You know that awesome moment when you discover a new possibility for your life? Maybe it’s an ad you see for your dream job, or a way out of a toxic relationship, or a course that seems made for you and that secret passion you’ve always wanted to explore. It’s a spark; delicious, warm, exciting and perfect. Your mind visualises it, you can see yourself living the reality and from here, life looks fulfilling, exciting, peaceful, filled with love – whatever you’re going for. Then something comes along and tugs at you just as your feet start to lift off the ground. You look down, and there it is.
How are you going to pay the bills and pay your tuition? If you leave this relationship you’ll be alone, you’ll be starting all over again! You’ll never get that job so why bother applying? Come back down to earth you poor befuddled soul!
This is the point at which many of us allow fear to create roadblocks. In my blog about listening to your inner voice, we explored some of these roadblocks in depth; fear of what people think, fear of failing. Right now I want to talk about how we can navigate around them (or leap over them, or limbo under them, or bulldoze them, whatever your style is), and fan that spark of possibility into a great big flame!
Turning something from a possibility into a reality isn’t the stuff of myth and legend, though that is what your doubts and fears (and let’s face it, every movie we’ve ever seen) would have you believe. No matter what is percolating away in that big beautiful heart of yours, you absolutely have the power, wisdom and courage to do something about it. The three ideas I want to share with you today are quite simple, and come from my heart and head, and all the things I’ve learned over my 32 years of life so far.
I hope they help stoke your courage in some little way.
Understanding your fear
“Fear can have a voice – but it doesn’t get a vote.”
Yaaaaaasssss. Thank you for your wisdom Elizabeth Gilbert!
In the reading I’ve done about courage and following your heart, fear is present when making courageous choices – in fact it’s essential. After all, what is courage in the absence of fear? Fear itself is a double-edged sword, it can be a limiting and harmful emotion if left unchecked, but it also serves us in many ways, we just need to know when to listen and when to say “ok thanks dude, but I got this”.
Let’s break it down, because this is something I honestly still get confused about. The way I see it:
- Stops you from walking too close to the edge of cliffs
- Keeps you focused and critical, doesn’t let you get complacent
- Is how you know something is worth having, protecting, fighting for or loving
- Tells you that you don’t deserve something, or aren’t capable
- Paralyses you
- Clouds your judgement by taking control of the conversation
So, let’s use some examples to explore both these types of fear.
When I was 23, I volunteered in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for 12 months. As I read more about PNG, I learned it was a really dangerous place to live, especially for women. People were shocked to hear I was going there, and thought I was crazy. I started to get really concerned, was I being reckless by doing this? This was helpful fear, because I was approaching the experience with limited life and travel experience. The dose of reality helped to ground me, and forced me to think hard about whether this was a risk I was willing to take (I was). It also meant that when I arrived in PNG my eyes were wide open.
The unhelpful fear was the imposter syndrome I experienced basically the whole time I was there. I couldn’t believe how amazing my job was or how I ended up with such an experienced and inspiring team. At any point I expected for them to turn around and say:
“It really seems like you don’t know what you’re doing…maybe you should go home?”.
The lesson? When fear is knocking on your door demanding an audience with you, let it in, give it a cup of tea, and as it’s telling you what it thinks you should do, try and assess if it’s trying to be helpful or unhelpful. At the end of the day, fear is just an emotion, and while it might have something interesting to say, you are ultimately in control.
Not all courageous decisions to go in a new direction start with diving into the unknown blindfolded with no floaties on. It’s tempting to look at other people’s lives and believe they have achieved success overnight, or taken a huge leap of faith and everything has worked out great. What you often don’t see is all the thinking, feeling and failing they did, and all the little things that got them where they are today – particularly those which weren’t cool enough to make it to their Instagram feed.
Change can absolutely happen in small steps (is there actually any other way to do it?), each courageous and daring in its own way. Mum quoted to me just this weekend “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”. Apart from throwing a somewhat disturbing analogy at her vegan daughter, she had a great point. Why do we feel like we have to go from zero to hero overnight? What happened to incremental, measured and meaningful change? Taking your time and approaching something step by step gives you a much better chance of having a positive experience (no matter what the outcome) because you’re much more likely to be kind to yourself and not be disheartened by what you perceive as failures. Also, it’s much easier to experiment and overcome obstacles when you’re approaching something mindfully.
Baby steps help build momentum. You know that awesome feeling when you tick a bunch of things off your to do list, and suddenly you’ve got energy to squeeze in a few more things that weren’t even part of the plan? That approach doesn’t just belong in the workplace, or on your Sunday cleaning/chores list.
Breaking things down into achievable, thoughtful and practical chunks is a great way to build confidence and get shit done.
Say it out loud
It might seem scary opening up to someone else about a dream or desire, but it’s one of the most powerful things you can do. Here’s why:
- You hear it out loud (yes you). Verbalising something that’s been bubbling away inside helps you to analyse how you really feel about it. By putting it into words for someone else, you’re forced to listen to how it sounds out in the real world which can be a really positive and grounding experience.
- Accountability. Once you tell someone about something it’s harder not to do it. Sneaky sneaky! But seriously, if you have friends or family checking in with you about that thing you were talking about – you’ll feel more inclined to follow through (Tip – to make this less overwhelming you can always just share a baby step, and not the whole pie).
- Support. Everyone needs it! Why go it alone when you can have a personal cheer squad and brains trust at your disposal? Telling your nearest and dearest about your dreams, or that you’re thinking about making a really difficult decision is a really kind thing that you can do for yourself.
Full disclosure – sharing is not one of my strong suits. The people in my life often don’t know I’ve made a big decision until I’ve already made it. I’ve always been a fiercely independent person, and for a long time I’d brainwashed myself into thinking if I couldn’t manage something alone, then I wasn’t doing it right. This hasn’t served me well and it’s something I work on every day. For example, in my twenties I was feeling very unhappy in a relationship and I kept it to myself for a really long time (like years). My friends and family had no idea. I was so frightened of telling anyone what I was going through because I was worried about what they would think of me. Finally confiding in my best friends changed everything. Suddenly I wasn’t alone, they were able to support and comfort me and tell me things would be ok. Talking to them about it helped me realise what I needed to do, and ultimately gave me the courage to do it. It was a game changer.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen”.
Brene Brown nails it. Going in a new direction, making a tough decision or taking a risk does take courage. There is no getting around it, and it’s tempting to think courage is something you either have or you don’t. I truly believe that you can find and nurture your courage in the small things you do every day; in the way you listen to your instincts and wisdom over the opinions and fears of others, and in your ability to be vulnerable with people you care about. Don’t forget, courage is contagious, and in making changes (big or small) you are not only creating a new life for yourself, but inspiring and motivating those around you. So really, you owe it to the world to go for it!