What’s the Worst that Could Happen? Or, Confronting the Monkey on Your Back

What’s holding you back from applying for a job? Making an investment? Sharing a new idea with someone? Taking a night class for a certification? Moving to a new city? Starting (or finishing) a degree program? Starting a blog? Getting your company active on social media? Learning a foreign language? Starting an exercise goal? Starting a new lifestyle or meal regiment?

This is not a “you miss 100% of the shots you don't take” blog post. This is about confronting anxiety and reducing uncertainty to examine a life-choice without reaction and stress, but with clear-minded informative steps.

Image  source  via wordpress

Image source via wordpress

I find that it's often the things I care about most in my life that I leave on the back burner while I take my sweet time to think over (or overthink) every detail. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that inaction is indeed an action. If you don't make your move, the stress will grow and keep piling up until it's too big to handle and you never do X.

Today, I’m giving you (and myself) permission to look over at the growing monkey on your shoulder you have been avoiding for some time now. It’s time to toss the monkey off or embrace it. Here’s an example from my own life:

Ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? Since I began meeting with my mentor at SEI, we have frequently gone back to this method of problem solving. My latest decision was if I should finish my undergraduate degree or seek other less costly, yet stimulating, solutions. I had previously worked towards three years of a B.A. before moving 2K+ miles away from my home state of Michigan to start anew in Seattle, Washington. Two years later, I was still sitting on a ¾ complete degree and the friendly student loans that helped me earn my uncompleted degree. I was working barely livable wage jobs I wasn’t proud of and the monkey on my back was telling me something had to change or else I was going to be more exhausted and more unhappy each week. With the help of my mentor, we examined the possibilities of, what’s the worst that could happen?

            (-) Do nothing. Regardless of work-happiness, I will scrape by and survive. Either…

                                    1) Look for ways to enjoy work.

                                    2) Find new ways to enjoy time off.


            (+) Do something, such as…

                                    1) Finish my degree.

                                    2) Learn a trade/skill.

                                    3) Apply for a job I think I would like better.

                                    4) Find a higher paying job.


After weighing the positives and negatives of each choice I decided that finishing my degree was my best choice. Now what?

-       What school is going to be the best option for me?

-       I decided on the school, what is the application process?

-       I was accepted! (Happy dance)! How do I pay for school? Do I qualify for any grants or federal aid?

By breaking down the “monkey” on my shoulder into small manageable pieces, I realized I wasn’t looking at a big hairy beast anymore, but a tame and friendly helper. I ended up getting accepted to the University of Washington and have been taking night classes part time (paid for with the help of financial aid and grants). I am also able to work the same amount of hours I was working before starting classes, and plan on graduating early next year.           

This is only the most recent example, but here are some others I have had to work through by first asking myself, what’s the worst that could happen?

-       Should I move to a different State or city?

-       Should I make a lifestyle adjustment to promote better mental and physical health?

-       If my living situation falls though/if I can’t pay next month’s rent, how will I survive?

-       Should I submit my fiction writing to a publisher or magazine?

-       Should I commit to a serious romantic relationship or place my time and focus elsewhere?

-       Should I confide to someone that I have made a life decision that may be in conflict with their personal ethics?


The hardest part is getting started. Once you start it's all downhill.


Andrew J. Wilt 
SEI Junior Consultant 
Apprenticeship Program