Fear changes everyone’s life. At some point, we will all experience it. The clammy hands, the dry mouth, the heart rate increase, the impulse to freeze or run. We’re wired that way. And once we experience it, we usually fall into one of two camps: the fear-must-be-telling-me-this-is-the-worst-idea-I’ve-ever-had tribe, or the I-shouldn’t-be-feeling-afraid-because-fear-is-a-sign-of-weakness brigade.
The first camp tells us we should stop and retreat, leaving all traces of the experience behind forever. The second camp chants messages of moving forward with a fierce and undying hunger to achieve.
I used to be a proud member of both of these camps. The outcome was not good. My feet were straddling the big, fat line of terror, and I had become completely immobile. Unable to listen to my heart because doing so meant no more hiding and no more pushing forward towards a life not meant for me.
I allowed the line of terror to make me believe I was stuck in a field of work that no longer fit who I'd become for three years. I know I’m not the only one who has gone through this state of indecision. The line of fear keeps us all doing things we could have long left behind. We stay in the job, the relationship, the friendship because we either don’t want to cause a disturbance, or because we’re determined to make the situation work at all costs. Even if the cost is our own health and peace of mind.
We continue to smoke, or sit on the couch, or be angry because we think it’s easier than making a change that will disrupt the pattern of our lives.
The truth is this change will disrupt our lives, but we will be better because of it.
Here are 3 steps we can take to let go even when we’re afraid of the end result.
1. Write things down.
When you’re experiencing fear, it’s easy to stay in your head - going back and forth over the pros and cons of making a final decision. But this often leads to paralysis, as it did with me. I didn’t want to leave my job, and I didn’t want to stay either. Trying to analyze that dichotomy in my mind was enough to give me literal headaches, so I began to use my love for writing as a technique for stress relief.
By writing down what you’re afraid to let go of, you’re giving yourself permission to expose your inner conflict. You’re moving the situation out of your mind and body, and onto the paper.
Write about the best-case scenario. What would happen if you let go and something amazing happened? Write about the worst-case scenario. What would happen if you let go and things didn’t work out? What about if there was a middle ground where things didn’t turn out exactly as you’d hoped, but they also didn’t turn out to be the end of the world? Once you see the situation on a spectrum, your fear of the outcome can seem less intimidating because it is surrounded by other possibilities.
2. Ask why.
Feeling fear lets us know that harm could be on its way. So when you’ve looked at the possible results of letting go, give your fear the attention it’s asking for. Why does this fear exist for you? What harm are you attempting to avoid by remaining in a toxic situation? And is that harm worse than the toxic situation that has been causing you pain? If it isn’t, it’s probably time to let go.
This was a turning point for me. I knew I wanted to leave academia, but I also knew that doing so would bring about a new set of decisions. Who would I be now that I no longer stood in front of a classroom? What would those years of study be worth? When the challenge of the new decisions became exciting and compelling to me, the decision was no longer one I had to make out of fear. It was one I made because following my heart was the next step in becoming more of myself. The next step allowed me to put my gifts to better use, and to feel alive at the same time.
3. Trust your intuition.
There’s an energy that comes from following your heart’s calling that no other activity produces. This energy definitely doesn’t come from refusing to let go of toxicity.
Know that if you’ve examined every angle, if you’ve thought about the outcome in a logical way, and something inside of you is still drawn to letting go, you might just need to listen to the call. You’re afraid that things might not turn out the way you hope, but your soul is still pointing you in a new direction. You have to give that direction a shot. Not just so you can reach the shiny new outcome, but so that you can care for the well-being of your inner knowing.
Your intuition is like a child. It will only try to get your attention for so long. When you ignore it again and again, it will feel neglected. Your intuition will slink away believing you simply don’t care that it exists. But when you give it attention, when you feed your intuition with your time and your understanding, it blossoms.
And just like a child, you can’t control what your intuition will do for you. You can’t control the end result. But you can feel fulfilled because you know you truly enjoyed being active in your own life. My decision to quit my job allowed me to explore sides of myself I’d been ignoring. I made the decision to leave because I needed to be active in my life – I needed to show up in a way that aligned with my personality. And once I took the leap, my fear shifted into action. I became the person I’d always wanted to be. I was committed to doing whatever it took to become the best version of myself, and that made all the difference.
Do the investigation. Discover your fear’s roots, and then be brave enough to chop them up. Get wrapped up in doing the thing you’ve always wanted to do. Get obsessed, and let your fear be an afterthought.