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When I was a geeky bookworm of a kid (as opposed to the geeky bookworm of an adult I am now) I liked the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. You probably know the ones I mean: you’d read a page or two of text, then you’d get some sort of choice:

If you think you should try to track down the donor of the sword, turn to page 79.

If you think it’s a good idea to go back in time, turn to page 20.

(Secrets of the Ninja – Choose Your Own Adventure #16  –  Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk)

It was sometimes hard to predict what choices were going to lead to outcomes of gruesome death, so I used to keep a finger in the book, to flip back to where the choice went “wrong”. Other times, the choices would end up forming a loop, and I’d have to pick a different path.

(I found this while researching this post, and it was too funny not to share; an adult spoof called “Choose Your Own Adventure (On Drugs): High In Outer Space”, from Cracked.com. My friend Nick also has a characteristically sarcastic and witty choose your own adventure for wanna-be London tube drivers)

Life is a choose your own adventure. It’s a bit harder to flip back when we make the wrong choice – but on the plus side, our odds of meeting a sudden death by ninja are pretty low. So why are we opting for choices that lead us round in a day-in-day-out circle of dull routine? Why do we stick with jobs which we find mundane, boring or pointless? Why do we huddle in our comfort zone, refusing to risk taking a step or two outside?

Where’s the Adventure in Your Life?

Life is absolutely packed with choices – far more choices than a choose your own adventure book could cope with. Every day we make big decisions. You might not think that getting into the car and going to work is a choice … but it is. Sure, you’re making that choice based on certain negative consequences that will arise if you don’t go to work … but no-one’s  forcing you to the office at gun-point.

What you do in your leisure time is a choice –with almost unlimited possibilities. You can watch television. You can read books (fiction or non-fiction, from the library, from your bookshelf, from Project Gutenberg). You can write a novel. You can start a blog, or website, on a topic you’re interested in. You can go for a jog. You can teach yourself to cook. You can join Toastmasters and conquer your fear of public speaking.

Rather than opting for the easiest choice, or the one which you think you “should” do, ask yourself which is going to be the most interesting, or the most exciting, or even the most scary. These options are likely to be the ones that lead you down a whole new avenue – rather than the ones that see you repeating the same chapter of your life over and over and over again.

What’s The Worst/Best That Could Happen?

Perhaps you’re considering making some big change in your life at the moment. Perhaps the decisions you’re facing aren’t what to watch on television, or what to cook for dinner; they’re questions like:

  • Will I take a postgraduate course or get a job?
  • Will I leave my job to follow my passion – even though it’s not making me any money?
  • Will I quit smoking, even though I’ve tried and failed in the past?
  • Will I try to patch up this relationship, or just call it all off?

All too often, we freeze when we’re faced with choices like this. We have a vague idea of all the things that could go wrong if we go for the more challenging option – so we stick with the status quo. I’ve found that, in these situations, there are two questions that really help:

What’s the worst that can happen?

This is a great question to ask when you’re afraid. Perhaps you’re stuck in the job that you took straight out of college because you were desperate for something: but you’d really love to do something more creative. Rather than allowing that cloud of vague worries to suffocate your thoughts (“what if I go bankrupt … what if my parents think I’m an idiot … what if I’m not self-disciplined enough to work on my own”…), work out what the real worst-case scenario is.

Rather often, you’ll realise that the reality is something like this:

I realized that on a scale of 1-10, 1 being nothing and 10 being permanently life-changing, my so-called worst-case scenario might have a temporary impact of 3 or 4.

(Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Work Week, pg 42 – reviewed here, or buy from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk )

I left my job a bit over a year ago, to freelance. I was already making about $300 a month by writing for a couple of blogs in my spare time, and I had contacts on other blogs where I was hoping to get some regular work. I also had a couple of contacts through my job who were interested in my services.

It was still a scary step. But, realistically, the absolute worst-case scenario would have gone something like this:

No-one wants to hire me, and the blogs I’m currently writing for both go under, completely out of the blue. I go through my savings (three months of salary). I can’t find any part-time casual work locally. I’m broke. I have to tell my parents. They bail me out.

This might suggest a level of supreme overconfidence in my parents – but I have a strong, loving relationship with them, they’re in a good financial situation, and I know that they’d loan or give me money if I needed it.

Is your situation similar? Even if your family aren’t in a position where they could lend you a lump sum of cash, would they let you live in their home? If your relationship with your family isn’t good, do you have friends who’d let you sleep on their sofa?

Frankly, I doubt anyone reading this is likely to end up homeless and starving because of making the wrong decision: we all have social networks (family, friends, church) who will gather round us at times of genuine crisis.

And, of course, this question is just one side of the coin. On the other side is a much more powerful question…

What’s the Likely Positive Outcome?

Think positive for a moment. Don’t come up with the best possible outcome (that just ends up in silliness that won’t convince the frightened bit of your brain at all) – but figure out what a likely positive outcome is. (Yes, I know “likely positive outcome” is a rubbish name for it; if you can think of anything catchier, let me know in the comments!)

For example, with my choice to quit my job and freelance, the likely positive outcome for me was having a lot more control over my time, and making enough money to pay the bills and rent, with some left over for “fun” spending. And guess what – I ended up with this, and a lot of other benefits – such as decreased stress levels, some passive income streams, a lot of new knowledge, and some marketing experience.

If you’re facing a choice where one option means sticking with a status quo, and the other requires energy and willpower, think about the likely positive outcome.

  • If you’re try to quit smoking, chances are you’ll at least cut down for a while. That means more money in your pocket – and improved health.
  • If you go on a diet, you might not make it all the way to your target weight – but there’s a good chance you’ll lose some weight, and succeed in getting into healthier eating and exercising habits.

In these sorts of cases, there isn’t really a worst-case scenario: sure, you might fail, but that just puts you back where you started. You might feel that you’ve wasted time and energy but you’ll definitely have learnt something – even if that’s just “I need to try a different way” or “I need more support to succeed at this.”

What Page Are You On?

Where are you in the adventure of your life? Perhaps you’re still in the first few chapters, trying to figure out where you’ll be heading during the rest of the book. This is pretty much how it feels for me, at the age of twenty four: the options are wide open!

Maybe you’re half-way through. You’ve learnt from some wrong choices. You’ve had your fingers burned a few times. You’ve had to slog through some difficult patches. A new path has opened up, one that would mean a big change in the direction your story’s been taking. Are you going to seize that chance? Are you worrid about what other people might think? What’s the worst that could happen? (Probably not “death by ninja”…) What’s the likely positive outcome?

What are the options open to you at the moment? What are you afraid of? What are you hoping for? Which choice are you going to make?