What’s Your Worst-Case Scenario?

What's Your Worst-Case Scenario

Growing up, my grandparents instilled in me that life would be dangerous and difficult. That’s right, would. Not could.

The only problem is that they overdid it, and as a result, I grew up somewhat distrusting of the world and fearing that I’d end up on the streets if I wasn’t perfect.

Don’t get good grades and you’ll be homeless. Don’t go to a great university and you’ll be flipping burgers for the rest of your life. Don’t obey your elders and you’ll become addicted to drugs.

They’ve been hammering worst-case scenarios in my head for as long as I can remember. It made me grow up slightly pessimistic with only a glimpse of optimism that came from my friends.

So as I went along fearing that every decision I made could potentially bring me to my knees, I struggled with stress and risk-aversion.

When I got C’s in school I kept picturing a life of hardship. Maybe I’d never get into a good university.

As it got time to apply for college I realized I wouldn’t be able to go to Harvard, or UC Berkeley, or any of the top tier schools. Maybe I’d never make those six-figures my family wanted from me.

While everyone else was talking about what they wanted to major in I felt alone because I had no idea. Maybe I’d pick trash for the rest of my life.

Letting others control your life is a sure way to disappointing yourself

Conventional wisdom says if you follow all the rules then you’d be set for life. People are fixated on the idea that there is a universal path with a 100% success rate but that belief is wrong. They mean well, sure, but hearing it over and over from everyone around you gets irritating.

If doing what you feel is right means upsetting people because they saw another path for us, then oh well. Full speed ahead.

Life would have been a lot worse if I never realized just how trapped I was while believing there were only certain set paths for me to follow.

I let others’ beliefs of what personal success meant scare me for more than 3/4 of my life and it took a lot of time to realize just how toxic that is.

The real worst-case scenario would have been pouring thousands and thousands of dollars into a piece of paper that I’d never need. It’d be finding myself in debt within the five-figure range with no way to pay it back.

Slaving away at a “good” job that makes six-figures but every day I have to work I’d feel like slamming my head into the wall doesn’t sound too good either. This may seem crazy to some people who are reading this because that would be their best-case scenario. Money, what else is there to want?

There’s so much more to life than a fat check. You use that check to buy something you don’t need. You get tired of that new shiny object a month later and you find yourself chasing the new model. It never ends.

That’s the life they want not because they naturally desired it but because they were told that’s how it should be. You make money and you buy things.

What’s worse is that we’re all taught from a young age there’s only one way to live a successful life so you better follow the formula. Don’t stray from the conventional path and you’re guaranteed a good job. The money will come too.

Holy crap, were we wrong.

Now’s the time to make shit happen

I almost waited until my four years in a university were up before I did anything with my life. That would have been the best-case scenario from my family’s point of view. They figured, why worry about anything but getting a degree? To me, that would have been indentured servitude.

It took a long time for me to break free from that mold. I didn’t know it at the time, but one of my best friends’ radical thoughts were the ones who made me step back and think beyond the conventional.

I remember a conversation with another friend of mine where he briefly mentioned my other buddy was looking at alternatives to college. That caught my attention. What do you mean alternatives?

To me, there were no such thing as alternatives. I started listening more to what my buddy was saying and I paid attention to his side projects. Why is this guy thinking about life outside of the college system? What’s going on here?

I read works from people he name-dropped, like Tim Ferriss, and started thinking about what was really out there. It was a lot to take in.

Quick note, here a few more people who have influenced and inspired me. I’m linking you to my favorite article by them:

Mark Manson, James Altucher, Jonathan Mead, Joshua Becker, Jeff Goins, and James Clear.

That image of me sitting on the street with nothing but tattered clothes became an irrational fear. I wouldn’t allow that to happen. My grandparents were wrong.

Thinking unconventionally got me more excited than any promise of being rich by becoming a doctor or lawyer ever would have done for me.

Now my idea of the worst-case scenario has shifted. No longer is it, “Oh no, I’ll never make six-figures!” Instead, it is, “Oh no, I’ll have to slave away at a job I don’t like in favor of making more money.” That’s what scares me.

I’m in the best possible situation I could be in. There’s so much left to do and it gives me goosebumps to think about.

Over to you…

Our ideas of what life will be like will always be evolving. The fears, desires, and beliefs we hold in our head are often only there because someone else influenced you. But we never question them. We accept them and think that’s where we should set our sights.

There’s so much more. What do you want to do with your life?

Do you want to inspire and lead a revolution? Are you ignoring the doubters and the people who think you have to follow the script?

Come on. Life has too many interesting opportunities to settle for safe and mediocre.

So tell me, what are your worst and best-case scenarios?

Photo Credit: Thomas Leuthard – Flickr

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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40 responses to What’s Your Worst-Case Scenario?

  1. You are so right about everything. In a nutshell, there really is more than one way to achieve success in life. I’ve taken the huge risk of not carrying on with university to do what I think is most important to me. Right now.


    • I hope you made the right choice. University definitely has its benefits for certain people depending on what they want to do, but it’s not universal, that’s for sure. Best of luck with your future. 🙂

  2. My worst case scenario is living a lie. Lying to myself that I am happy with my current lot when in reality I would do anything to change my life situation.

    The best case scenario is simply looking in the mirror safe in the knowledge that I am living my life based on my own rules.

  3. “I let others’ beliefs of what personal success meant scare me for more than 3/4 of my life and it took a lot of time to realize just how toxic that is.”

    I can now better see why creating selfstairway and being successful in this endeavour has been a massively confidence-building and awesome experience for you.

    Great post Vincent.

  4. Worst-case Scenario:
    • Waking-up in the morning without time for self-reflection
    • No time to exercise (jog, play tennis, or even do some body stretching)
    • The perils of public transportation
    • Long-sleeves and tuck-in
    • Spreadsheets
    • Facing the monitor the whole day; stands only to get coffee or pee
    • Office politics and not getting into the point
    • Single income stream (If it’s gone, I’ll die)
    • Doing repetitive, meaningless work
    • Comprising my principles and values because I need ‘the money’
    • Just to survive.

    Best-case Scenario:
    • Flexi-time
    • Time for self-reflection, development, and actualization
    • Time for family and friends
    • Spreadsheets + human connection
    • Scuba diving and outdoor activities on weekends
    • Always moving around/ traveling
    • Multiple income streams (passive and active)
    • Work with meaning and purpose
    • Work that challenges my analytical abilities and inspires me to do so
    • A work that contributes to my country’s economic and social development
    • Workmates with the same set of values and perspectives
    • Building a vast social enterprise
    • PH economic development advocate
    • Survive. Live. Thrive.


  5. Great post Vince. I should have read this before going to and finishing college. LOL. Actually, your pieces of advice is still very helpful to anyone, those who decide to go to college and those who not.

    • It really is. This post isn’t targeted toward people who have a degree or not. I used that subject as a vehicle to drive my point. The worst-case scenario is really doing something just because others told you that’s how it is without questioning further.

  6. Uh, oh. I sound like your grandparents with my daughter sometimes. My worst case scenario would be that my daughter winds up flipping burgers or doing drugs. As for me, I just keep doing what I do best: just being myself.

    • Oh, those two definitely are terrible scenarios that I wouldn’t want to be in either. I may have exaggerated a bit in my message. My point was more along the lines of “I wouldn’t ever let those worst-case scenarios happen to me because I control my destiny.” Heh.

  7. I recently started planning my trip to Thailand which is going down in February. It really scared the shit out of me and still does to some degree. So then I asked myself what’s the worst case scenario?

    After thinking about it I realized the worst possible thing that could happen is I’d have to come home and live with my parents….which is exactly what I’m doing now! I’d just have less money.

    Our brains are so funny lol.

    • Dude, that sounds awesome! Drop by the Philippines and visit me if tickets are cheap enough. You’ll have a great time down here and I’ll make sure you enjoy yourself (or at least make others guarantee that.) 🙂

  8. I haven’t decided what I want to do when I grow up. Fortunately I’m only 48 years old so I have plenty of time to decide! Fun piece, Vincent!

  9. Vincent, I love the contribution of James Altucher too. He is an insightful genius that all of us should follow; and in doing so, begin to recognize we each have the insight of genius within.

  10. When I was hit by the speedboat in the arm and back of the head I knew it was over. The whack, sawing noise, and instant out of body feeling convinced me. The speedboat hit me at 30 knots. That was my worst case scenario. Everything was up from there. If I lived another second, another minute, it had to be by God’s grace.

    Now, in reflection, the worst case scenario is to permit any harm to another human being by focusing though the narrow angle goggles that restrict my vision. And not that it can be avoided. Living our lives, seeking our fortunes, always has an effect on those surrounding us. I just try to recognize when it happens and send all the best wishes to myself and the ones that we love.

  11. Hey Vincent, my worst case scenario would either be to let my self-doubt get in my way of success, or for my self doubt to prevent me from enjoying success when I reach it. As a fellow young Asian, I know how it feels to have a “safety first” approach from family pressure to conform and do what my parents or extended family. As much as I appreciate my family, there are times this conforming pressure causes me to doubt what I want to do in life, and more importantly, doubt my ability to achieve what I want.

    With that said, I have no plans to let my self doubt get in my way of success. Thank you for helping me point this out in my own life, and I’ll be looking to achieve my dreams instead!

    • Our families definitely mean well and I’d rather have that than one that doesn’t care at all. It’s a mental game sometimes though. I’m getting emails from my grandparents every other day now asking me about going back to school haha.

  12. Great post!

    My best case scenario: Find ways I can be creative and inspired in ways that make other people creative and inspired, too. And make a bit of money while I’m at it, though that’s less important.

    My worst case scenario: If I lose absolutely everything I have right now–my girlfriend, money, house, all of my possessions–I can always become a monk at a monastery! It’s something I’ve genuinely considered a few times as a lay Buddhist, and not that bad of a worst case!

  13. Worst:
    I’ll be stuck in the same draining routine until they put me in a nursing home.

    Then I’ll be lonely and left to contemplate all the things I should have done, until they put me in a box.

    … Good thing I finally woke up 😉

    Love your comments over at James Altucher’s blog. And glad I found this place. I’m formulating a 2nd blog and it looks like I’ll have to come back here for a little inspiration 🙂

    • Craig, way to make this place depressing. Kidding, of course. 🙂

      So you found me through James? That’s great! He’s one of the people who inspired me to start this site and I owe much of what I have right now thanks to him.

  14. Accidents happen. It was a perfectly clear morning on the Chesapeake Bay. The water was smooth, like a mirror. We had been fishing earlier that morning. The boat reeked of bait and other fishy offal. Our friends were coming down later, around noon, to go boating and water skiing. We had to clean ship.

    Somehow, after offloading our fishing gear and taking on brooms, brushes, and detergent buckets, and then traveling out away from shore a couple hundred yards, the gas line came loose from the engine. Suddenly the smell of gasoline was thick and before we knew it the bottom of the boat had about an inch of gas sloshing around.

    Just a couple of weeks before a good friend had gotten blown up in his boat. They didn’t know exactly how it happened. He just found himself floating in the water many yards away as the boat burned to the hull and sank. He received 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

    With this in mind we managed to reconnect the gas line to the engine and began moving forward with the bilge plug open to flush out the gas. Yeah, I know, not ecologically sound. But at the time it was the best that we could think of. After a 1/4 mile or so the boat was nearly empty and our speed had increased to take care of the last few pools in the bilge. During this time I went as far into the bow of the boat as I could to get away from the noxious fuel-air mixture. If there was going to be an explosion, I didn’t want to be on top of it.

    The smooth whining of the engine suddenly stopped and the boat leaned forward and slowed down, down, down. And off the bow I went, right in front of the oncoming propeller as the boat lurched on again with new vigor. The problem it seems was an air bubble or gap in the fuel stream that once passing restarted the engine anew.

    Got out of that one by the skin of my teeth. I woke up under 12 feet of water and couldn’t see. Needed a breath. My sight started to clear and my poor left arm had long stringy things hanging out of it. I saw some light in one direction and used my feet to paddle that way. It was the surface! I was alive.

    The arm took internal and external stitches to fix the muscle and connective tissue damage but fortunately no major nerves were cut by the prop. The back of my head also was cut through by the prop and transom. That probably knocked me out under water. That too was stitched up and it seems like there is no long term damage, though I might not want you to ask my friends that (joking).

    In many ways, every day from that point on are a blessing. That day might have been my last. It taught me: Hold on tight, Be really aware of your surroundings, Go for the gusto, be grateful for every second.

    • Holy crap. That’s a crazy story and so well written. I won’t lie, I even had to punch it into Google to see if this was a reference to a book or something.

      Thanks for sharing and glad you ended up alright. I’ve had a close encounter with death and it definitely made me more grateful for the little things, at least for a while. I find it hard to hold onto that gratitude long after the event passes.

  15. I guess the worst worst case scenario would be something like, I finally get some writing work and it turns out I am absolute shit at it and get harassed to oblivion. I end up jobless, more broke than now and back with my parents until like age 25. And all my friends shun me because I tried to do something “different” so I have no friends either. At which point I have no idea how I would deal, hopefully I will have become better at practicing what I preach and just take baby steps until I get some momentum going again.

    • The interesting thing about writing is that you’ll never know how good you are. Even the greats struggle with how they feel about their own writing, I think.

      You’re doing a great job, Ragnar. I’m already a fan of your writing. 🙂

  16. Wow. Worst case scenario? Alone, bored, depressed, destitute. That pretty much sums it up. *shudder*

    Instead, I’m focusing on inspired learning and connecting with amazing people, expansive happiness, and abundance. I like that better. A lot better. 🙂

  17. Great post!

    Worst case scenario has got to be working in a job you don’t enjoy and feeling too tethered down by responsiblities to get out from under. In the end, what people think is the long term view – go to university, get a degree etc. – is really short term. Making good money is ok, but it won’t be enough after a while. You’ll be looking at your nice house, wife, kids and 30 years of doing more of the same, wondering where it all went wrong.

    Truth is the real long term view is identifying those things you’re passionate about and gifted in and pursuing them. It involves as much hard work if not more than the more conventional route, but you’ll be hard pressed to find people who threw themselves into their dreams and regretted it. For me that’s what it’s all about.

    • Great stuff, Micah. It’s funny to see how our worst-case scenario would be plenty of people’s best-case. A lot of people want that big house with a white picket fence, all with that soul crushing job they hate. It’s interesting to see from different sides.

  18. The question “What is the worst case scenario?” is a destructive way to think and worry uselessly. On the contrary, I learned from the book ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ to ask the question: “What are the chances, according to the law of averages, that this event I am worrying about will ever occur?” to keep away from worry and think more positively.

    • I’ve got to disagree. Although the question you posed is good too, I believe wondering about the absolute worst-case scenario is actually an optimism exercise that the Stoics used quite frequently. It allows you to realize just how good you have it, reminds you to be grateful, and it is a good reminder that things could always be a lot worse.

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