“The lives we lead have everything to do with the questions we ask ourselves.” ~Lori Deschene
You lay in bed night after night, tossing and turning, eager to push forward but unable to shake off the onslaught of what-ifs.
What if I’m making a huge mistake? What if I fail utterly and miserably? What if I’m overestimating my ability to go through with this? What-if…? What-if…?
Yet, no matter how crazy your anxiety and fears seem right now, you can snap out of it and make that new start you so desperately desire.
How do I know?
Let me tell you a little story…
The Grand Decision to Quit a Great Job
Two years ago, on a day that started like any other, I got an unexpected call from my husband from the hospital. “Don’t worry. They just want to run some tests before letting me go,” he said.
He ended up having a four-hour emergency procedure followed by complications that landed him in the ICU for four days. Then a week of recuperation at home, followed by another mad dash to the emergency room.
We needed weeks to get back to the “new” normal. Slowly the truth sunk in—my husband will likely live to a ripe old age, but he has a chronic condition and we’ll always have an invisible sword hanging over our heads.
Something in me changed irrevocably after that incident.
I set out on a crazy journey that has transformed into a complete overhaul of our lives. Part of the change process was my decision to quit the job that paid well, but sapped the life out of me.
I planned every waking hour to discover an alternate way to earn a modest livelihood while living a life of purpose. I saved diligently and prepared my family and friends for what was to come.
Then, ever so slowly, it was time. I set a date to resign.
The Moment of Truth
It took me two years from the time of my husband’s hospitalization to get to this point. You’d think I’d be excited and thrilled, right?
Instead, an intense anxiety attack seized me. It took me completely by surprise. I couldn’t sleep. A slew of what-ifs threatened to wash away my resolute decision.
In desperation, I brought it up with my mentor Jon Morrow. Jon got me to ask myself a few questions that finally snapped me out of the paralyzing grip of fear and anxiety.
Question 1: Be a pessimist for five minutes. What’s the worst that can happen?
My first reaction was: Why, the world will come to an end!
But even in my crazy, anxious state, that sounded too dramatic and exaggerated. So, I tackled the what-ifs.
I could be making a big mistake. But I’d still have my resume, work experience, and the good relationship with my (soon to be ex-) colleagues. If it was indeed a mistake, I could always go back and get a regular job. A little humbling, but not quite the end of the world.
I’ll fail utterly and miserably. At making money—possibly, yes. But with other things—like trying to become a better person, a better parent, and creating a better world starting with my family first—there’s no failing. As for the money, again I could just go back to a regular job. Nowhere near the end of the world.
I’m overestimating my ability to go through with this. OK, that’s just whining. Enough, already!
So, ask yourself: What if all your what-ifs came true? What is the worst that can happen?
Question 2: What will happen if you don’t make the change?
I suddenly had this vision of a rich bride on the way to the altar to marry a poor bloke she desperately loved, get married, and live happily ever after in a tiny cottage, wearing the same two gingham dresses all her life—or bolt back to the comfort of her rich parents but be wretched for the rest of her life.
Frankly, neither option looked very enticing.
But if I had to make a choice, I think I would rather go ahead with the marriage. I could always spruce up that cottage and, heck, maybe even make a fine fashion accessory with the hay from the barn. Or something.
So, ask yourself: Why did you want to make the change in the first place? What do you stand to lose if you don’t make the change?
Question 3: What’s the real reason for your anxiety?
I had no rational reason to feel anxious; I had covered pretty much all the bases.
Or so I thought.
As I dug deeper though, I realized my anxiety was essentially an identity crisis.
I had spent the better part of the last 20 years being an engineer, and in the pursuit of making money.
And here I was, on the verge of throwing that away. And with it, my old identity.
While the rational part of me was okay with it, and even looking forward to it, a core part of me found it hard to let go.
So, ask yourself: Are there any obvious reasons for your anxiety? If not, are there any underlying reasons that you may not have recognized yet?
Question 4: What little step can you take now to get started?
I knew switching my identities overnight was unrealistic. So, I took steps to slowly ease into my new identity.
I took two days off each week and on those days, I wrote articles for blogs that I admired (just like this one) and interacted with their audiences. This let me test-drive being a blogger—my new identity—without actually having my own blog.
I immersed myself in books on self-help and parenting, the topic of my future blog.
I interacted with other bloggers through comments, emails, forums, and Facebook groups.
And with each passing week, my anxiety shrank.
So, ask yourself: What can you do right now to see the other side of change, in spite of the anxiety? Who can you reach out to that can help you quiet the negative inner voice?
Finally, at the end of March, I walked into my manager’s office and handed in my two weeks’ notice. I felt calm. I felt in control. We had a nice chat and wished each other luck.
In the end it all comes down to one thing: change isn’t easy.
Despite your best-laid plans, you will have a few very low points. Your chances of success are often a result of how well you respond to them.
This—the fear, the anxiety and the panic of starting—is just one of the low points.
If you can beat this fear, you will not just succeed at making a new start now, but you’ll significantly improve your chances of surviving through all the future lows.
So, what’s it going to be? Ready to ask yourself some tough questions?
After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
Photo by Chang'r