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Ignoring the Negative Improbabilities

Let me say right off the bat that I have never actually done what I’m about to say. (It’s always fun to start a post that way, right?)

As you may know, my wife and I have two little girls — a two year old and one year old — that go down for bed at about 7:00pm each night. After they go to bed, I do whatever I need to do around the house until I go to sleep, whether that be chores, working out on the treadmill, or simply just hanging out.

On Wednesday evenings, my wife is away at church leaving me to put the girls to bed myself. And every once in a while, I get a hankering for something to eat. We live roughly 5 minutes from a McDonalds and Pizza Hut, so if you timed it properly, you could make a quick ten minute trip to run and get some food.

I shared my temptation to do this with my wife, and she was less than thrilled with this sentiment. Moreover, she contended that what I was tempted to do had to be illegal in some form. Verifying with her sister who works as a police officer, we found out you could theoretically get in legal trouble, like getting a ticket or worse.

Regardless of legality, they both told me it was a stupid idea. When I asked why, this was their response:

“Well, what if your house caught fire? Or what if somebody broke in to steal something?”

Mind you, we’ve lived in this house for two years, and neither of those events have ever happened. Heck, I’ve been alive for 30 years and have never been privy to either of those events! The girls are in bed, and it’s totally common for me to do something in our basement — two whole floors from where they sleep. What’s the difference between two floors and a 10 minute jaunt down the block?

(Again, I’ve never done this and likely will never do this, not because I think something bad will happen but because I’d never stop feeling guilty about it. That, and my wife would kill me.)

This is a silly affair, but let’s face it: we all cave to acting (or not acting) on irrational probabilities. My wife’s vice of choice is not using the “Do Not Disturb” feature on her iPhone in fear that somebody will need to contact her. She’s never had anybody ever actually call her in the middle of the night, but she leaves it off just in case. (Even though — fun fact — iOS will “break” Do Not Disturb if the same person tries calling twice in a row. The more you know!)

But there are plenty of probabilities we don’t act on at all. Like the countless amounts of people who use their phone while driving. It’s ironic how these are the same people that wouldn’t, I don’t know… leave their sleeping daughters at home for a 10 minute drive for a Quarter Pounder. (Hmmmmm!)

Alright, alright, enough throwing shade! Let it be in the record that I think my wife is the best and loves our daughters very much.

My point here is simple: we’re not very rational creatures. We choose to make decisions around highly improbable scenarios yet fail to act appropriately in much more probabilistic scenarios. We’d much rather freak out about spending too much money on buying lattes than setting up a retirement account. We’d rather make sure our kids don’t eat gluten rather than examine what it really means to have a healthy diet.

And in the workplace, we fail to do a lot of things because unmerited fear gets in the way.

Keyword there: unmerited. Unmerited because it’s improbable. You and I could sit here and dream up all the worst case scenarios until the cows come home, but the truth is that the worst case scenario is most often highly improbable. You mostly likely aren’t going to get fired, aren’t going to get demoted, or aren’t going to go to jail.

Now, I’m not crazy, I get what it’s like to be in the shoes of fear. I let it grip me for years. I failed to act so many times because I feared the worst. I feared losing my job. I feared losing respect. I was the KING at fearing it all.

I honestly don’t remember what clicked for me, but would you like to know the MOST likely outcome is any time I do something a little risky?

It’s not the worst case scenario. It’s not the best case scenario.

It’s actually… nothing.

Probabilistically speaking, I’m back to where I started as if nothing ever happened. Most of these blog posts? Little traffic but zero money out of my pocket. Posted that job application? A polite “thank you but no.” Gave an opinion on a business decision? We’re going another direction, but thanks anyway.

Even though nothing extrinsically happens, there’s still a lot of intrinsic reward. I’ve learned what works well and what doesn’t, and I don’t sit in this “what if / I wish I would have…” mentality that most people constantly face.

So now that we’ve examined the most common response — the center of the bell curve, if you will — what about the improbabilities? Well, here are some of the best things that have happened:

  • Featured blog posts by a few individuals whom I highly respect

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Now, being 100% transparent, here’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me:

  • Somebody wasn’t a fan of something I did over email, told my boss, and my boss kindly sat me down and said I probably shouldn’t do that again, even though she agreed that I didn’t really do anything wrong. The problem never resurfaced in any capacity.

Yup, that’s it. Didn’t get fired or demoted or even had any lasting hard feelings. Granted, I try to make very calculated decisions that would not draw the ire of anybody, but you’re smart folks. I trust your discretion! *smiley face*

Friends, I just hope you know how much you might be leaving on the table by giving negative improbabilities too much sway. Just because something CAN happen doesn’t mean it WILL happen. This is especially true in the business world where, truthfully, most people are indifferent to most things. What you think is a big deal is somebody else’s Post-It note covered in coffee stains and food crumbs.

This life is too short to not make the most of it. I continue to make choices that I wouldn’t have a few years ago because, ultimately, I don’t want live a life of regret.

Neither do I wish the same on you.

So friend, be bold and be risky. Don’t let those negative improbabilities weigh you down. Your best life may just be right around the corner waiting for you to reach out and grab it.

Written by

Machine learning engineer by day, spiritual explorer by night.

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