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On Conquering Fear

By - April 21, 2015


On Conquering FearI just watched a video that revealed the one thing standing between people and their dream is fear. It resonated with me, because lately, fear is a big topic of discussion in our house.

Fear can be paralyzing; fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of being misunderstood, fear of not measuring up to some ideal.

I lost my job last September. For some, this would be a devastating event. Too many people, including us, live pay-cheque to pay-cheque. Despite a good income, we over-spent for years, living on more than we earned. It comes down to my lack of patience and my desire to have things now rather than wait.

However, in early 2012, when I started my MBA, the long days of working, studying, and attending classes sparked a hard discussion, between Alison and I, about our future. We had been living in Belgium for 7 years, by that point, and had no idea where we were going or how to get there. Alison was working hard at building CheeseWeb, but was starting to feel the strain of an uncertain future. I lived one financial quarter at a time, struggling to stay on top of my various commitments. We both lived under the threat, at any point, my company could pull the plug on our stay in Europe.

We — I — had never really considered the future or what I dreamed of doing. Up to then, my only goal was to get through the workweek and maybe figure out how to move up the corporate hierarchy. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

During our discussions in early 2012, we spoke frequently about our fears. Alison, I think, feared being in the same place, doing the same thing year after year, with no end in sight. I feared the impact of change. If I changed jobs, would I make the same salary? Could I find a job? Where would I find a job? What would it be like? What about my friends and colleagues who I had worked with for over a decade? What would happen if I had no job? And so on.

The fear was crippling. Our anxiety about the future resulted in epic battles, which frequently ended in tears. We were miserable and we were sinking. I doubt even our families know how hard we struggled.

This is roughly when I read “Dream. Save. Do.” by Warren and Betsy Talbot. As you may know, “Dream. Save. Do.” helped us frame our shared goal (travel) and resulted in our motorhome plans. The book uses personal stories, worksheets, and other exercises to help you identify your dream, plan how you will attain your dream, and then achieve that dream. Following the book’s advice helped me find and focus on our goal.

What would we do about money?

What would we do about money?


But I hit another spiral of fear and anxiety: money. Anxiety about money is my biggest stress. In our Motorhome Diaries, we’ve shared how we budgeted for our year of travel in a motorhome, but it took a long time (and more tear-filled battles) to get to it. I was terrified of the mountain of debt we had accumulated (which I added to with my MBA). There was NO WAY we could pay off the debt AND save to buy a motorhome AND save enough to live on. Further, if our dream was to travel full time, why had I just wasted all that money on an MBA? I could feel my heart tighten in my chest as the stress hit me.

This issue was so big and scary it took a lot of convincing to get me to put some numbers together. Eventually, we sat down and estimated the debt and budget. Yes, the numbers were big and scary. But a funny thing happened. Working out the numbers actually made it less stressful. Knowing the size of the mountain was somehow liberating.

With a clear view of what we needed to accomplish, we made a plan and set reasonable milestones; first to pay off the debt and then save the necessary money to travel. Yes, it would take 3 years to achieve our goal, but it was attainable. We set May 1st, 2016 as our date of departure.

Coming back to today, we have just bought a motorhome, which has added even more stress. It’s more expensive than we budgeted (are we paying too much?). We have no idea how to (or if we can) register it. We don’t know if we’ve asked the right questions (or the wrong ones). We have to figure out all the insurance details, and a thousand more questions. All of this has resulted in some ‘robust dialogue’ (a take-away from my corporate life), but we have learned how to better work together and we are dealing with our concerns, one step at a time.

I share these stories because I want people to see fear is crippling but it can be overcome. I also don’t want anyone out there to think we’re perfect and don’t have moments of doubt. Everyone is afraid but it’s how you overcome the fear that counts.

…you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

– Jim Carrey, Commencement Speech, Maharishi University School of Management

When I lost my job in September, I didn’t panic. For a brief moment, I felt I had been kicked in the gut, but we regrouped and focused on the plan. If we’d not had those tough conversations in 2012 and formed a plan, my reaction to being out of work would have been different. In our case, it simply required adapting our plan and timetable to suit our new circumstances: we moved our departure date up a year, to May 2015.

Time to regroup and alter the plan

Time to regroup and alter the plan

If you are feeling blocked by big decisions or making a big change, I do highly recommend reading “Dream. Save. Do.” and taking action. But if you need advice today, here are some tips on working through your fear and anxiety:

  1. Visualize your goal. Why do you want to reach that goal? What does it feel like to achieve that goal? Where will you be at the end of the process?
  1. Create dream porn – something to remind you of the goal when you are stuck. Alison created a collage to remind us both (but mostly me) of our goal.
  1. Identify the obstacles to reach your goal. What makes you think it is impossible? List them all. My biggest obstacle was the money and the seeming impossibility of paying off our debt.
  1. Describe each obstacle. Why is it an obstacle? What would need to change or what would you need to do to remove this obstacle? How much time would it take to make that change?
  1. Plan reasonable milestones. Grab a calendar and set out estimated milestones for completing a step or overcoming an obstacle. For us, we set out milestones for paying off our debt (18 months) and saving enough money (a further 18 months).
  1. Celebrate every achievement. For each step achieved, be sure to stop and acknowledge it. Enjoy a nice bottle of wine or take a spa day. Do something to help you enjoy the process.

Today, a plan for the future that assumes everything will stay the same and you will continue to work for your current employer forever is unrealistic. Don’t live your life on cruise control. Take an active stance on your future and make plans. Definitely continue to save for the future, but take time to think about what kind of future you want. What do you want to achieve or learn? Where do you want to go? Plans can (and should) change as your life changes, but having an idea where you’re going and setting milestones to get there can make even the largest dreams achievable.

We don't know what lies ahead but we'd rather face it than let fear hold us back.

We don’t know what lies ahead but we’d rather face it than let fear hold us back.

If you are feeling challenged by fear or other adversity, I find inspiration in the following quote from Teddy Roosevelt. If you are striving towards something, your face “marred by dust and sweat and blood,” then you are at least “daring greatly.”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Teddy Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”

How has fear affected your life and how did you overcome it? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

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