I Hate That I’ve Become So Risk-Averse

Living your life in fear isn’t really living.

woman sitting in nature Alim Yakubov/ Shutterstock

By Ryan Fan

Don’t write about controversial topics or say your opinions, Ryan. It will come back to haunt you years from now. You’re going to be a lawyer.

I wish these were just words someone else told me — it would make it easier to just shrug them off.

But they’re words I tell myself, as I’ve become significantly more risk-averse than I’ve been in the past.

Right now, I’m in my first year of law school at night.


I’m also working a very legalistic job as the person who chairs IEP meetings and ensures special education paperwork is done.

At my job, covering my behind is the name of the game.

My colleague reminds me to not trust any verbal guarantees or promises. To cover ourselves, we need a parent’s consent or authorization to share files in writing.

It’s not only legal requirements, but I find I have to hold my tongue and not say what I really think a lot more often than I used to.

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I used to take risks all the time.

I used to just write whatever I wanted to and put it online, without fear of backlash or professional repercussions as long as I didn’t reveal any confidential information.


As I’ve advanced, the stakes have changed

Now, I’ve gotten a promotion and am in law school, so I feel the need to be a lot more careful.

I used to be able to write an honest and very heartfelt 750 to 1000-word piece a day. I wrote what I thought and didn’t self-censor that much.

I don’t do that anymore, not only because I’m really tired from going to work during the day and going to school at night, but because I fear what exposing my feelings or opinions too much can do to my career or my education.

When I was just a random teacher in the midst of a teacher shortage without higher professional ambitions, I felt like I had nothing to lose. The school district needed me more than I needed it, and I was extremely devoted to my students.


Now, I have a lot to lose.

If I voice one grievance with my workplace and become labeled a troublemaker, it’s going to have huge professional repercussions.

When I graduate law school and pass the Bar, someone could stumble upon my blog and think I’ve shared too many opinions — that would also have a lot of professional repercussions.

I sometimes think, now more than ever, that it might be in my best interest to delete everything I’ve written online for the past seven years to mitigate the risk of getting in trouble with the Bar.

The biggest thing that stops me is I’ve poured so much of myself and my life into my writing — becoming a lawyer is not going to stop that.


Climbing up the career ladder and being in law school resulting in my becoming more risk-averse is a natural response.

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But it’s not just my own professional circumstances, today’s political climate contributes as well.

No one really needs an explanation of it — in today’s day and age, there is a narrowing subset of acceptable opinions, on both the right and the left.

It’s somewhat taboo to acknowledge or talk about, but that walking on eggshells feeling is out there and is very hard to shake.

People acknowledge it behind closed doors, but few really acknowledge it publicly.


As of July 2020, a Cato Institute poll found 62% of Americans were afraid to express their political opinions. I suspect the number is even higher now as the political climate has only gotten more hostile since July 2020.

One misstep or expression of the wrong opinion could very well be social suicide.

It is a lot easier to "say the wrong thing" in 2022 than it was in 2016, particularly in respectable or elite circles, like academia or graduate school (which I now occupy).

It means the stakes are not only high for me professionally, but for a lot of us personally.

It feels like I self-censor all the time, and as my professional circumstances have changed, occasionally it feels like I live my life in fear.


Living in fear all the time is not really living.

I’ve written about how I hate the whole idea of professionalism — how I found it to be inauthentic and classist. Now, I feel like I have to be super professional all the time.

I lamented this reality and how "this isn’t who I really am" to my therapist, but I think it goes beyond just having to be professional all the time.

This risk-averseness has come with having to be super professional all the time, but it also comes from changing personal circumstances. I feel like I have to really protect and advance my reputation.

A huge part of why I hate feeling this way is I grew up in a super appearance-focused Asian culture where your reputation in the community is everything. Where you sweep problems under the rug so your peers and your friends don’t judge you.


I find that culture both toxic and extremely disingenuous, but who am I to judge when I’m taking on a lot of those same values in my professional career?

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I think you can argue a big part of self-censorship and living your life in more fear is just age.

I’m 25 now, not 19 or 20. Of course, I don’t speak my mind as freely as I did when I was 20 — that’s part of growing up.

Self-censorship sure is a cruel term for it. But I find, in the back of my mind, an internal voice and filter I didn’t have before.

That filter asks me "Is it really smart to share that?" or "Is it really smart to make that joke around people you don’t know that well?"


That filter is obsessed with playing it safe, making sure I make the smart choice, making sure I stand by the core principle of self-preservation you need to survive in the world I have to survive in.

It’s taken a lot of maturation for me to realize that no, you really shouldn’t say everything you think, especially if what you think is callous, rude, or outright cruel.

But I don’t just censor the mean thoughts — I censor the honest ones as well. The feelings I would have expressed and been sincere about only three years ago.


I know everyone has that filter, and it only builds as they age.

I sometimes feel like I’m no better than slimy politicians who tell people what they want to hear. These days, I tactically think about the consequences of everything I say, everything I write, and every choice I make before I make it.

A lot of people around me commend me on how kind, polite, helpful, and caring I am — but sometimes I wonder: do they know the real me, or do they just know the image I’ve given off?

But I think living in fear and excessive self-censorship is not really living.

I don’t think being a tactician with everything you say or every choice you make is really living. Sometimes, you do just have to be a fool, live your life, and risk everything to do what’s right.


I’m not saying everyone should say whatever’s on their mind indiscriminately because we do still need some filter at the end of the day, and we do have to be wary of consequences.

I do think a lot of us have become too careful.

I just know I personally have become too risk-averse. And I’m tired of it.

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Ryan Fan is a Baltimore City special ed teacher.