It’s Not Always “All Or Nothing”

Have you ever been terrified to try something? Not because you don’t think you would enjoy it, but because it’s new, different, scary and potentially dangerous? Or because you see one potential path – the easy path – that it could lead down, and you don’t want to go down that path? It happens to me pretty regularly. I have a some-what built up tolerance for the fear and adrenaline rush that it brings at this point. But my tolerance for fear and my ability to turn it into positive energy is very situational. I am, by some standards, adventurous. I am, by other standards, pretty tame and boring. But I still get that incurable fear in me now and then, even for situations that seem rather tame.

Today brought a good example of that fear straight into my lungs and nerves as I discussed a potential opportunity for branching out the services that I offer my clients, as a consultant. But the service I’m talking about offering isn’t that interesting. What’s more interesting is the fear, and the advice that my dad gave me about that fear as I was discussing the situation with him. (FYI – my dad has been an entrepreneur for so long, I thought it was normal for dad’s to change jobs and careers every few years, growing up. His experience and advice is astounding in it’s simplicity and practical nature, and I thoroughly enjoy talking with him about my career path and opportunities.)

Driving Fast

When I was a kid my dad had this amazing hobby of building go-carts – 4 wheeled vehicles that sat about 4 inches off the ground, had a steering wheel, a gas pedal, a brake pedal, and a small gasoline engine to power it. As I got bigger (aka grew up), so did the go-carts. We bought larger engines. We bought large wheels. We built stronger frames for everything to sit on. This continued on for a several years, until I was in my late teens. I love it. I loved driving these go-carts around the dirt track that we had behind our house out in the country. I loved going “fast” and spinning the tires on the dirt (as “fast” as a small lawn mower engine would take you, that is). But I was always cautious about it. I had a few … “incidents”… when I young that had made me scared, so I worked my way up to going fast as I got older. 

Then one day the go-carts stopped. We moved. We sold them. We didn’t ride them anymore. 

A few years later, though, we moved again and we suddenly had an abundance of land again, and neighbors that liked to drive go-carts. So my dad picked up his old hobby again. Only this time he wasn’t playing around with kids toys. My uncle and my father decided to get really serious about it and bought some rather large motorcycle engines to mount on extremely rigid, roll-cage equipped, 5-point-harness-seatbelted, helmet required go-cart frames, complete with manual shifter for the motor-cycle engines.

I was terrified of these things. I loved looking at them and seeing my dad work on them and drive them. But I didn’t want to get anywhere near them. The speed, the safety equipment (which signified danger to me. why else would you need that?), the roar of the engines (950cc’s of motorcycle engine sounds much more like 9000cc when you take the mufflers off and sit right next to it), having to shift gears – all of it scared me.  But in spite of my fears, I loved being around them. They were truly awesome. So I would watch my dad, help him when I could, and sometimes go with him to see him race them against other go-carts. 

Eventually I found myself out at an old airport that had been converted to a small car / go-cart race track. It was perfect for drag-racing and doing small laps at low speeds. My dad had been drag racing up and down the landing strip for a while, and I was amazed at how fast he could go in that little steel cage … and then it was my turn. My dad asked me if I wanted to drive it, and I refused. When I told him I was scared and I didn’t want to go that fast – no where near as fast as I was seeing him go – he had what I thought at the time was a strange look on his face.

He said to me, “Derick. You see that little pedal on the right? That’s the gas pedal. If you you’re going to fast, take your foot off of it. If you want to go faster, put your foot on it and press down.” So, I put the helmet on, strapped in to the steel cage of what I was certain would be my death, and slowly pressed down on that little pedal. 

It’s Not What I Do

As I was talking to my dad about this new business opportunity and service, I was relating my trepidation and anxiety about entering that specific niche of services. I see the easy path that it leads down and that’s not the path that I want to take. There are other paths that I want to take instead, but both paths start out heading in the same direction. It’s not until I get down the first path a few steps that the direction I want veers off from the direction I’m starting on. 

In this discussion with my dad, he heard the same fear that I expressed to him when I was a teenager trying to get out of having to drive the go-cart. I was giving him all the reasons I didn’t want to try. I was telling him where it would lead me and why I didn’t want to go there. I was telling him how I don’t want to be that person. I was telling him how I’ve instead been giving away that service for free because, “it’s not what I do.”

In the middle of this conversation, my dad stopped me and asked “Do you remember when you drove that go-cart?” Of course I remembered. I can’t forget being terrified of it. “Do you remember what I said to you?” Of course I did. The only reason I even gave it half a chance was because he reminded me that I was in control, and I could choose how far to push that pedal and when to … “oh… OH! … right!” I realized why he asked that.

Pressing That Little Pedal

I’m in control of this opportunity and this potential service that I can offer. I can choose to press the gas pedal as much or as little as I want. And if I realize that I’ve pressed it a little more than I was comfortable with, I can choose to stop pressing it. There’s no obligation for me to continue offering that service to anyone, for any reason. There’s the potential that it will fail. There’s the potential that it will be successful. There’s the potential that it will lead in a direction I’m not happy with. But like that go-cart 20 years ago, I have the gas pedal, the break pedal, the safety gear, and the steering wheel. I’m in control.

If I understand my goals and I focus on them instead of the means to those ends, I can reshape the means to fit the constraints that I need to work within. I can press the gas pedal once and see what happens. If I like the result, I can press it again. If not, I can hit the brakes, turn off the engine, and walk away.

The opportunities that we are presented with don’t always have to be “all or nothing.” Services offered, opportunities presented, ideas to try out – they can almost always be taken in smaller steps, with less commitment and be done in a manner that provides a safety net or easy exit if we choose to think through the opportunity from the right perspective.


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About Derick Bailey

Derick Bailey is an entrepreneur, problem solver (and creator? :P ), software developer, screecaster, writer, blogger, speaker and technology leader in central Texas (north of Austin). He runs SignalLeaf.com - the amazingly awesome podcast audio hosting service that everyone should be using, and WatchMeCode.net where he throws down the JavaScript gauntlets to get you up to speed. He has been a professional software developer since the late 90's, and has been writing code since the late 80's. Find me on twitter: @derickbailey, @mutedsolutions, @backbonejsclass Find me on the web: SignalLeaf, WatchMeCode, Kendo UI blog, MarionetteJS, My Github profile, On Google+.
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  • http://twitter.com/CheyenneJClark Cheyenne J. Clark

    Thanks, Derick. That was a great blog and extremely relevant to me right now. I truly appreciate your insight.

  • Daniel Lang

    Derick, you might to take a look at the excellent book “The lean startup”. It introduces two concepts of persevering and pivoting – terms that you may call press the pedal of getting off of it. I wish you the best!

    • http://mutedsolutions.com Derick Bailey

      I’ve owned that book since it was first available in pre-release, and I have a final copy of it… but sadly I haven’t read it yet. I see the analogy between persevering and pivoting, though. Thanks for the tip on that :)

  • Rey Rahadian

    thanks, that somewhat help me deal with my fear of the unknown