Fear of Risk and How it Inhibits Your Writing

My husband and I go shopping every other weekend. We hit all the usual stores and sometimes explore new stores. It’s not quite equal to a day trip (mostly because I strongly dislike—not to say “hate”—shopping), but it gives us an opportunity to discuss things, gets us out of the house, and keeps us in groceries for two weeks. Win-win-win.

Sometimes, it also leads to interesting observations.

To Move or Not To Move

line-of-shopping-cartsOn a recent trip, a line formed behind us as we checked out. I don’t know if their carts were as full as ours, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It was a busy day in the store and everyone seemed to be stocking up.

Our checker was monitoring the line as well as running our purchases through the scanner. After a moment, she turned to speak to someone over her shoulder. It turned out to be another cashier on another line two stations away.

“Aisle 19 is open,” she then told the people behind us.

She had to repeat it twice, which surprised me. I was also surprised by the fact that I didn’t hear carts being hastily pushed to the neighboring check out lane.

But what surprised me most was the discussion that followed the cashier’s announcement.

Woman #1: “Are you going?”

Woman #2: “Are you?”

The discussion continued and I don’t think anyone moved. At least not from the line I was in. I’m not sure, because after I heard the first two lines above, my own internal dialogue began.

Are you two serious? There’s a cashier’s line with no waiting and you’re debating whether or not to go? Aren’t we all supposed to be so busy that we jump at the opportunity to save a little time?

I pondered that as we headed for the car. It’s always been my observation that people jump at the chance for a shorter line. Why didn’t those ladies?

So I posed the question to my husband, who is a much more astute observer of human nature than I am. He hadn’t heard the conversation—he’s also much better at focusing, so I gave him a quick summary. Then I asked the question burning a hole in my awareness.

“Why didn’t they take advantage of that opportunity?”

The only thing we could come up with that made any sense was that the ladies were afraid. They were afraid of losing their place at the back of the line even if it meant giving up a chance to be first in another line.

Only two lanes over.

Or, to put it another way, they were so comfortable with the long line that they didn’t want to go to a much shorter line (did I mention no one was waiting?).


Sometimes it’s called a “comfort zone”. Sometimes it’s called a “box”. Usually, it’s real name is “fear”.

Risk and Fear

It didn’t take long to realize all of us fall into the same trap. It’s sometimes called a comfort zone and sometimes called a box, but whatever you call it, it affects us all.

And it can rob us of advancement and success just as easily as it kept those two ladies—or at least one of them—from getting out of the store more quickly.

How? I’m glad you asked!

A Few Examples

You have a great idea for a new novel. It’s a stunning idea that makes your creative juices flow. The problem is that it’s outside your usual genre or style of writing. Brilliant as it is, you’re not sure you can pull it off. So you stay in the genre you’re in (maybe writing mediocre books) and tamp that brilliant idea down every time it presents itself.


You have an opportunity to present the opening chapters of a novel you’ve slaved over for years to a developmental editor who’s launching a new service and is giving away freebies. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a professional opinion on your great American novel. But it’s a big step—bigger than anything you’ve ever done before, so you think about it, debate yourself over it, and dilly-dally until the offer expires.


The writers conference you’ve always dreamed of attending is offering scholarships. You qualify. But it’s still a significant investment in time, money, and travel. In the end, you pass it up and stay home. Ostensibly to write.

Seeing a Pattern

People are creatures of habit. We like what’s comfortable and we like places and routines we know. Even if there’s a better routine to learn or a way to advance the goals we claim to have, we tend to stick with the tried and true. Maybe even if the tried and true is actually holding us back.

If it sounds like I’ve done a lot of research into this it’s because I have.

Well, sort of.

I’ve lived it for most of my life. I know personally how difficult it is to leave what I know and try something I don’t know.

I also know that the biggest, most frightening part of making a change is deciding whether or not to make it.

Usually, once that decision is made, the fear gives way to something else.


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