Such an interesting question, right? It can be taken as a sincere inquiry or a mild taunt. In this instance, I mean it genuinely, from the bottom of my heart.
What are you afraid of?
I mean, we all have dreams and hopes and fantasies floating around in our heads about what we would like our lives to look like. Where we live. Who we’re with. What kind of job we have. What will make us “successful.”
Yet often times, those thoughts just stay thoughts and we remain stuck in some sort of mental quicksand. The kind that keeps us rooted in place, occasionally making us feel like we’re suffocating under the weight of the unknown. Nothing changes, we feel like we’re making zero forward progress. One day blends into the next until – BAM! – another year has gone by and we’re still right where we were 365 days ago, wondering what the fuck happened.
I’m right there with you.
Yes, I have made drastic moves in the past to pursue a different existence. And, yes, it worked out in wonderful ways. Ways I never imagined. And I love to share that part of my story to inspire others to pursue their hopes and dreams, too.
But in the interest of complete honesty, there’s another part of my story. Something I have to admit. Past performance is not an indicator of future success. (Dear God. I’m channeling my old financial services days. SEND. HELP. NOW!)
Despite my seemingly badass attitude and willingness to jump without the proverbial net more times than not, I am still afflicted with the one thing that keeps people from at least attempting to realize their dreams.
There. I put it out in the universe. Literally in black and white. For anyone and everyone to read. I’ve admitted it, and there’s no taking it back.
I am scared shitless some days. Of a few things. Things that are keeping me from moving forward. What I’m fearing isn’t necessarily important. It’s enough to know I’m occasionally immobilized with angst.
What is important is how I’m going to get this damn fear monkey off my back.
So where to start? I usually find that labeling an abstract idea, then dissecting it, goes a long way towards making the shadow monster seem not so bad after all. And if it still seems really scary after it gets a neat and tidy name, at least I have an idea what I’m dealing with.
So what are people generally afraid of?
No getting around this one. Yes, sometimes you will try something and fail. But so what? I mean, unless you’ve elected to put all the money you have to your name on red and the wheel lands on green, most things are fixable. Hell, even being dead broke is fixable, although it likely involves a lot of ramen noodles.
Bad haircuts are fixable. Bad relationships are fixable. Bad job choices are fixable. Seriously, most things you’ll attempt will ultimately be fixable if things don’t work out. So why fear failure? Pride? Ego? Insecurity? Kick that shit to the curb, people. It’s all make-believe in your head.
And, on a brighter note, guess what happens if you try and don’t fail? You succeed! Yay. Confetti party coming up! You are an awesome, badass bitch! Whether it’s running a half-marathon (the whole 26.2 distance is just way too much for this social runner to wrap her head around), submitting a query to the editor of a major magazine, or handing in your notice at that soul-sucking job, if you try and succeed you’re one step closer to your dreams. And that feels damn good.
Letting Someone Down
Okay, this one is a little trickier. After all, there are some stages in your life when others are literally dependent on you for their survival. In those cases, unless you’re a complete narcissist, it is pretty important not to do something that puts them in jeopardy. So if you’re caring for a young child or nursing an aging parent, it may not be the ideal time to pursue certain dreams. Personally, I waited until the last of my offspring flew the nest before I moved myself thousands of miles and a few international borders away. You may have similar constraints. Honoring them is usually the path that will leave you with the fewest regrets down the road.
But in most other cases, letting fear that you’re disappointing others and their expectations of you control your decisions is a guaranteed roadblock between you and a life you love.
So what do I mean? Worrying about things like…
- Hearing the disappointed tone in your mother’s voice when you tell her you’re quitting your high-paying corporate job to become a dive instructor. Pro Tip #1 – parents get over such things, eventually.
- Wondering if your friends will disown you when you finally end a painfully unsatisfying relationship. Pro Tip #2 – if they do unfriend you on Facebook and erase you from memory, they weren’t authentic friends to begin with.
- Being overly concerned that people might label you as a woman in the throes of a midlife crisis when you sell everything and pack your bags to jet off permanently to a tiny island in the sun. Pro Tip #3 – they will, but you won’t care because you’re too busy living your best life.
At the end of the day, the only person who’s opinion should matter to you is YOURS. That being said, it is probably a good idea to ask yourself a few questions before you jet off into the wild blue yonder.
Can you go to sleep at night without a shit ton of guilt eating away at you, knowing the decision you’ve made is right for you and caused the least pain to those you love? YES? You’re good. NO? Maybe your plan needs some fine tuning before execution.
Can you accept that some people you know will never get on board with your choice, judge you, and disappear from your life? Honestly, the only answer is YES. If you’re in Camp NO, you’re in significant danger of living the rest of your life for someone else. Is that really what you want?
This one is the most ridiculous of the three, yet it is also often the most powerful fear that keeps us frozen in place. Particularly if you’re insecure. Like me.
Why is it ridiculous? Because honest to God, the people that matter don’t ever think you look dumb. They care for you unconditionally. They love you for who you are and are there to cheer you on when you succeed or comfort you when things do not go according to plan.
So if the people who love you aren’t judging you, who is?
Oh right, those random acquaintances or total strangers who DON’T MATTER AT ALL! Truthfully, most people are too busy wallowing in their own miasma to even notice what you’re up to. And if they do happen to notice and, gasp!, gossip about you? Fuck ’em. They are an insignificant part of your life at best. Their catty comments say more about them than they do about you, anyway.
Yes, I have a few of these haters. Their comments filter back to me now and then, too. And while perhaps some of the names they assign me sting for a millisecond, in the big picture their words matter not at all. My day-to-day existence is not altered one iota by what they say or write about me. Not always easy, but essential.
Right. So now we know what we’re afraid of. Let’s tackle how to get past it.
I don’t exactly have a magic potion or pill to offer. Sorry. I wish I did. That would be amazeballs, wouldn’t it? Better living through pharmaceuticals. Yay!
The best I can do is offer up a few of the strategies I’m applying right now.
Catalog Your Wins
Rather than focusing on the possibility that an editor is going to laugh at my pitch or ignore me altogether (pretty likely), I’m going to go back and review the writing I’ve done that was successful. Once I was the editor of a magazine in London. I’ve also had clients pay me nice sums to convert their ideas into the written word. I’ve interviewed CEOs of global companies, then turned my jumbled notes into really popular magazine articles. Looking at it objectively, I can say, “Damn girl, you rock!”
So when fear keeps me from clicking send on an email pitch I’ve worked on for hours, I need to remind myself of something. If I’ve done this all before, why be dissuaded if some anonymous editor somewhere tells me NO? They may not know my awesomeness, but I do. I shall carry on, fear of rejection be damned!
It works the same for anything you fear, by the way. You’ve kicked ass in some area of your life in the past. You were an amazing one-half of a previous relationship. You’ve killed it in a past job. You ran that damn mile in under six.
Find those wins and then write them down. Post that shit up where you can see it every day! Then, when your old buddy fear comes knocking, grab that damn list and read it out loud. Loud enough for fear to hear it through your closed front door. You know, so he knows you’re home and doesn’t think you’re just out running errands. If you don’t open the door, eventually fear will grow bored and leave, dejected and unsuccessful. Good for you!
Put Yourself Out There
One thing that fear is really great at doing is keeping you from going out on a limb. Why try something outside your comfort zone when instead you can stay home, huddled on your couch with your good buddy fear (you let him in at that point…bad, bad decision), downing a pint (or seven) of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy ice cream? That seems far safer than potentially risking something and falling short, doesn’t it? You can even wear a Snuggli if you want. That sounds cozy.
But come on. You know better. Here’s a harsh reality…ain’t nobody going to create your success but you. If you hide away from the world and do nothing, then there’s absolutely no way the universe can put into motion the behind-the-scenes things required for you to achieve your dreams. You have to get out there and try. Even if that means rejection. Even if that means feeling momentarily shitty when someone tells you NO. Even if that means you have a frustrating experience or two (and you will). If you don’t put yourself out there, you completely foreclose the possibility of good stuff coming your way.
Trust The Process
Whatever you want to call it…god, the universe, a higher power, mother earth, spirit guide…I believe there really are unseen forces at work that deliver what we need at the exact right time. I just can’t let myself believe that success in life is solely chalked up to unintended coincidences that occur willy-nilly.
I didn’t always think this, of course. It took time and a lot of reading and study to come to this conclusion. But I’m there now. Trusting that if you do your part (putting yourself out there and truly envisioning what you want), the Universe (my favorite reference) will do its part, too. Maybe not on your time schedule, which for the Type As in the world like me can be a little frustrating. But it will happen. But only if you do your part.
And besides, even if it is all just a bunch of random happenings with no interconnection or meaning, life is exponentially more hopeful if you believe in something bigger than you.
So there you have it. My most-definitely-unscientific framework for tackling fear. I can’t promise that it will work every minute of every day. Or that you won’t spend a few nights on the sofa hanging out with fear, inhaling ice cream while Netflix occasionally asks if you’re still watching.
But overall I think it is a good approach to achieving a life you love.
And that’s a damn good start.
Got questions? Comments? Want to know more about island life? Thinking about making a big life change? I’d love to hear from you.
I’m a writer living on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. Originally from the U.S., I followed my heart to the tropics in 2011 at the wizened age of 43. Since then, I’ve been blogging to inspire and entertain. I love kitesurfing, a good gin & tonic, and corgis.
Get to know me on social & if you’re interested in supporting the Adventures of Island Girl website, check out my Patreon page.