The Purposeful Leader

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Worst Case Scenario

Leadership, Motivation, Values

Think about something you want to do that feels hard or risky. Something you’re in indecision about or scared of.

Just hold it in your brain. No one else is going to hear it. Just you. Keep this situation in mind as you keep reading.

When we consider things that feel risky, our brain tells us not to do them.

Because our brain perceives risk in a way that always ends in death: actual death, social death, financial ruin, etc. Emotionally, our brain gives us a false worst-case scenario.

Let’s take the example of asking for a salary increase.

When thinking about having this conversation, you might experience fear, nervousness, or even abject terror. All of these feelings come from thoughts like “she might say no” and “it’s going to be so hard to have that conversation” and “I might mess the whole thing up.” And when we experience these emotions, our brain is wired to think there’s a threat to life, and that we should move away from the risk.

We make decisions from this place of avoiding discomfort and believe (often unconsciously) what we’re doing is trading discomfort (taking the risk) for comfort (not taking the risk).

But really we’re trading the acute discomfort of right now for the consistent presence of the discomfort of not going after what we want.

When faced with the choice between risk and comfort, we think we’re making the decision between our current place of just fine and a worst-case scenario in which we are ostracized by our community, or have to live in our car under a bridge or publicly humiliate ourselves.

Our brain is wrong about the worst-case scenario.

We think that we’ll make a decision and that everything will end in catastrophe. We may not do this consciously, but we do it.

But the worst-case scenario is really that we end up right back where we are right now.

So imagine you have that conversation with your boss or board about a salary increase.

The actual worst-case scenario is that you get a no.

And you’re right back where you are right now.

But wait. Are you?

In the absolute worst-case scenario, you are at the same salary but have just done two very important things. You’ve taken action in the face of risk. And, in all likelihood, you’ve collected some information. About why your request was denied, about a different tack to take next time, or something else. So you’re at the same salary, but you’ve demonstrated courage and know more than you did before.

So the real worst-case scenario is where you are now, not taking the risk.

You don’t have to let an emotion — which is objectively just a vibration in your body that cannot hurt you — be the reason you don’t go after something you want.

You can choose to look at the catastrophic thinking your brain gives you in the face of risk and not believe it.

You can choose the potential risk of not succeeding over the constant pain of not trying.

You can.


How about balance? More time? Confidence as a meta-skill? A different relationship to yourself? Better relationships with the most important people in your life? And with everyone else? Every day, I help clients build skills to transform their lives and leadership capability. And I’d love to help you achieve whatever result you’re looking for — or help you identify it. Book a free consultation call with me — there’s no risk, only potential gain. I can’t wait to meet you.