Do You Make Fear Decisions or Growth Decisions?

I was afraid I was going to lose my biggest client. And my job. So I let him yell at me repeatedly.

I met a friend of mine. She said, “My grandma told me there are only two types of decisions: Decisions made out of fear and decisions made out of growth.”

For instance, do you stay in your job because you are afraid you won’t get another job? Or do you stay in your job because you are excited about the growth potential there?

Do you stay in a relationship because you are afraid you won’t meet someone else, or you are afraid it will be bad for your kids, or you are afraid of hurting someone else?

Or do you stay in a relationship because you are truly grateful the other person is in your life (and hopefully, vice versa).

I thought about it. I picked all of major decisions in my life.

  • Moving to NYC for HBO
  • Leaving HBO to start a company
  • Getting married the first time. The second time.
  • Getting divorced. Having kids.
  • Moving 80 miles out of NYC after losing home and money.
  • Trying to sell a company before it had fully bloomed.
  • Not taking business trips because I was nervous about what would happen if I left home.

And on and on. Grandma was right!


Every decision I have made has either been fear or growth.

Not just big decisions but even the smallest decisions.

And the fear-based decisions never worked out for me. When I made a fear based decision it was always because I was giving power to someone else.

I’d make a fear-based decision out of insecurity. Out of a feeling of scarcity. Out of giving too much power to others so they would control my life.

The growth-based decisions all resulted in miracles I could not have imagined.

With growth-based decisions you feel it in your body: an expansion of your chest, ideas in your mind, a feeling of competence increasing. A feeling of freedom expanding.

A growth-based decision becomes the story of your life later. A fear-based decision turns into regret.

In fear-based decisions, you feel it in your head – I better do this…OR ELSE. I listened to one of my first bosses yell at me so many times because I was afraid he would fire me if I argued.

I didn’t want to get fired because I had a company on the side and HBO (my job at the time) was the biggest client. I had no confidence in my company. So fear of losing a client prevented me from devoting all of my time to the real growth in my life


One time I was scared I was going to go broke again.

So I took a job. I tried to convince myself that it was a growth decision. Maybe I would expand at the job and create opportunities.

But the first day at the job I fell straight to the ground for no reason. Everyone laughed and said, “Are you OK?” and I got up because I was ashamed and embarrassed at all the people looking at me.

I started to limp because I hurt my leg so badly.

The second day at the job, the boss of the company told me, “Trust me on your salary. We’ll take care of you.”

And I was afraid to argue. He was the boss.

The third day at the job, I got up and walked out. I didn’t clean out my office. I left my jacket there. I took the elevator down 40 stories. I walked out into the sun.

And I never went back. They called repeatedly. Even a year later the main guy was still calling. Is still calling.

My life is better than ever. I never looked back. I left the building and walked to Grand Central. I took the train 80 miles. I watched the leaves turning from green to red along the way across the Hudson River.

I came to my house and walked the one block to the river and breathed in the air not knowing how, what, why. Not thinking about money for the first time in months.

And then I noticed. I wasn’t limping. My leg didn’t hurt.

Not everything went good for me after that decision. Some pretty awful things happened.

My heart tore open more than once. My fears about money came back again and again.

But it was a growth decision. And bit by bit, the growth decisions added up. And bit by bit, I grew to love my life more than I ever had.

Thank you, my friend’s Grandma.

Related reading: How To Be The Luckiest Guy On The Planet In 4 Easy Steps

  • Akhil Sura

    Simple but strong :) Such a timely post!

  • Gridlocked


    Thank you for writing this. I have been dealing with similar things and this really spoke to me. I appreciate your posts all the time, but this one really hit home. Only the best to you now and going forward!

  • Although I knew that everything is a choice I have managed to avoid the obvious – that I am making them ! Of course; and avoidance = fear. Thank you and to Grandma.

  • VMC

    Sometimes an opportunity contains elements of both fear and growth – those are the best!

  • Dan Elias

    Great post! Our minds have limitless potential to manifest any thoughts that we put out into the universe. When we continue to make decisions out of fear and insecurity we, inevitably, manifest just that in our lives. Still, sometimes it’s hard to know if we are making a decision based on growth or fear. How do I ensure that I stay true to myself in moments of great uncertainty?


      Dan….You just asked a question out of fear. And that is the fear of the unknown. No one knows the answer to it, because no one can predict the future. Follow what your heart tells you to do, even if others tell you differently.
      Some speak from their personal experience, therefore they know the probable outcome. Who’s to say the experience they had, wasn’t based off a fear based decision, when they had to make it. If they are trying to give you advice, then find out what made them act as they did, when they made it.

  • Bryce Chua

    Very insightful! I’ve recently been having thoughts on making better goals and resolutions for myself in the coming year. And this certainly helps crystallize the direction I want to take moving forward.

  • Well very inspiring and motivational article.These fears are the hurdles in our way of success if someone is able to defeat them then he will be successful too.

  • Juan Orellana

    What a great post!!!

  • Vida Wright

    James Altucher, you are an amazing writer. When I read your blogs, I feel the pull of a cord in my heart:)!

  • Tom

    I totally resonate on leaving the corporate world side. I had those thoughts for quite some time, but after making that decision to live a life of freedom and working on my online business was absolutely the best decision i’ve ever made. Eventhough things don’t go the way i wanted to in the first place, still i keep on believing that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

    Truly inspiring! Thanks for sharing this heartfelt article James!

    Definitely gonna share this. Keep them coming!


  • qusdis

    Thank you. This was a very inspirational article!

  • Peter Osiago

    Oh boy! How we have been conditioned in this world! Indeed wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

  • Peter Osiago

    Six days later and this sh!t goes down almost exactly….So I took a job. I tried to convince myself that it was a growth decision. Maybe I would expand at the job and create opportunities. But the first day to the job I woke up to a terrible ‘running’ stomach. It is almost as if my body knew this was not a growth decision for me, right from the onset. I had ignored the gut feeling I got when I’d gone over to interview, telling myself that looks could be deceiving.

  • Mike Post

    When you’re starving and desperate, you can only make fear decisions. Growth decisions are a luxury.

    So the question is how do we create equal opportunity so that everyone can be “enabled” the luxury to make growth decisions?

  • Coachpatrickv

    The most emotional article I have read in a while. Very inspiring. We really do create our own fear. It would not exist without us.

  • Dear James:
    (a letter)
    I wonder how and when you crawled inside my brain. I want to marry you-to-me and it has nothing to do with love, especially since I no longer believe in love. Or
    dreams. I live every day in fear. Fear of what, I am not sure. Finding myself,
    defining myself? Existential crisis, I call it.

    I’m not sure what I want, but I know for certain it’s not what I have, it’s not where I
    am. I have no desire to write a daily gratitude journal and I’ve fallen out of
    my habit of prayer. I’ve lost 85 pounds and yet I do not feel success, but live
    in fear of regaining the weight. I live in fear of engaging in life. I engage
    regularly in negative self-talk and avoid mirrors like quicksand. I catch
    myself looking sometimes, and then quickly sink, unable to acknowledge what I
    see, what I know, what I feel.

    I write almost daily, as that is how I choose to define myself, as a writer, for now, but it’s
    not enough and my writing takes me to places that make my present, and past, and
    future situation even more difficult to accept. I feel sad and scared and weak.
    And I hate it.

    My house (which I bought 15 years ago in pursuit of a certain previous unfulfilled dream) has been on the market for 15 months, and my job fulfills me not. I have no sense of purpose. My life is on hold.

    I do have family, but they are far away, living their lives and waiting for me to be happy with mine.

    There’s my gratitude, I guess: my family, who waits. I have family out there in the
    big, bad, scary world. I think they still want me. They say they do. My belief,
    even in that regard, fails to sustain me.

    I misspoke when I said I don’t know what I want. What I don’t know is who I am, or where I belong, or just quite how to get there. I’ve spent seven years digging myself
    out of poverty after following and failing at a dream. I’m on the cusp (of what…freedom?), but the cusp is dragging out and I’m not getting younger. Life seems to be drifting by me. Not to mention the fear factor of taking yet another risk. At
    what? My life? Another dream?

    So, what? Do I walk away, let the house go into foreclosure? Damage my
    newly-acquired-near-perfect credit score? In search of my happiness? Where do I
    draw a line in the sand of the wave-worn beach that is my life (lo that it were
    a beach!)? When do I draw, and then cross over (or plough through?), the line in
    the sand, between fiscal responsibility and personal (selfish) responsibility?

    My dreams aside, what would you do? Fiscally? Happily? Personally responsibly?

    P.S. I don’t expect a deeply personal response, though I would love to hear your thoughts. I’ve read several of the books on your recommended list. (I am working right now on “The Medici Effect.” I do, at the heart of it all, aspire to meaning if not greatness, though these days mediocre would be a huge step in the right direction.)

    The way I see it, this letter cost me zero dollars, but it could change my life. No
    pressure. I needed to put it out there. Somewhere. You opened the door.

    Thank you for what you do. You are making a huge contribution to society, in my humble opinion. And I value your opinion.

    Dawn Ricklefs

  • Alex Canby

    Fuck yeah. Taking notes on this one.

  • Neal Pritchett

    I remember one job that I absolutely hated – hated. I went every day because bills needed to be paid, and everyone my age was taught while growing up,that work is work, and you aren’t being paid to enjoy yourself there. So one day I was driving to work, and traffic was snarled up. There had been a traffic accident. By the time traffic was cleared and I was moving again, I knew I was going to be fifteen minutes late. On top of going to a job I hated, I could then also look forward to catching hell from my boss and coworkers, who all seemed to hate their jobs as well. As I approached the exit ramp for work, I kept driving. No conscious decision had been made about quitting or anything else. It was just not possible for me to exit on that ramp and go to work. Whatever had made it possible had reached its limit. A few ramps down, there was a shopping mall with a movie theater. So I got myself something to eat, saw a movie, and then went home. There were multiple messages on my answering machine (this was before affordable cell phones), where my boss alternated between threats, insults, and finally (after he understood I had no intention of coming back) offers of conditional forgiveness. I had a rough couple of weeks, but eventually ended up at something better. What still sticks in my my is the wonderfulness of that sense of freedom and of having control over my life. I could have left that job at any time. Why did I wait so long?

  • I’ve made a fear based decision to stay with my wife because I’m worried it will be bad for my kid and because my job and her hometown are far away so I also fear were I to divorce she would move back home and I wouldn’t get to see my son much.

    So two fears in one and I’m in a dead relationship that I would otherwise want to get out of fast.

    Even after reading this fantastic article I’m still not sure what to do. :-/

    • Anne Sidebottom

      Hi Seminal Thought, I see you wrote this comment 6 months ago so I hope I’m not too late with this reply. Do you think it could be possible that your wife is only staying with you out of fear of being alone and having to provide and look aft your son without the additional help from you? I would say if one person wants out then things are pretty miserable and it’s likely the other one feels it as well.
      What if…. your best years together could be ahead of you? Would that set an incredible example of a relationship for your son to model himself one day?
      Or if it’s truly over then think again of the example you set by staying when he can surely see or at least feel what’s going on. Good luck, I hope you find (or have already found) a growth decision that will move you to a better place. Anne

  • Franziska Walser

    Well, Mike Post, thats a really good question. Creating equality is probably the first step to make people free of fear decisions (well most of the fear decisions).

  • -Howard Davis

    We just witnessed a fear based decision en masse: Trumps campaign was based solely on fear of the rapidly changing white demographic; He pursued that fear with an “us vs. them” rhetoric, denigrating minorities, women, liberals, etc. That fear became anger and is causing a nationwide power grab by republicans within their state houses.

    • Jon Hare

      You could also argue that it is a fear decision to just sit back and allow globalisation to consume us all without kicking up a fuss.

      • Rick Bagnall

        How so? What is the inherent evil in globalization that must be fought if humanity is to grow? If anything, I would say *fighting* globalization is a fear decision made by those in “first world” countries because they’re afraid of losing their jobs or their status as big shots of the world.

        • Jon Hare

          Pretty much you are right yes. There will always be winners and losers in this world. Right now globalisation is being used by the very rich at the expense of the western not so rich for their own gain. The non western people that are benefiting just happen to be cheap labour and good play things for the very rich, for now… there is nothing altruistic in this…. unless you like losing as some kind of faux penance for the imagined sins of being white.

          • Rick Bagnall

            Or you could break free of the false dichotomy of “winners and losers” and realize that somebody else doing better doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re worse off. For example, that cheap labor you cite is a large part of the reason your smartphone doesn’t cost a few thousand dollars instead of a few hundred. And yet for the people assembling it, their wages are relatively generous. Their lives are improved by steady income, your life is improved by cheap consumer goods, the company shareholders’ lives are improved by the profit margins shown.

            Did some Americans lose their jobs in the process? Yeah, probably, but then with the increasing emphasis on robotics, it would have likely happened anyway. I’ve already started seeing stories about robot pizza ovens installed in delivery cars and robot burger assembly lines. Or are you going to blame *that* on globalization as well?

  • lostwildebeest

    Growth-based decisions always involve the conquering of fear!

  • Tim Starchuk

    This was a great reminder about how much fear plays in to our decision making and potentially holds us back. Thank you for continuing to write and changing people’s lives for the better!

  • Edward Magur

    James, love your stuff. Your customer service needs some serious help though. I became a member of Altucher Alliance for life and I cannot access any of the sites. I have spoken with customer solutions 3 times and it is not resolved. I emailed your customer service and got no response. Next I am going to have to dispute the charge and ask for a refund… I post this here as a last ditch effort to get somebody’s attention to fix the problem.

  • Nick Skislak

    It’s been my experience that most people fear loss more than they strive for gain. How can we change that? Should we change that? Aren’t most people happy standing in line and following the rules? Creating a new line, or a new rule book is extremely difficult. I suppose it breaks down to what you are willing to sacrifice to get what you want, but even more important than that is understanding what it is you actually want. Most people just don’t know.

  • Rita H. Losee

    Thank you, your friend’s Grandma! Sure wish my grandma had been so smart!

  • William Masson

    It’s perfect timing for me to read this article. I’ve made some growth decisions over the past 6 months but have two important decisions to make over the next two days (about prospective clients) and I can sense that I was starting to fall into fear-based thinking. You’ve woken me up and got me back on track to growth decisions.

  • Tim W

    There’s healthy fear: getting away from a rabid dog, shark, madman, etc., and unhealthy fear; staying in any toxic relationship. When I believe in something I can’t see, smell or touch so strongly that it feels like prophecy, funny how fear doesn’t show up.

  • Dipo Satria


  • Rachel Fabian Cerita

    It is September 17,2018 and I am currently newly employed in a starting hospital. I’m a HR officer and came from a Medical Care and also an HR officer. I can say to myself that I really don’t want my job. I am just staying for salary. I wanna leave corporate world but we all know that money’s in the corporate world. I currently doing a freelance as a music photographer and there, every beat of the drums and slamming of people to the extent that I had bruises, it makes my heart beat and say that this is what I love. But ofcourse, there’s no always money in photography. So I am thinking when can I leave this messy and unhappy world of corporate to be who I really wanted. SEND HELP FOR MY LIFE. :(