When I look back at my life, I think there’s one thing that has guided a lot of my decision-making – fear. It’s a powerful emotion, one that I think pushes many of us onto the paths that we find ourselves on – whether we know it or not.
Of course, a healthy dose of fear isn’t a bad thing. There’s value in having some fear to slow us down as we move through the world. But too much fear can be problematic. It can work as a trap, keeping us stuck in place and holding us back from chasing whatever it is that we might have been meant to do.
You can see this in action just by looking at the people around you. How many people do you know that talk about all of the things they want to do or the ideas they have, but never seem to act on them? Or think about all of the people who talk about how much they hate their jobs, yet spend 40 or more hours per week of their prime working at that same job and doing nothing to change that. What’s the reason for this? Is it laziness? Complacency? Something else?
Obviously, there are a lot of factors that go into the decisions we make, but I think that pretty much all of it boils down to the base emotion of fear. There’s the fear of going into the unknown. The fear of uncertainty. The fear we have about what others will think about us if don’t follow the normal path (and even worse, if we deviate from the norm and fail).
I’ve been thinking about my own relationship with fear lately as I look at the choices I’ve made and the choices I hope to make in the future. I went to law school because I graduated during a recession and didn’t know what else to do. Law school made sense – a way to make myself a decent living. That’s the reason I tell myself anyway. But when I really think about it, it was a decision made out of fear. I didn’t know what else to do and I was too scared to go into the unknown. So instead, I chose the clear path.
I’ve been especially thinking about the impact fear has on my life as this blog continues to grow. My best friend keeps pushing me to take the leap and give the whole solopreneur thing a shot. As a part-time side hustle, I can grow this blog steadily. But if I could dedicate the 40+ hours per week that I currently spend at work, doing things that I’m not 100% passionate about, well…I could probably grow things a lot faster.
But I’m fearful of making that move, even though it’s something I really want to do. As a lawyer, I tend to have a worst-case view of the world – that if I do something, the worst will happen. Interestingly enough, I rarely ever think about what’s the best thing that could happen to me, or how even if things don’t work out, the worst case scenario is probably the most unlikely one.
With all that said, today’s post is a reaffirmation I’m writing to myself and that I hope could apply to you too. It’s time to remember that the world is a much bigger place than we can imagine and that we have way more options and abilities than we know.
I’m a generally fearful person – I know this is a character trait I have. But there are a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t be. My guess is that if you’re feeling stuck or scared to make that next move, the below reasons about why I shouldn’t be afraid might just apply to you too.
There Are Many Ways To Make A Living
Growing up, I basically figured that there were only two ways to make a decent living – be a lawyer or be a doctor. My basic understanding of money was that it was given to you, not created by you. In other words, money required doing things to get hired by someone – get good grades, go to good schools, get fancy degrees, and have good credentials.
The idea of being able to create money via your own wits or with your own job never really occurred to me until I got into this whole online space and the side hustle world. In retrospect, this was a weird mentality for me to have. I grew up in an immigrant household, with parents that didn’t have fancy jobs or any sort of fancy education. My dad owned a Chinese restaurant. Money wasn’t given to him – he had to create it himself.
As I continue to learn more about the world, I’m starting to realize just how small I used to think. There are so many more ways to make a living beyond being a doctor or a lawyer – more than any of us can imagine. It’s just about knowing that if you go out there, you can find some way to make it.
I Can Always Get A Job
Earlier this summer, I was on a panel where I talked about my own path in the law and the non-traditional path I’ve been pursuing. When someone asked me how I made the decision to leave all of these traditionally “good” legal jobs, I went into the usual things I say – how I was looking for something that I found more fulfilling, that fit me better as a person, etc. But I also made the very important point that there are always going to be jobs out there and that if things don’t work out, I can ALWAYS get another job.
It’s kind of a silly thing to have to remind yourself of – that you can always get another job. I think there’s this weird absolutist thing that I and a lot of professionals seem to have – an idea that if you don’t do things exactly by the book, you’ll never be able to make it and you’ll be broke and unemployed forever. Obviously, this isn’t true.
We’re all smart and have the drive to succeed. There are a million jobs out there. Some are good, some are crappy. But they’re out there. If I need to get a job, I can always go and get one.
I Don’t Need A Lot Of Money To Live
A great benefit of the financial independence movement is that it’s creating a whole group of people that knows how to live lean. The funny thing is, we act like this is something we’ve never done before, but anyone who has gone to college knows exactly how to live lean.
There are a lot of benefits to not needing a lot of money to live. It allows you to save more money, of course. But it does something even more important. It buys you flexibility. And when you have flexibility, you lose a lot of fear.
I don’t need a lot of money in order to live. I’ve proven it to myself by the fact that I’ve taken two pay cuts in the past two years, dropping my income by over 50% during that time span. It helps that I paid off all of my student loans as fast as I could, I’ve never bought a car, and my only real fixed cost is a very reasonable mortgage payment on a modest house, which is partially covered via house hacking with Airbnb.
If I was spending $100k a year, things would be a lot tougher for me. I’d need over $8,000 per month just to make ends meet. But drop that spending down to something like $30k, and suddenly, things look much more manageable. Creating $8,000 per month out of thin air is scary. But $2,500 per month out of nothing – that looks possible. Break it down by day and things really look manageable. $30,000 per year in expenses requires $82 or $83 per day. Anyone can do that.
I’m Not Alone
One of the benefits of being in a two-income household is that, just in itself, you have a built-in backup system, as long as you do the smart move of living on one income. Out of necessity, my wife and I have been doing that for years. I got my first job in 2013. My wife was a student up until a few months ago, giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars in real and opportunity costs to become the specialist dentist that she is today. During that stretch, we essentially lived on my income alone. And we did this even as my income kept going down.
My big fear is taking a leap into something new and never making a dime. Of course, I could always go back and get a job. But even if I made no income for years, we’d still have plenty to live on since my wife and I have spent the last four or five years getting used to living on one income. If I wasn’t married, I still would have plenty of support systems. I could just move back home if I needed to. In any event, I’d figure something out.
Most of you reading this probably aren’t alone either. You have partners, or spouses, or family that you can probably lean on, at least just for a little bit. There’s a lot less to be fearful of when you remember that you’re not out there by yourself.
The Thing I Always Forget – I Could Succeed
Instead of looking at all the negatives and all of the contingency plans I need, it’s important to remember one thing that I always forget – the best case scenario could happen. I could succeed in whatever projects or dreams or ideas I have.
As this blog continues to grow, I keep thinking about all of the horrible things that could happen if I decide to go all-in on the whole solopreneuer thing. I have all of my backup options at my disposal if the worst does happen and everything flames out. But why don’t I spend any time thinking about the fact that it could all work and I could make it?
So What Are You Afraid Of?
I’ve got this vision of being able to do this online thing full-time, and while it might not be some big, huge money-making enterprise, it’s something that I’d like to take a shot at.
After all, I don’t have a lot of reasons not to give it a shot. I’m 31, with no kids yet. I don’t have a lot of expenses. And I have a professional degree that I should be able to fall back on, not to mention that I’m married to a dentist that now owns her own practice.
Admittedly, I’m in a unique situation, one that should make me less fearful compared to others. Our situations are all different, but I think the points made in this post are universal to everyone.
- We can all figure out ways to make a living.
- There are always going to be jobs out there that we can get.
- If we don’t need a lot to live, we can pretty much do anything.
And most importantly, we need to remember the most important thing. We could succeed.
Financial Mechanic says
I 100% relate to this post. I decided to be an engineer because it was safe. I saved money because it made me feel safer. I am not ready for a big risk yet– but I’m one of those people that want to travel the world and live abroad. It’s my main mission for FI, yet I could do it now. Why wait? Fear.
Thanks for writing this!
Financial Panther says
Honestly, if I could go back in time, I think I would have spent my early 20s trying to use my own wits to create something. Like spend 22 to 26 years old doing something. I could have gone to law school at 27 years old and it wouldn’t have seemed out of the ordinary at all. But I’m fearful, so I needed to take the clear path right away.
I am very suspicious of information from bloggers that consider their blog to be their full-time vocation. First, I think it creates a conflict of interest. The readers are now the product and the only way to monetize it is through advertising. Is what I’m reading what the blogger really believes or is it something to generate income. It’s like financial planners. When they recommend of a mutual fund, are they recommending it because they truly believe it is the best thing for me or because they are getting a sales commission.
Financial Panther says
Very legitimate point Dan. Conflicts of interest are a problem in pretty much any industry.
At the same time though, if conflicts of interest and jobs/income are an issue, how does one trust their dentist, doctor, lawyer, or anyone who provides a service where the customer is the “product”? Is my dentist’s suggestion that I need a crown or implant because they really believe that, or is it because they are trying to make an income from their full-time vocation? Does a newspaper report the news to me do all that fighting for truth and justice, or are they just trying to sell me a story to make an income? Am I scumbag lawyer when I represent clients since I’m paid by the hour and technically would make more by billing more hours? I dunno, maybe, maybe not?
As a content creator, I’d also like to point out that much of content creation relies on creating true fans. In other words, any interaction here on this blog with any reader is not a one-off encounter. If someone is out to scam someone, you can only do that if you never expect to see them again and/or the ability to leave is very difficult (think, fees to close an account, contracts that extend a long time, etc). But if you need your customer to come back (which any writer, content creator, or business owner, for that matter, needs), scamming someone isn’t helpful – it hurts in the long run, ruining your reputation and losing you customers. The same is true about your ability to leave. All I can do is write what I think, and if someone thinks I’m dishonest or out to scam them, it’s simply a matter of closing the screen. So, can I really do that?
I admit, I’m also suspicious of financial planners too, to the point where I don’t think I’ll ever use one. I think they can get away “scamming” more because costs are unclear and it’s harder to get out once you’re in.
As to my own integrity, I can only put stuff out there, but I suppose others get to judge me on that.
What do they say about doctors? Always get a 2nd opinion. Newspapers are supposed to exercise journalistic ethics. A few years back, the NY Times was rocked with a few scandals. I stopped reading them as a result. You trust until you feel the trust has been broken, individually or as a profession. If you go shopping for a car, would you take the price the used car salesman says is the “best deal you will find”?
As for scamming, you don’t know anything which probably means you are honest. The best scams are the ones where the mark keeps coming back. In your would-be profession, a blogger would hide his kickbacks and even deny them so that it would appear the recommendations are based solely on his preferences. The best scammers mix truth and value into their scam to make it more believable & to hold up to scrutiny. The best place to hide a lie is in a forest of truths.
Lawyers, bloggers, used car salesman, politicians, financial planners, etc. they all have a negative reputation for a reason.
Stopped reading after “two income household.” We don’t all have a well paid spouse on standby who can pick up the slack if we take a risk and fail. It’s a different game when you’re an independent person 100% responsible for paying your own rent.
Financial Panther says
To be honest, if I were single and had no one else to involve in my decision making, I would have already made the leap to solopreneurship 6 months ago. The great thing about being single is that you don’t have to worry about anyone else but yourself. If you take a risk and fail, the only person you have to take care of is yourself. This also goes back to my point about living lean. If you need 100k a year to meet your needs, then yeah, it’s going to be hard. But if you need 30k a year to survive, then is there really a risk? That’s 82 dollars a day to survive. Work 5 hours a day making 20 dollars an hour and now you’re making 100 dollars a day, which should be enough for a young, single person to live, while still giving you time to pursue your project, dreams, or whatever for at least a few years. And if that fails, then like I said, you can always get a job.
My wife is well paid, but she took her own risk by purchasing a practice. She’s well paid because she uses her skills and her own wits to earn an income – no one pays her but herself. If you have skills and your own wits, can’t you do the same?
Katie Camel says
I’m almost 41 and still single (though currently attached) and have never had anyone to fall back upon, but I’ve still managed to take risks. It’s easier to take them if you’ve planned ahead and created a safety net for yourself. You can still relate to and learn from someone who’s married, but it may require you to apply the lesson a little differently to your own life. In this case, you have the freedom of not worrying what works or doesn’t work for someone else. I’m planning to get married, but I can already see how different it is to include someone else in the picture and have to plan accordingly. In that sense, it’s way more difficult and presents a new and very different fear.
Ricky Anderson says
Ads aren’t the only way to monetize.
You’ve gained lots of knowledge that you could productize, such as how to pick and market an Airbnb property.
Thanks for what you do, whether it’s your full time gig or not.
Financial Panther says
Thanks Ricky! Appreciate the support!
Kevin, I stumbled upon your website a few months ago and it was really intriguing.
As someone who also has been driven by fear (which common amongst immigrant families) and trying to balance that with the possibility of success, I really identify with your thought process. I also pursued the “safe” path, and after about 20 years it has led to a discontented life.
I’m still pursuing FI (still not quite there yet) and am taking advantage of an opportune ugly office politics/lay-off to start being more solo entrepreneurial. So I’m also looking at side hustles (and maybe even returning to a more low key full time job for health care benefits).
On a side note, there are a couple flaws to the thought that you can always “get a job”.
1) With the rise if automation/AI and younger (cheaper) people on the ladder, employers simply may not want to employ you as you get older.
2) You may indeed eventually get a job, but it may be the type of job you simply can’t tolerate after a certain age.
This may be mitigated if you’re willing to geoarbitrage to another country. I lived in China for many years and saw a plethora of older Westerners on the teach English track, which I might try out myself on day.
Financial Panther says
Thanks for your comment!
I suppose that I do write from a millennial mindset, as I am only 31 years old, so admittedly, I cannot know what life is like for someone in their 40s or 50s. I will say that I respectfully disagree with your two points about the ability to get a job. Yes, age discrimination exists, but if you have skills, not to mention the drive that you must have to be where you are today, there’s just no way you can’t get a job. It might not be your “dream” job, but if you need a job to pay the bills, you will be able to get a job. As to jobs you can tolerate – I guess I’m of the opinion that all of us can tolerate anything if we absolutely have to, at least for a relatively short time. If my choice is don’t eat or get some horrible job, I’ll get the job.
I didn’t even know older expats taught english. Always thought that was a young person’s game, but thanks for pointing that out as an option. Seems like a fun, chill thing to do after a long career.
Go for it, Mr Panther 🙂 – with caution. Could you possibly make a deal with your employer on working 50%, or giving you a sabbatical if that’s possible.
Whatever you do, I’ll be following 🙂
Financial Panther says
That could be something I pitch one day. We’ll see…