How to Get a Life: Consider the Worst Case Scenario

There is something that drives everything we do.

Some actions are driven by love. Others motivated by hate. Money can get most of us moving. Some act based on their religious beliefs.

The Purpose Driven Life reminds us that some are motivated by FEAR. And I believe it. As a minister, I've had the opportunity to peer into the psychological depths of many people. I've seen their raw emotions. When the masks are removed, fear controls much of what we do. Fear poisons us until we are too paralyzed to act.

You are paralyzed by fear when …

  • You won't pursue a small business idea because you're afraid that it might not succeed.
  • Despite the encouragement of co-workers, you're afraid to apply for a new management position.
  • When you close your eyes, you dream about traveling the world, but you're afraid of what others will say.
  • You've always wanted to try out for the next dramatic production, but you're afraid you won't get the part.

In life, we are often afraid to do truly courageous things because of what might happen.

  • It might not go according to plan.
  • I might not make money.
  • I might lose my job.
  • I might not get the job.
  • My friends might not support me.

Today, let's learn one simple life hack that will allow you to really, truly, start living life.

When making an important decision, ask yourself, "What is the worst case scenario?"

Now, I'm not talking about psychological mumbo-jumbo where you try to convince yourself you can do things that you really can't. Nor am I talking about apocalyptic bad news where the worst case scenario is that aliens from another planet might come and eat you for dinner. Literally and logically, what is the worst case scenario that is likely to result from your actions?

Start Living Life Homework

  1. Get a pen and paper and write one of your life goals or something you've always wanted to do at the top of the paper.
  2. Then write this subtitle, What's the worst case scenario?, and list all the things that could possibly go wrong if you pursue that goal.
  3. Write a number from 1 to 10 beside each listed item. Write a '1' if the worst case scenario is not really likely at all to happen. Write a '10' if it is almost certain to happen.
  4. Now imagine that everything ranked 3 and up actually did happen. Would you regret your decision? Would you do it again?
  5. If your answer is yes, then do it.
  6. If your answer is no, start making whatever changes or adjustments are necessary so that you can soften the blow of a worst case scenario.

Case Study #1: Can mommy afford to stay home?

Sally and her husband, Greg, have a 6-month-old baby, and Sally really wants to stay home with junior. The problem is that they are afraid they won't be able to pay the bills if Sally stays home. If they were able to cut their spending and Sally could earn an extra $300-$500 per month, they would be fine. They have a reasonable financial cushion of $5,000 savings, but they are paralyzed by fear and afraid to do what they really want to do.

What's the worst case scenario?

Sally might not find a way to work from home. She might not like staying at home. The family might not be able to cut enough expenses.

So? If she stays home for six months and doesn't find something she can do from home, then she can just go get another job.

Cast Study #2: Start your own small business.

Tom has been slowly developing a computer software program. The program is selling well and providing a reasonable profit. He'd love to quit his full-time job and focus on building the business, but he's afraid. What if business doesn't pick up?

So, what's the worst case scenario? The business doesn't pick up and Tom is forced to go back to work and finding a part-time job.

Fear As Positive Motivation

For those who face this kind of fear, perhaps you can use your fear to your advantage. Take that fear and use it to help distance yourself from the perceived risk. Increase your emergency funds savings. Spend an extra three months working full-time and part-time to give more cushioning. Jumping off a cliff is very different from jumping off a curb. The less risk, the more likely you are to succeed.

Still, far too many people are driven by fear and let the world pass them by while they watch from the sideline.

Throwing caution to the wind is not the advice here. Typically, those who are the most fearful are those who are most cautious. They don't need to be encouraged to retreat further into their shells, but to take a risk to do what they love. If the worst case scenario is truly frightful, then don't do what you're considering. So, if the worst case scenario means your best alternative is declaring bankruptcy in two months and you'll lose your family in the process — don't do it. But many times, even if the worst did happen, we'd still be glad we took the risk.

Do you think this is good advice or just likely to cause a bunch of people to crash and burn? Is there anything you've been wanting to do, but you know it's just fear that is holding you back?

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Guest's picture

I find it just a little bit concerning that the solution to both of these examples is - well then you can just go out and get another job!

It's not that easy for people right now. I started a new job just before the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008. The business shut down in January 2009.

It took me 9 months to find a part-time job and more than a year to get a new full-time job. This is while my wife was pregnant. Then she got laid off from her job as well.

While there's nothing wrong with following your dreams. As a christian, former Pastor's Kid and graduate of Oral Roberts University, I have an issue with the amount of "christian self-help" stuff out there.

I know Rick Warren's book is really popular. But does it tell you anything more than what Tony Robbins tells people. Which is basically - "JUST GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!"

Not that that's bad advice. But there are a lot of factors to consider. Every situation is different.

Sometimes it's not fear but logic holding you back. And fear isn't always bad - it's there for a reason.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Tim. 1:7)

I think it's the SOUND MIND part people should focus on. Make good decisions. I don't know if the Top 3 Worst Case Scenarios cut off would always work.

Guest's picture

The worst case scenario is not "it doesn't work out, so you go get another job."
The worst case scenario is "it doesn't work out, you can't get another job, spend your savings staying afloat in unemployment, and you lose the house, have no retirement savings and no job."

I am not advocating being paralyzed by fear and staying in a job/situation you can't stand, but it's not like they're giving out prizes to people who follow their dreams only to find out it won't support them. And the longer you are out of the workforce, the harder it is to "just get another job," even at a lower wage than you left.

Guest's picture

I appreciate you trying to encourage people. There are processes for determining if a decision is good or not. Your "worst case scenario" is one. That deals with the fear issue. These are also helpful.

See what the bible has to say about it. (is it legal, helpful, involve debt, honorable, require unequal partnerships, will it prevent me from taking care of other obligations, etc.)
Seek out wise objective counsel (those that know you and your gifts well, and those that know about what you want to go into).
Consider all of it together and pray.
Look for opportunities or let it go but don't keep on picking at it.

Guest's picture

I wouldnt not quit the job until i am 100% sure that business has a regular customer.

Craig Ford's picture

Your right. This is a tough economy. That is why we each need to look at the worse case scenario and decide if that is something we are willing to risk. I think the problem is that too often people don't even consider the worst they just assume it will be terrible. If the worst case scenario is bad then don't do it. But if it is not as bad as you assumed then go for it.
I'm not a fan at all of self-help stuff. I think it often leaves us disappointed.
Your right. That's why I added #3 - how likely is it. If we take the doomsday approach then the same worst case scenario could apply to your current job. You lose your job then ...
Thanks for your suggestions!