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Afraid to Take the Leap? Simple Ways to Face Down Your Fears

Valerie and her wonder dog,
"Cokie Roberts"

By Valerie Young

This article originally appeared in Issue 183 of the Changing Course Newsletter.

The so-called safe path is always “easier.” Just ask Ursula Clay. Ursula tried to take the secure career path her immigrant parents had chosen for her. In fact, she worked incredibly hard to achieve a level of financial success and security her parents, both high school dropouts, never had. Says Ursula:

“I worked very hard to get through law school at night, all the while working full time and struggling financially. When I finally achieved what I thought was the brass ring – i.e., good salary, fancy title, etc. – it was a thoroughly disappointing revelation that this was the end result of all the hard work. It felt very empty and meaningless, further made so by the birth of my two beautiful children. I just felt as though I could not possibly have been put on this earth to toil way for 12 hour days at a job that kept me away from my family, and which I dreaded going to every day.”

“Unless you walk out into the unknown,” says Tom Peters, “the odds of making a profound difference in your life are pretty low.” After two years of executing her escape plan which included many moments of fear and uncertainty, Ursula is embracing the unknown. “It’s like getting out of college again, and having a clean slate. I do not know where I am going to end up, or what might come my way. In fact, staying home with my kids right now may be the next calling, and after that, who knows!”

Laugh in the Face of Fear 

Anyone who has ever ventured out of their safe little world will tell you they had doubts. When it comes to making a major life change, not only is a certain amount of fear perfectly normal, it’s actually helpful. For example, it’s our healthy fears that keep us from jumping off cliffs. And the great thing about fear is that there are always ways to get around it. 

So try laughing in the face of fear. Am I kidding? No. Ridiculing your fears is actually a very effective technique for banishing them. Let me show you what I mean. 

If I told you the U.S. Senate had just voted to relocate the capital from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas, your response would probably be something like, “No way!” That’s because the mind rejects that which it considers absurd. It’s the same with fear. The trick is to turn your fears into a ridiculous event in your mind. That way, you allow your natural human reaction to absurdity to take over and dismiss them. 

Try it yourself. Take your biggest fear and take it to extremes. Really exaggerate it. Let’s say you’re paralyzed by the fear of failure. Try picturing your entire family, all of your friends, your neighbors, everyone you went to high school with, even your boss, standing outside your cardboard-box home holding up signs that read: We Told You So!

Pretty ridiculous, right? When you realize that your worst-case fantasy is just that – a fantasy – what felt overwhelming will now feel much more manageable.

Change Is Easy – When You Take It One Step at a Time

Another way to manage the fear of venturing out on your own is to start small. If the thought of just up and quitting your day job frightens you, start building your freelance career on the side. Begin with low-risk steps and gradually work your way up to the harder stuff.

You never know what is going to move you to action. It can be a book, something you saw on television, a chance conversation, a workshop… I was flattered to learn that for Ursula that chance encounter happened when in 2003 she “stumbled upon” the Changing Course website. That was enough to move Ursula to start “formulating an escape plan.” She writes, “My plan consisted of figuring what I wanted to do after I quit my job, and putting myself in a financial position that would allow me to walk away from a well-paying, but unsatisfying career.”

Receiving a consistent message that change was possible says Ursula, “had the effect of pulling me back to my escape plan whenever I started fearing the unknown again, or just got lazy.” For Ursula that message came in the form of this newsletter. For you it might be a support group, a coach, or even a buddy who can check in to see how your plan is progressing.

Even though Ursula has taken the leap, she’s now working on the second part of her goal – coming up with ideas for multiple income streams. The good news is that having faced down her fears once means Ursula can approach her new goal from a far more desirable vantage point. “Now,” she says, “I can read the newsletter on my home computer in my sweatpants while my daughter naps, instead of on my Blackberry while riding the 8:02 pm train back to the suburbs from work.” And to just to underscore how excited she is to be embarking on this new chapter in her life, Ursula signed off with, “Regards from the other side.”

Remember, courage is not a matter of losing your fear so you can take action; courage comes from taking action. And that, in turn, helps you overcome your fear. When you can act despite your fears, you will be rewarded many times over. That’s because, as Anais Nin once observed, “Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.” Once I found the courage to escape job jail my life expanded in ways I never imagined possible. Life really is better over here on the “other side.” I encourage you to take one small step today to join those of us are enjoying the view from the other side.

There are 8 comments. Add yours.

  1. Tony

    Another great article (but I’m sure I’ve read it before!). Yes, fear holds us back from many things. Sometimes you just have to have a go. In my experience things never turn out as badly as you might expect – soemthing always turns up. 🙂

    It is however not as easy as some people might imagine to create multiple income streams following your passion. You need a lot of hard work and some luck too – but it can be done. Some passions lend themselves more to wealth creation than others…

  2. Patricia Radnor

    I’m writing from Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. Five months ago I gave up my top-salaried, easy but ver boring job. I’ve been working on what I love – bats. There’s plenty of wprk – visiting schools, giving talks, and I’m trying to organise agrptourism holidays in an unspoiled village for bat enthisiasts.

    So far there’s no income at all and just today the thought came ‘you are crazy – you make a giant mistake’. And yet how could I go on selling my soul (I am not so young any more). SO it was great to get Val’s newsletter today, living with the fear but going forward.

  3. Deb

    Hi, Valerie,
    You have really changed my life. I, too, “stumbled upon” your site when I was feeling pretty desperate about my j-o-b. Our session over the phone was the first time I felt like I had hope. Then you sent me a Changing Course newsletter with an article about Jeff Walker, and I’m now moving quickly to my goal of independence! I still have fears of the day I’ll quit my job-job, but thanks to you, I’m no longer just dreaming about it — I’m doing it! Thank you.

  4. Bev T.

    Valerie: I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your website and articles. I wanted to write and tell you and your readers just how much truth there is in your words. While I did some escaping in the j-0-b world myself, it was not so much career-based as it was for personal reasons, and now I find myself in a whole new career as a result. After much thought and quite a bit of introspection, I decided to quit a job I loved, sell my home, and move out of state to be with my boyfriend. It was a move that I needed to do to fill a personal void. Yes, there was much fear, anxiety, and worry, but my gut (which I trust) told me it was the right thing to do. Upon my arrival here, I went back to the same old jobs that I knew how to do, none of them working out. I learned that I not only needed to make a change in my personal life, but also in my professional life as well. Three years later, we are very happily married, and I am in a totally new career managing our own business (which was his previously). I am learning new things every day, seeing life with new eyes, and knowing that my soul is once again alive. I was a girl who never even balanced a checkbook, and I now reconcile nine accounts monthly, not to mention a score of other new and different responsibilities. Also, it is a beautiful Friday afternoon, and we are closing early to go home and do some yardwork….because we can. In summary, yes, it can be frightening, yes, there are always choices to consider, and yes, mistakes can be made. But, when your plan is well thought out and executed, the rewards can be life-altering. Thank you for all of your encouragement!

    Yours truly,
    ….another member of “life on the other side.”

  5. This is an absolutely encouraging article. Thank you. For years I’ve tried to identify and face my fear of failure when I know all I have to do is take some small actionable steps. The idea of an escape plan is a perfect and will help me in setting goals, etc. Thank you so much for putting everything in perspective. Evan

  6. Lisa

    I love all your articles. I read them over and over. I am still in the research stage of things. I have a few ideas, however my problem is how do I get from point A to point B!! I can’t seem to get beyond the idea stage of things. But I will continue to try because I realize the rewards will be worth it!! Thank you for the encouragement! Lisa

  7. Carol

    Hi there – I’ve subscribed to your newsletter for a while, and just
    wanted to share my story with you!

    I graduated from Law School in Trinidad 20 years ago. While studying
    law I decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but would prefer to do
    ‘something with music’. Since then, through studying various courses,
    I decided that I did not want to be a music studio engineer, or a
    music producer, or a session musician or a media composer. This
    confused me further, and I began to wonder if I was wasting yet more
    time pursuing a career in music. I also felt very depressed about
    getting older with no career development (and more importantly, no
    financial security) happening.

    However, a few years ago my life partner asked me to help out with the
    vocals on a demo CD; I started singing lessons to improve my voice –
    and lo and behold, realized I could actually sing quite well! I am so
    impressed with the progress I’ve made with my own voice that I’ve
    decided to train as a singing teacher. And it turns out that all the
    musical activities (and legal studies) I had been involved in before
    were not a waste of time from a career standpoint: all the stuff I
    learnt in my previous courses can be channeled into developing a
    singing studio.

    I am still working full-time as an administrator and don’t plan to
    jump straight into full-time teaching; however, I have already taught
    a couple of work colleagues, and am in discussions with my own singing
    school about joining their teaching ranks on a part-time basis. What
    I’ve noticed is that, although I’m nervous about changing to a
    completely differently lifestyle, which involves building and
    maintaining a clientele for the first time, I feel very calm about the
    actual decision. I also feel very comfortable with the description
    ‘singing tutor’, whereas I didn’t feel at all comfortable with the
    description of ‘lawyer’, ‘producer’, ‘studio engineer’ or ‘composer’.

    What am I trying to say? Well, I think I’m saying that if you listen
    to your inner voice and remain flexible, you will eventually find the
    right balance for yourself. For a long time I tried to ignore that
    inner voice, but the thing is you can’t escape it. Also, I have
    accepted that change is a fact of life – again you can’t escape it. So
    as they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

    Regards, and keep up the great work.

    Carol, England

  8. Wendy

    Talk about timing! I’ve been starting to stress about the changes happening in my life and Valerie, your article made me see it all in a new way. I lost my job of 5 years in February and even though I was miserable for the last year, it still hurt to be shown the door based on someones lie about me. But I walked into a contract job via some volunteer work I’m doing so my fear of the future was abated.

    But the contract is just about up so the fear has started to resurface. With almost no savings and not having anything lined up I’m scared of what will happen. But by looking at the absurd side of it and remembering that I do have lots of great family and friends who are supportive of me, I know it will be okay.

    I just have to remember to not worry about tomorrow, it will come with worry or without.


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