What’s the Best that Could Happen?

Giant cables holding up the Golden Gate Bridge, SF in the background.

Giant cables holding up the Golden Gate Bridge, SF in the background.

Yesterday, someone I haven’t spoken to for years contacted me out of the blue. They’d recently lost a spouse to a terrible battle with cancer, their kids are in college, and are in a major period of transition. Their dilemma: Whether to rebuild a business, or sell it all and head out for travel and exploration, either volunteering abroad or working overseas.

Shifts like these can be terrifying. With no clear path and certainly no easy choice, how do we make a decision? Just arranging our thoughts, with all the different influences and logistical hurdles, can shut down a flow of ideas. Sure, we can say, “What’s the worst that could happen,” and maybe it isn’t TOO bad. Yet we still come away robbed of our full potential.

I try to frame unknown outcomes a different way: What’s the best that could happen? That oh-so-simple tweak has amazing power! Instead of, “Well, what’s the worst that could happen?” think of that flipped 180 degrees. “Best case is that I find a fulfilling, rewarding path that enables me to shake out of this rut and discover something amazing about myself or the world.”

I know a gutsy lady who got on a plane to Prague from the U.S. to meet another traveler for a month-long, blind first date among the castles of the Czech Republic and vineyards on the islands of Croatia. Lots of reasons not to go, yet she did it anyway. I’ve seen positive thinking like that turn into magic when people put themselves out there and transform fear into personal power.

Middle of a redwood grove.

Middle of a redwood grove. (Humboldt Redwoods State Park, NorCal)

The unknown, that wide open horizon when we have many choices or available paths, is often paralyzing. And as if that isn’t enough, fear of being afraid limits action even more. Thinking from the stance of “what’s the worst that could happen?” can drag us down. The problem is that takes us instantly to a dark place, where the tendrils of doubt snake at our brains.

That kind of mental drama saps us of productive efforts to solve a confrontation or travel new roads. Robert Frost’s famous poem about taking the road less traveled, and that making all the difference, is the route of an adventurer. Perhaps…but there is more to it. Take the soul path, that route that most speaks to our inner core, and don’t look back.

I admit that taking the best case can be tough to implement. Fear is a badass opponent and wears many masks, tearing them off to reveal a freezing Medusa when we thought all was well. We still need to plan, and persevere, and fight through the obstacles we’ll encounter along the way. Every business, relationship, or trip has that honeymoon phase of syrupy sweet and then a valley of doubt at the bottom before we climb on out to the canyon rim to look back in triumph.

I didn’t always take this approach. It is still a conscious effort. To turn a best case mentality into a habit, I am constantly reminding myself to take the positive perspective. Not attaching to negative thoughts is hard, probably because trying to control them is far more difficult than just letting the thoughts flicker dully and subside, a fire without oxygen. Focus instead on the empowering thoughts, fanning that flame until our mind is ablaze with the bright possibilities of the future.

Lighthouse at Cape Blanco.

Lighthouse at Cape Blanco.

And often, life rewards us for bravery. That girl who went to Prague for a blind date? Well, that guy she flew to meet is me, and I’m lucky enough to be married to Chelsea because she saw the best case and went for it. The courageous path can unlock potential not just for us, but for those we encounter on that journey as well. We never know where it will go or whom we’ll inspire along the way.

To my friend who is contemplating next steps for their life: Whatever your array of options, take the best case for the possibilities. Mull it over, and then step out there courageously and be rewarded with the fruits of your awesomeness. Good luck on the journey! Seek something you haven’t done before. Do it now! And if you’re scared and excited at the same time, that’s a good sign. May your path be new, scary and exciting wrapped into one.

11 replies
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Hilary, I didn’t know Don fit in your hand! I guess that makes international plane tickets more affordable. 🙂

      Go to Croatia. So fun! Cheers to the best adventures.

      Reply
  1. Pam Fulton
    Pam Fulton says:

    Dakota – what an insightful piece! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and gorgeous pictures as you mark these milestones on the trip, and in life. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Well done!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Thanks Pam! I’m having fun wrapping in insights about life in general plus the trip photos. Wouldn’t want it to get tooooo serious!

      Reply
  2. Brandon
    Brandon says:

    Powerful questions are truly one of our greatest tools. Nancy and I have been working with a similar kind of question that goes “How much better could life get today?” or “What would it feel like to (fill in the blank of the thing you would really like to have happen in your life)?” Then we really try to bring up that feeling inside of ourselves – the key part is that it doesn’t just remain an intellectual exercise, but that it gets into the emotions and the body. This is where the power is. We call them open questions. I really like the way you put it “What’s the best that could happen?”

    Another question I find really powerful when things are not going the way I would like them to is “What is the hidden gift in this situation for me?” And there is ALWAYS a hidden gift if you are willing to open your perspective. Just yesterday, my website was crashing the server all day, and I ended up spending about 5 hours troubleshooting the site – and it didn’t even help! This was on a day when I way hoping to spend the day having fun and not in front of the computer. At the end of the day, I realized that I have been too attached to trying to do everything myself and that it was finally time to hire someone to help me with these kinds of issues. This is a huge lesson for me, as I’ve been wanting to move away from more technically focused work to doing work I find more inspiring, but I keep clinging on to fixing these things myself creating my own suffering. What a beautiful lesson, a gift – Life smashing my fingers to let go of the burning coal that I keep clinging to and complaining about.

    Reply
  3. Kaylin
    Kaylin says:

    Oooo I love that Prague story! For me, I have found developing my skill to hear and then follow my instincts to be my best course of action. I have also noticed that the universe tends to conspire in communicating the best direction for me, which usually is the one I’m most afraid/discomforted by! I wish your friend well.

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      The Czech Republic has got to be on some “best first date” lists out there somewhere. The red-roofed villages with castles and fun little bakeries and restaurants…tough to beat.

      Listening, both to yourself and to others, is such a great way to explore the best case. So long as you have the clarity to tell people, and your naysayer mind, to get lost once in awhile and go do something nobody thinks makes sense!

      Comfort is easy, progress rarely so, right?

      Reply
      • Kaylin
        Kaylin says:

        I would love to do that area and other parts of Eastern Europe. Part of my family hails from Ukraine so that would be neat. Some day in the near future. There is so much to see.

        And very well said – the best things in life are rarely acquired easily.

        Reply
  4. Jules
    Jules says:

    Ahhh, this post could not have come at a better time, as those ever persistent “tendrils of doubt” weave their way through my days while I slog towards goals that are (seemingly) juuuuust out of reach. Seeing you model the power of positivity has already begun to transform my outlook (and actions!) – thank you!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Keep on trucking! Even I have down days, belieeeve me (and just ask Chelsea). Having a framework of values and a long-term plan for how we want to live gets me through those.

      Reply

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