Its confines us. Restrains us. Compels us.
Fear is a powerful and wonderful emotion.
Indeed, fear has often been necessary throughout human history. It’s an innate and important emotion because during most of the centuries humans have been walking this planet, we’ve had to be very cautious and fearful in order to simply make it through the day.
Modern-day society as we now know it hasn’t existed that long, relatively speaking.
Yet evolution is a rather slow process. And so fear is just as gripping as it’s ever been.
However – I’m not sure whether it’s my nature or nurture – I’ve just never been a fearful person at all. There’s almost nothing in this life I fear. This is perhaps just as much a weakness as a strength, but I’ve done my best to use it to my advantage.
I was compelled to write this article because almost every single time I’ve heard from someone who is somehow holding back from unlocking their true potential (be it through financial independence or other means), it seems to me that their apprehension is dripping with fear.
And so I want to address the rationality of fear today.
I’m going to do this via the narratives of two major, life-changing paths that I’ve walked, each of which are paths less traveled due to fear (among many other factors, potentially).
Financial independence is the platform upon which I’ve built my life. The five-figure passive dividend income that my six-figure dividend growth stock portfolio generates for me pays for my basic expenses in life, allowing me to spend my time on far more meaningful pursuits than figuring out how to pay the rent. And so I can add immense value to the world, which results in immense value (financial and otherwise) being added back to my life.
But this didn’t happen overnight.
It involved a lot of sacrifice and struggling. While I eventually came to find real value and contentment in frugality, I had to radically change my life through a series of steps.
I moved from Michigan to Florida. Sold my car in favor of riding the bus. Ate a lot of ramen noodles and PB&J. Learned how to enjoy free activities, like hitting the beach. Embraced my inner introvert through an introspective, quiet, and thoughtful life.
And this was all while working 50+ hours per week at my day job and simultaneously blogging full time.
Creating as large a gap as possible between income and expenses (through the aggressive boosting of the former and reduction of the latter) allowed me to routinely save well over half of my net income… for years. And I’m still spending less than half of my net income.
But it wasn’t all roses and rainbows. There were times when things were really tough.
Eating ramen noodles over and over again wasn’t the most fun thing ever. Missing the bus and having to run as fast as I could (at 6:30 a.m., no less) to the station in order to catch it so that I could get to work on time was less than enjoyable. Getting six (or less) hours of sleep for years on end sucked.
However, I can say that I never feared any of it.
I was never scared that anything I was doing wasn’t right or wasn’t somehow better than any other alternative. I committed myself 100% to the cause, knowing deep down inside that what I was doing was right for the betterment of my long-term sanity and happiness.
And the most important aspect of all is this: I was never afraid of failure.
Even after retiring from the automotive industry at 32 years old – quitting my job and giving up the associated income decades before most people – I was never scared of how things would turn out.
Do you know why this is?
It’s quite simple.
I asked myself a very straightforward question.
That question is…
What’s the worst that can happen?
That’s such a powerful question to ask yourself whenever you’re confronted with fear.
What I realized when I asked myself this question is that my worst-case scenario was quickly becoming a prior best-case scenario.
I imagined in my head what would happen if some kind of calamity were to befall me.
Let’s say my entire portfolio evaporated within five years of quitting my job. I’m 37 years old and broke. I’m no longer financially independent.
What a bummer.
However, my only real choice at this point would be to go back to my old job. I’d have to dust off the ol’ resume, make up an excuse as to why I hadn’t worked in a few years, and find myself a jobby job. Perhaps I’d find a different industry to work in, like the fitness industry. Nonetheless, I’d have to quickly adapt to an employer-employee dynamic all over again.
But check this out.
That kind of worst-case scenario (seeing all of my hard-earned dreams disappear) would result in me going back to what I was already doing before I started chasing after financial independence. I’d be in the same situation that most other people – people who let fear hold them back – are already experiencing every single day.
My prior best-case scenario (jobbing for a living) is now my worst-case scenario. Failure for me is having to go back to work, which is a situation that is more or less the ceiling for most other people. Yet my potential upside – living an amazing life on my terms at a very young age – is absolutely incredible.
When I frame my mindset in this way, any fear I might have completely melts away. There’s nothing to be scared of, other than being scared and letting fear truly hold me back from reaching my potential as a human being.
Becoming A Dividend Expat
Achieving financial independence is wonderful.
But maximizing financial independence is way more awesome.
It’s the pursuit of growing as a person, improving my life, and enjoying amazing experiences that drives me these days (rather than the pure ongoing accumulation of more wealth). And it’s this pursuit that partly drove me to become a dividend expat, unleashing even more potential and adding on to what I already built in the United States. Geographical arbitrage is an appealing idea for so many reasons (not all of which are financial).
However, this idea involved me moving more than 9,000 miles away – far from anything and everything that I’ve ever known.
I now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is a place that is very much unlike anything that exists in the US. But as I’ve already discussed, I view the differences between cultures as one of the best things about living here.
Many people might look at my move and totally freak out about even the thought of moving across the world to some strange place.
Is this fear holding them back?
Each person has to answer that question for themselves, but I’d argue that fear definitely plays a part for most people.
And so this is another case where I asked myself the same question I always do whenever I’m about to make a major decision in my life.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Let’s say I move to Thailand and hate it. Let’s say it’s a place that makes me truly miserable. Let’s say I find myself in a place, 9,000 miles away from “home”, wishing I could just go back to what’s comfortable.
Check this out.
I can book a ticket back to the United States. And then I get on a plane and fly back. It’s quite simple.
My new worst-case scenario (having to move back to the States) was my prior best-case scenario (living in the States).
If I were to let fear hold me back from trying out the dividend expat lifestyle, I’d be in the position that most of my countrymen are in.
As such, I see the only thing to fear is fear.
This is especially true when one’s new downside is one’s prior upside. Once you reset your baseline expectations in life with each progression forward as a human being, you realize that there’s very little to fear about the idea of “failure”. That’s because “failure” likely would involve simply moving back to a prior point in time and personal evolution. When you keep raising the bar, you limit the distance you can possibly fall.
Moreover, when you see that an idea could have incredible upside relative to almost no downside, you begin to see fear as this silly emotion that can be totally cast aside.
What’s the worst that can happen?
This is such a powerful and valuable question to ask yourself whenever you’re confronted with fear.
It’s one of my favorite questions to ask myself whenever I’m at a fork in the road.
Now, it’s not always a situation where one’s new downside is one’s prior upside. Sometimes fear is a good thing. But it’s important to discern between when fear is holding you back and when fear is protecting you. If you confuse fear with protection all of the time, you’re probably going to severely limit your potential and success in life.
And I think the above question is a great litmus test that can help one clear up any confusion.
Finally, I think fear manifests itself due to the unknown, which would involve change. Change is something so many people fight, yet change is the only constant in this life. If you embrace change, rather than constantly fight it, you’ll probably be surprised at just how little you end up fearing. And you’ll also probably end up pleasantly surprised with just how much change can benefit you and your personal growth.
What do you think? Do you ever let fear hold you back? Do you find the question I propose as valuable?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’re ready to confront your fears and make your dreams come true, check out some resources that are designed to help almost anyone become wealthier, more free, and perhaps even financially independent.