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

When I was recently asked, "What scares you the most in life?" I had no answer. Now I do. And here's what I'm doing about it.

Updated:

Key Points

  • To come up with a practical answer to “What scares you the most in life?”, I asked myself, “What terrifying challenges would make your life a more exciting story if you took them on?”
  • Beneath my fears of death and loss of independence is a fear of misusing my time and energy.
  • Paradoxically, I have to risk the result I fear the most to overcome this fear.

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. But what I do feel guilty about is that I listen to multiple podcasts recapping each The Challenge episode.

In one recent podcast, a contestant named Tyson said that, before being cast, the producers asked him what he’s scared of, 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:

“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. I guess 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, would make for a better show?

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Where are you complacent?

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Digging For My Deepest Fear

Not Death…

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.

Not Losing My Independence…

My brother, who I would give a kidney or a digit for, but not a life, suggested something else when I asked him what he thought my greatest fear may be:

My independence.

He’s right. I am 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?

Shrinkage?

I’ll trade away independence in exchanged for 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.

Another way to put it is that growth is the measure I’ve chosen to use to keep score in my game of life. So I suppose my greatest fear may be the opposite.

Shrinkage.

Better yet, the cause of shrinkage.

The Feeling of Unfulfilled Potential

I’m terrified of failing to expand my comfort zone into its full potential.

This elaborate, highly-unscientific diagram illustrates the many ways that can easily happen:

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

For instance, my comfort zone will shrink if I:

  1. Push myself in deluded or danger-zone-ian directions.
  2. Stay stagnant and letting the force of reality squash my comfort zone and the force of complacency drag it back.
  3. Or—coming full circle to my first instinct’s answer—die.

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 13 minutes 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:

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

I want to be one of the Chrises that all other universes’ Chrises would look at and think, “Damn. I coulda done that!?”

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!”

Not just that, 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.

My Real-Life Challenge

This brings me to the crux of my issue—why I listen to stupid podcasts and why I sought out Josh as a potential coach, A.K.A. 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.

This fear 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 do in The Challenge. The only way I have any chance of being among the best Chrises in all the universes is to risk my precious time and energy on challenges I create for myself. Hopefully, 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.

Simple diagram showing behind your greatest fear is your greatest opportunity
“Behind your greatest fear is your greatest opportunity.” Read more about this.

Update: Here’s the Plan

Once you know what scares you the most in life, what do you do about it? And how do you motivate yourself.

Read on: What’s Your Greatest Fear and How Can You Seize The Opportunity?


What About You?

What scares you the most in life?

And more importantly, what are you going to do about it?

About the author

đź‘‹ I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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