A candid conversation about fear

Hello friends and welcome back to the Product in Public newsletter, where I give you an inside look at how I help companies attract capital and build better products.

With today being a splash of life design.

Before we get to today's newsletter, here’s some of the content I’m consuming that you might find interesting.

What I’m consuming

Last night I started reading Die With Zero by Bill Perkins.

It’s one of those books that gives you the punchline early and often. Which I love, because if the rest of the book isn’t to my taste I’ve still picked up some helpful information.

The author’s goal is to get people to invest their hard-earned money into life experiences, rather than hoarding excess money, because, in the end, memories are all we will have. Said a different way, in the voice of my father, “You can’t take it (money) with you!”

Even if I don’t read another page, the bit I’ve read has been a good reminder about what matters in life.

My biggest fears revolve around money

My relationship with money has been mentally exhausting for nearly the past two decades. Not in the, “I want to be rich” way. More so that I am constantly concerned we don’t have enough or that the financial position we have built will be taken from us.

I’ve only recently realized why I am so focused on money.

Around fifteen years ago I went through multiple layoffs. During the last one, we had next to zero money in savings and our daughter was less than a year old. It was terrifying to think about not being able to provide for her. I imagined all the worst things happening. Such as losing our home, and our cars, and having to file for bankruptcy.

The truth is that it never would have come to that. My father stepped in and helped cover our expenses. Eventually I landed a new job.

The memory of how I felt during that time continues to drive me today. It’s why I work so hard. It’s why I always have multiple hustles going at the same time. It’s also a large part of why I am very rarely able to relax.

This week I’ve been on Spring Break with my family. We elected to have it be a staycation. That was a terrible idea.

I tend to do better when my days are structured and I have goals to be working towards. Having nothing on my calendar has meant my mind is constantly looking for something to do. The guilt of not being productive has been tough.

Why am I sharing all of this?

Because I’ve wasted an entire week of my life worrying about being productive, as if I don’t work enough, and being worried about money when I could have been investing in memories.

I don’t want to keep making the same mistake and I don’t want you to live that way either. So, I’m going to introduce you to one way I try to deal with this fear.

Fear Setting

Tim Ferris has an exercise he uses to manage his fears. He calls it Fear Setting.

The idea behind the exercise is that you acknowledge your fears and then you plan for ways to address those concerns if they were ever to become real.

The process uses a Define, Prevent, and Repair structure.

Let’s work through an example, using my fear of running out of money

In the Define step, you list out the fear you have. Explicitly. Mine would look like this.

Define - I am afraid that we, my wife and I, will reach retirement and still need to work because we don’t have enough income to live comfortably on.

Once you have defined the fear, you score the impact of a worst-case scenario. I would score my Defined fear an 8.

By the way, want further proof of how irrational my fears around money are? I know how much money we will need to live on in retirement to meet our expectations and that number is nearly met.

After the Define step, you make a list of actions you could take to Prevent your fear from either becoming a reality or being as bad as you imagine.

Prevent - 1) have a large emergency fund to prevent us from dipping into our retirement accounts should we lose my income; 2) build a budget that allows us to set aside enough money to meet our retirement goal, with extra padding in case of economic downturns; 3) find ways to earn extra money that can be set aside for retirement; 4) establish some more passive streams of income that could continue into our retirement.

The Prevent step is so powerful because oftentimes you are already taking some or all of the actions you listed. That is the case for us and just writing them out has already allowed me to relax some this morning.

In the final step, Repair, you list ways you could recover from the worst-case scenario.

Repair - 1) we could retire to a part of the country that has a lower cost of living; 2) we could take on remote and/or part-time work that isn’t labor intensive; 3) we could live with family.

None of those options sound fun. But, they aren’t a death sentence either. In the words of the Stoic Seneca, “Set aside a certain number of days during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest of fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself all the while, “Is this the condition I feared?”

I’m reminded of another way to reframe fears.

Humans are naturally inclined to assume worst-case scenarios. It’s what kept us alive when sabertooth tigers were trying to eat us. But, that biological wiring doesn’t serve us as well anymore. Today, it’s important that we distinguish between when something is dire and when it isn’t. More times than not, the worst-case scenario never comes to fruition.

Said another way, things are rarely a 10 on a 1-10 scale where a 10 represents the most dire circumstance. To be fair, they are rarely a one as well. What’s more than likely is the thing you feared is maybe in the three to five range and that range is almost always recoverable.

If you’ve found this information helpful, I hope you’ll do two things for me.

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