Never Make a Decision Driven by Fear


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In 1993 I was offered a high paying job as a Principal at one of the largest CPA firms in the world. I was 32 years old at the time, with a wife and three very young children I absolutely adored.

After great deliberation, I decided to turn down the job. I was concerned that the job would take me away from my family too much. Family, I rationalized, was more important than money. I actually felt noble and proud of myself for making the “right” decision.

I did not think much about that decision until more than a decade later, when I began interviewing the 361 rich and poor people who were part of my Rich Habits Study.

I learned from that five-year exercise that rich people do not let fear guide their decision-making.

Don’t get me wrong, rich people do not ignore their fears. But they do deal with fear differently than the poor people in my study did.

The millionaires had a Rich Habit when it came to decision-making that incorporated two elements:

  1. Confront Your Fears – They would make a list of all of the things that could go wrong with any big life decision.
  2. Plan for the Worst – They would create contingency plans to deal with each worst-case scenario.

If one of those worst cases did happen, they were not caught off guard – they had anticipated it far in advance and had a plan to deal with it, already in place.

The poor people in my study, however, had a Poor Habit of focusing on their fears and making decisions that were fear-based.

It was not long after finishing my study that I realized my 1993 big life decision was anything but noble – it had actually been dictated by fear.

So, eleven years later, I did just what the rich people in my study did – I confronted the fears behind my 1993 decision:

  1. I was afraid I would not see my children grow up.
  2. I was afraid I might hate the job.
  3. I was afraid of not meeting my new company’s expectations and that they would fire me.
  4. I was afraid I would not like the people I worked with.

Four fears dictated my decision-making. And it came at a cost – we struggled financially for many years thereafter and I was forced to secure a second part-time job to help bring in more money, which ironically meant I did not see my kids as much as I wanted to.

Never make big life decisions that are driven by fear. When faced with a big decision forge the habit of confronting your fears, create contingency plans for each worst-case scenario, put all of your fears on the bookshelf (ignore your fears) and then make a decision.

Decisions made out of fear, almost always turn out to be the wrong decisions.

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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
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  1. Andrew McInnes says:

    Timely article, Tom!

    Any chance you’d be willing to share what your contingency plans would be today if you were to face again those same fears you faced in 1993?

    Ironically, they are the same four fears I face as I prepare to leave my job at Facebook today to go elsewhere.

    Many thanks!


    • Tks for the comment Andrew. Here’s what I would have had as my contingency plans:
      #1 Family Time Fear – Workload Solution – Shifted my work schedule to 7am – 5pm and International Travel Solution – Learn to say NO, when possible.
      #2-#4 – Stay in constant touch with my Head Hunting Partner and old company. Also, try to build strong relationships with the Tax Director at my various clients and regional CPA firm Partners. My goal would have been to tough it out for two years and then leave, if it was intolerable.

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