What Scares You the Most in Life? My Answer and My Plan

One of my favorite TV shows is a brain-numbing series called The Challenge. You might say it’s my guilty pleasure, but that’s wrong. I don’t feel guilty about it. Just pleasure.

What I do feel guilty about is that I sometimes listen to podcasts recapping The Challenge episodes. In one of these, a contestant said that, before being cast, the producers asked him what he’s scared of. They then made sure to target those fears in the challenges the show is named after.

Scene from The Challenge where producers are testing contestant's fear of heights
“Oh, you’re scared of heights and open water? Here ya go.” – Producers. (Image source.)

This got me thinking of my own answers. “What am I scared of?”

And I came up with the usual phobias:

  • Heights (when not attached to a rope, bungee or parachute)
  • Lighting gas stoves and barbecues
  • Countdown timers
  • Gen Z

Unexciting answers. Unexciting question (unless you’re being cast for an extraordinary TV show).

The better question came a few days later when I consulted with a potential business coach named Josh. You could say I reached out for him to help me with my real-life version of The Challenge—one with fewer made-for-TV phobia-poking challenges, but more…

…more what?

That was Josh’s question:

What scares you the most in life?

What’re the challenges that, if put in front of me in my personal reality TV series, will make for a better show?

Digging For My Deepest Fear

The primordial part of my brain barged in first with its answer:

Death.

Duh. So I’ll continue avoiding motorcycle rides, training to be an Old-lympian, and chewing my food thoroughly before swallowing.

But there are some things I’m willing to die for. That means I fear their demise more than mine. So I ought to look out for them—and take advantage of them not being dead yet by enjoying my time with them.

What are these “things“?

My son, Zac, for sure.

My wife, Kim? I prefer not to answer in case she reads this.

And my brother, who I would give a kidney or a digit for, but not a life, suggested something else when I asked him:

My independence.

He’s right. I’m deathly afraid of losing my independence.

But is that what scares me most in life?

Unlikely. I chose to let Zac and, to a lesser extent, Kim, chew away chunks of my precious independence pie, after all. In exchange for what?

Movement up the y-axis of my life:

Growth.

The chart showing how I measure success in life
The chart of my life. For more, see How to Measure Success in Life.

So the opposite of growth, shrinkage, may be my biggest fear. Better yet, the cause of shrinkage. This:

Complete comfort zone diagram
Terrifying! (For a full explanation, see the physics of how to expand your comfort zone.)

Venn diagrams?

Not quite. What scares me is failing to expand my comfort zone into my potential by:

  • Pushing myself in deluded or danger-zone-ian directions.
  • Staying stagnant and letting the force of reality squash my comfort zone and the force of complacency drag it back.
  • Or—coming full circle to my first instinct’s answer—dying.

All three come down to me being terrified of misusing my time and energy.

This explains why countdown timers give me the heebie-jeebies.

If I were to see mine and that I had only 7 minutes and 43 seconds left before a blind and berserk long-billed curlew dive-bombs through the open window beside me and slams it beak straight into my brain, I’d be like, “F*ck! Maybe I shouldn’t have listened to so many Challenge podcast episodes.”

Long billed curlew
Watch out for those beaks, people. (Image source.)

So what I want to avoid more than anything is an un-self-justifiable, woebegone feeling of unfulfilled potential.

The Best Me in All the Universes

What if a million parallel universes split off from this moment?

Some Chrises’ comfort zones may be tragically popped by dive-bombing pointy-beaked birds. But other Chrises’ comfort zones will blow up to the other extreme. I want to be among the latter, at the far right end of the normal distribution of possibility. I want to be one of the Chrises that all other universes’ Chrises look at and think, “Damn. I coulda done that?”

Normal distribution of my possible futures
I want to be one of the Chrises circled on the right of this chart.

But since I don’t live in a Ted Chiang short story and can’t communicate across universes, I want to be the Chris that, in this universe other Chrises, Cristinas, TJs, you, and especially one Zac in particular, look to and think: “Damn. That guy’s killing it!”

And I want those other people to think, “If he can do that, imagine what I can do!”

The Challenge host TJ Lavin
“Man, you killed it!” – The Challenge host T.J. Lavin when he sees my life.

Time to Unfreeze

This brings me to the crux of my issue—why I listen to stupid podcasts and why I sought out Josh as a potential executive producer for The Challenge of my life:

My fear of taking the wrong action, one that doesn’t maximize the growth of my comfort zone, freezes me in place.

It has me dicking around, deliberating on blog posts like this.

But I’m no reality TV contestant. So I can’t wait for destiny to put challenges in front of me like the producers of my favorite un-guilty-pleasure-inducing series. The only way I have any chance of being among the best Chrises in all the universes is to use my precious time and energy to create challenges for myself and hope taking them on grows my comfort zone.

So that’s what I’ll do…

…just after I finish watching the next episode of The Challenge.


What About You?

What scares you the most in life? And what are you going to do about it?

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