The Difference Between Being Fearless and Being Reckless

Posted on: December 5th, 2018 in Mindset by Pat Mesiti | No Comments

In films and novels heroes are always fearless. And popular culture is constantly telling us to overcome our fears and live big lives. We are told that a life lived in fear is a life half lived. The motto of every hard-core surfie is ‘feel the fear and do it any way’. I have told you more than once to live courageous lives and follow your dreams, but where does caution and common sense come into the equation when we are trying to be courageous and follow our dreams? At what point do you stop being fearless and just become reckless? Is there even a difference between being reckless and being fearless?

I think the line between risk-taking and reckless behaviour is very fine. To avoid crossing the line it is helpful to monitor a few key behavioural traits. You also need to be aware if you may have a tendency towards reckless behaviour and control this propensity. If you think you might be becoming more reckless than fearless, here are some questions to ask yourself

Are you seeking sensations? Are you chasing a buzz?

People prone to extreme risk-taking in their professional lives often desire sensations or thrills in their everyday lives. They may seek out physical activities that are risky, like skydiving or bungee jumping. Romantically they chop and change partners and have affairs. They thrive in chaos and stress in life and at work thrive in a high-stakes decision-making arena.

If this is you, remember you are probably now at risk of making reckless and even damaging personal and professional decisions. You need to hold yourself back. Spend more quiet time alone meditating and thinking. You need to move beyond the adrenaline rush and take time to make important decisions. Workshop key decisions with people you trust and admire, and stop acting on the spur of the moment.

Do you think seriously about the consequences?

People who don't think about the consequences of their actions are more at risk of becoming reckless. Those who shrug off the potential hurt or fallout from a foolish action are definitely prone to making reckless decisions. Ideally you should consider all possible outcomes and think carefully about what will happen if the worst-case scenario eventuates. It is no good obsessing about the worst possible outcome, but you need to know that you can deal with it if it eventuates.

Are you impulsive?

There is an old saying that reckless people love, “He who hesitates is lost.” That effectively means, “Act now, act now, act now.” But people who make wise decisions know that fools rush in where angels fear to tread – meaning take your time, think long and hard, ask around for advice before finally making a sound decision.

People who lack personal discipline or will-power tend to make decisions quickly without doing their research. They make more reckless decisions than people who are disciplined. Often these people will follow a plan for a while, but then if a better-looking option turns up they will chuck the plan and go for the appealing option. Always remember that fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Are you in denial?

Reckless decision-makers are good at self-denial and hate facing reality. They try to deny the consequences of their poor decisions. They will down play the disaster, “it wasn’t that bad”, they’ll say or they will disregard it entirely. People who have trouble facing the facts are more likely to make impetuous foolish decisions.

Only go for unbridled optimism if you are in a tight corner with no other way out

The only time I endorse recklessness is when you are totally out of other options! If you are facing calamity then have a crack at winging-it and go with the last option that is unlikely to work – provided it won’t make the situation worse. During World War II, Britain looked set to be invaded by Germany but Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to accept defeat and told the British people to fight on, famously saying:

We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Churchill could have negotiated a surrender and avoided widespread bloodshed if Britain was invaded but instead he chose to keep fighting. Was he being reckless or fearless? History has answered that question. Britain prevailed. He was fearless. But if Germany had prevailed would we now be describing Churchill as reckless? That is a difficult question to answer.

Avoid the trap of recklessness

Unbridled fearlessness leads to arrogance and recklessness. When you have an unshakeable confidence, you believe you are immune to danger, you’re above the law and you can ignore the ‘rules’. You start driving your car at 150km/h because you’re not afraid of getting caught or crashing. You spend more than you’re earning because you’re confident money will eventually come your way. You walk alone in the dark with no regard for your safety. You cheat on your taxes. You run your business illegally. Where will it end? Fearlessness, recklessness, arrogance – it’s a slippery slope.

Sometimes it is a personal disaster that brings us back to earth and teaches us humility. Disappointments and grief instil important life lessons but I’d like to save you from hurt and disappointment. Please don’t become too arrogant – brave yes, fearless yes, courageous yes – reckless NO!

To avoid falling into the trap of recklessness, be self-aware. Understand yourself. Identify the problematic areas of your personality when it comes to making decisions in your professional and personal life. Understanding ‘who you are’ can save you from reckless decisions and help you become successful. Be fearless but not reckless.



Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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