When I was 27 years old, I had a successful career at a big fancy ad agency in Chicago. I had a large circle of friends, a boyfriend, a great apartment, and family nearby.
If an outsider looked at my life, they would have checked all the boxes for “success” — and yet, I felt miserable. Deep down inside, I knew that I actually hated working in a cubicle, that my relationship definitely had an expiration date, and that my circle of friends was more like a pack of drinking buddies.
I knew I had to make a change, but I felt completely stuck and frozen by fear. I was so afraid of making the wrong decision and screwing up my seemingly perfect life. And the fear became overwhelming, leading me to an “analysis paralysis”—where I got stuck dwelling on all of the “what if’s” rather than taking action. What if I never find a way to make money again? Or what if I fail and everyone judges me for it?
But here’s the game-changer that got me past my fear: realizing that if I didn’t make a decision, nothing would change. Gradually, what was a minor irritation here or there grew into a constant state of dread. And I was more afraid of things staying that way than making a change.
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So, I started saving my money and doing some research. I made the decision to quit my full-time job (in the midst of a recession!) and follow my dream of volunteering abroad. I didn’t really have a backup plan (aside from moving back in with my parents), but I did have a whole lot of faith that everything would fall into place. I used my savings to plan a trip to Peru where I spent a few months working in an orphanage and a home for teen moms. My romantic relationship inevitably ended, as I knew it would, and I met new, like-minded friends during my travels.
I gained life-changing experience, learned a new language, and felt like I was truly being of service for the first time ever. On paper, the choice to leave didn’t make much rational sense. Before I decided to go, I found myself doubting the decision and second-guessing this urge. But I knew, in my gut, that the decision to go to Peru was the best choice, and the moment I committed to going, I felt a sense of freedom and excitement that outweighed any fear or hesitation.
So, if you’re feeling fearful about making a decision, whether it’s big or small, here are some things to consider:
Your mind is going to give you all the reasons why your decision is a bad idea. Tell it thank you and then listen to that other voice inside you. The one that’s telling you to take a leap, whatever that might mean for you. Let that loving voice lead the way, not your fearful thoughts.
Release other people’s opinions
When you decide to make a life change, everyone you know will have something to say about it. Some people may have valid concerns. Pay attention to those. But understand that others might feel stuck or fearful of making a big decision in their own lives. So, when they see someone daring to do something different, it might make them feel defensive. Don’t let that affect your decision. Listen with love, really think about any concerns they share, but don’t let them make the decision for you.
So many people told me: Don’t do it. It’s not safe. It’s not responsible to quit your job and volunteer in South America. It’s a bad idea. Guess what? I did it anyway. And here’s the best part: Once you go for it, most people will end up admiring you for your courage to make a change.
Remember there’s no guarantee things will be easy
I had the most beautiful, life-changing experience of my life in Peru—and then I came home and had to rebuild my life from the ground up. Literally, I was jobless, living back home with my family again, and going broke. But guess what? I figured it out. One day at a time. I took multiple part-time jobs. I worked hard, made a plan, and within a few months, I was working in social services, writing, and back living in Chicago. It’s called a leap of faith for a reason. Sometimes you have to make the jump, even while knowing it might not be the easiest route.
Write it out
My go-to decision-making tactic is to sit down and make a list of pros and cons. I also journal about whatever choice I’m struggling with. The key to this is to really let your imagination run wild. Write down everything you’re afraid of, what the best outcome would be, what the worst outcome would be, and just let it all pour out of you. Then re-read it a few days later and figure out what sounds like fear talking—and what is actually you!
Press pause and come back
Go see a movie, hang out with friends, read a book, go for a walk. Do anything but think about the decision for at least one-three days, if you can. Stepping away from the choice often gives you the clarity you need to take action.
No matter what choice you’re faced with, you will always make the right decision for you. There are infinite possibilities for how your life can unfold—and if you keep that in mind, you’ll minimize your fear. Even if you make a decision that may have some negative consequences, you can reroute at any time. Part of being human is making mistakes and learning how to recover from them. We aren’t here to be perfect. We are here to live, and part of living is having the courage to make your own choices with confidence.