By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
You probably have dreams, hopes, and aspirations for your life. There are things you’d like to do and things you’d like to try. Maybe you imagine writing or teaching or moving into another specialty or applying for an interesting position at work. Maybe you’ve even contemplated moving up the management ladder or taking on some added responsibilities.
And yet, many of us never follow our dreams, never do many of the things we want to do, and never venture far from where we are right now. Often, our fears hold us back. We don’t want to look foolish, be embarrassed, not know what to do, or feel like a novice. We fear failure, fear success, and fear the unknown.
Even seemingly confident and successful people are afraid of making changes, trying new things, and venturing into uncharted waters with their career. But they’ve somehow managed to move forward in spite of their fears. So how can you work through your fears and toward greater happiness and success? Here are five ways:
Don’t fight the fear: Acknowledge it.
Know that every time you stretch yourself in some way or try something new, fear will automatically be part of the equation. So rather than looking at it as a bad thing, acknowledge that you are stepping out of your comfort zone. Think of it more as “growing pains.” If you didn’t feel that fear, you wouldn’t be challenging yourself. Once you master a new skill or gain some experience, the fear will start to dissipate — until your next challenge!
Focus on the journey, not the destination.
We spend so much time and energy worrying how things will come out or if we’ll be successful at something that we forget to simply relish the experience of learning something new or trying our hand at something we enjoy. There is no failure — only varied experiences. Besides, few people are good at anything when they first try it. You develop expertise and skill through experience and study. How will you ever know what you’re good at or what you enjoy doing if you don’t try different things? There is great benefit and joy in just “doing.”
Look for positive influences in your life. Seek support from like-minded individuals, from those already successfully doing the thing you want to do, and from those who seem to have a positive, can-do attitude. I once heard an acquaintance say, “Sometimes you have to believe in somebody else’s belief in you until your own belief kicks in.” Find a colleague to share the journey with or seek a mentor to guide you. If you don’t already know someone who fits that bill, look for others through professional associations, in your community, and even by sending an e-mail or making a phone call to someone you admire. Use your networking skills.
Use motivational materials.
After signing a contract to write my first book years ago, I found myself initially paralyzed by fear and unable to write. Among other things, I was afraid of failure and looking foolish. A friend sent me a copy of Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, and I began to read. The stories made me realize that my feelings were quite common and that many writers started out exactly where I was. That somehow calmed me down and enabled me to move past the fear and write the book. There are lots of great inspirational books and tapes in public libraries and bookstores. Everyone needs a little help in this regard.
Face your fears.
Often the fear of doing something is much worse than actually doing it. Keep in mind that it’s only once that you have to do something for the first time. After that, it begins to become old hat. When I was a kid taking swimming lessons, I had a great fear of jumping off the diving board into the deep end of the pool, but I had to do it if I wanted to advance in the program. One day, I decided to just hold my nose and jump in to get it over with. I managed to come to the surface and learned that it was not nearly as bad as I’d thought. After that first try, it got a lot easier. I still mentally hold my nose and jump in when I have something scary to do. I know that once I live through that first time, it’ll be a little less scary after that.
As long as you’re stretching yourself and moving forward with your life, some degree of fear will always be there, reminding you that you’re challenging yourself. Rather than making fear an obstacle, learn to work through it to accomplish your goals and make your dreams come true. One of my favorite motivational speakers, Les Brown, once said, “Fear death if you will, but never fear life.” Is it scary to try new things, to expand your horizons? You bet, but it can also be exhilarating — and that’s what life is all about.