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How to Overcome Fear When Changing Your Life

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

The decision to change your life is never an easy one. Everyone feels scared with all the uncertainty. If you are contemplating a big life change - leaving a relationship, changing lifestyle or quitting a job – work through your fears and get still. The decision will come when it's time.

A happy girl by the sea in Portugal
Everyone feels scared when making a decision to change life: get still and wait, the decision will come

"When you are about to make an important decision, there is always a moment of hesitation right before you sign on the dotted line.

Don’t pull back. You have come all this way after having given it serious thought. Don’t look back. Continue on your path courageously, like a one-horned rhinoceros." - Haemin Sunim

Big decisions take years to arrive at, but moments to realise. I always thought what they describe in books – you know, the sudden realisation, when something downs on you – is a myth. Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. It was there under a surface for a while, for over a year. A tiny nagging feeling that something was off in my life kept growing.

In ambiguous situations like this, when there is no clear answer, like to stay in a relationship or leave, it can be tricky to figure out what to do. But not impossible. I knew I wasn’t happy in London anymore and knew I wasn’t happy at a Big Company anymore. But didn’t know what the options were.

I’ve subconsciously started gathering information – reading books on vagabonding, researching destinations, meeting up with the contrarian people to get inspired.

I was hoping I will arrive to an answer on what to do or where to go, but it wasn’t happening. What happened instead is I got a work secondment to Dublin. It was one of those ‘meant to be’ things that just happened so easily. With pretty much no effort on my end – someone recommended me, I got an interview and was offered a role.

A month later I was in Dublin. I thought it would be a great experiment, that will at least help me realise whether it’s London or something else that is a problem. After a week or two of settling in, the novel-style episode has happened to me.

It was a sleepless night, and nothing helped – warm milk, counting sheep, listening to Marconi Union, you name it. After few hours of fighting insomnia, it downed on me.

It was crystal clear in my head – I should leave my job and move out of London. It was striking how clear the message was.

I fell asleep right away, thinking I will forget about it in the morning. I woke with an overwhelming sense of clarity and resolution. I knew exactly what I should be doing.

Coming to the realisation that a whole new chapter is needed was damn scary. Sometimes simply turning a page is scary, let alone a whole new chapter. Consulting jobs trains you well dealing with uncertainty, you end up working with a new team, new clients in a new industry every 6-8 weeks. You would go insane if don’t adjust to being ok with uncertainty. This decision was a whole new level. I felt all-embracing fear on a physical level.

This is exactly where the ‘Orthodoxies’ technique came in handy.

In consulting, we use this technique to help senior leadership teams let go of what is holding them back to be bold and courageous in setting an ambitious vision or North Star for their organisation.

What are the orthodoxies? An example could be things like ‘suitcases must be carried’ or ‘cars need drivers’ or anything else that is a ‘deeply held, widely shared belief’.

The idea is to voice such beliefs and see if those can be flipped on its head to help organisations move forward without fear. ‘Orthodoxies’ appeared to be a great technique in the context of big life decisions.

I’ve listed all my fears (or orthodoxies) first.

There were things like ‘I will not be able to have the same quality of life’, ‘I will not have access to the things I like in London’ or ‘People challenging my decision’.

I ended up with a list of 12 (a lot less than it felt like when it was sitting scarily in my head!). I then turned each one on its head. Like this:

I will not be able to have the same quality of life’ I can work alongside my travels (and it will keep me entertained and will help with social life), life is cheaper where I want to go, I can enjoy other things that I don’t currently have (like sleeping in or spending lots of time in nature).

‘I will not have access to the things I like in London (like cool fitness studios)’ – I will have access to other things that I don’t have access to in London – like great cheap food and wine in Spain and Portugal, or I can go for morning runs alongside the sea. In addition, I will appreciate things more when I have them again.

People challenging my decision’ People secretly think you are brave and maybe even jealous. Fuck people. No one spends more than 5 minutes thinking about you.

Once I’ve gone through the whole list, turning each of my fears on its head, suddenly I felt inspired, empowered and not at all scared.

There is a great book that will only take you a couple of hours to read – it’s called Feel the fear and do it anyway. It offers a host of techniques to overcome any type of fear – like ending a relationship, changing jobs, public speaking or even getting old.

"Feel the fear and do it anyway" book cover
'Feel the fear and do it anyway' is a great book for those making an important decision to change their life

One of the methods it offers is to imagine the worst possible outcome of the situation you are fearing most. To seal the confidence, I’ve developed flipping my fears on their head, I did just that.

The worst outcome I could imagine was – I waste a year and spend good chunk of my savings and will arrive to a conclusion that London is the best option and working for a Big Company is the best job.

Ha, this is a pretty awesome worst possible outcome. If I end up learning that what I already have is exactly what I need, it means I will avoid ending up asking myself my whole life ‘what if?’. And it’s a pretty awesome outcome.

In addition, I will do all the things I always wanted to do and will not end up being one of those people regretting shit at their death bed.

If you have a nagging feeling deep down you heart, be it over your job, relationship, lifestyle or something else – get still and sit with it. Gather information, talk to people, let it sink. Don’t try to figure it out if it doesn’t come, it will when it’s time.

All you need to do is listen when it does.

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