I think it's even easier to let fear be a major reason to make (or not make) a decision. While technology is wonderful at allowing us to easily launch companies and spread ideas, it can be a major driver of fear if you allow it to be. Now not only could something you try not work out, you're almost assured hundreds of your "closest friends" are going to hear about it, discuss it, and maybe even publicly (or secretly) "like" it.
One other thought I had was that it was interesting how fear drives decisions across all groups of people. A teenager is too afraid to ask a girl to a high school dance because he's worried she might say no (and tell all of her friends). A college kid is afraid of leaving his friends to take a job across the country. All the way up to an executive worth millions of dollars not doing his job like he should, people allow fear to have an undue influence on their decisions. In the end, we're all the same.
I've taken a lot of risk in my life, but I can't say there haven't been times where I've let fear influence decisions. It's something I'd like to avoid as much possible as I grow up.