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.