Making big life changes: 5 steps to overcoming the fear of the unknown
“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is that they must change if they are to get better.”- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
About a year ago, Adam and I decided that we weren’t fulfilled by our 9 to 5 jobs and the lifestyle we were leading. Our motivation was low and each working day seemed harder and harder to get through.
The thought of changing jobs and working for another company in another office wasn’t appealing – by that point we’d had enough of ‘work’ in a traditional sense. It was time for us to consider making a big change in our lives.
We both wanted to travel, explore different cultures and focus on the things we enjoyed doing – writing, photography, web design and entrepreneurship. So, we thought, how about we start a project that would allow us to express ourselves creatively in these areas, such as… a travel blog? We’d quit our jobs and run the blog while we travel the world!
It sounded ideal. It got us excited and fuelled our days with positivity. We started saving money, planning our trip and telling our families and friends about our plans.
‘You guys are out of your mind!’ – people would tell us, before quietly admitting that they would love to do the same, but that they ‘don’t have what it takes’.
We bought our flights and loaded our shelves with books about South America. Somehow we found the energy to spend hours after work designing our blog and writing content that our future readers would love. We were finally doing something we felt passionate about, and that gave us an energy boost.
Finally, the day came when we handed in our notices at work and told our bosses that we were getting out of there. We made it ‘official’ – there was no turning back.
And that’s when doubt finally found me and negative thoughts started flooding my mind.
“What if it doesn’t work out?”
“What if we fail?”
“What if we run out of money, have to cut our travels short and come back penniless?”
“What if the people are right – are we really out of our minds?”
Hang on a moment, I thought. We’re about to make a significant positive change in our lives – and we have never been more excited. There’s no denying that it is a bold decision and that not everyone out there would make this choice – but it is the right change for us. It feels right. We can’t stop now, I thought. Is there a way to overcome this fear? I was determined to find a way.
Sometimes big life changes just need to be made, no matter how unsure you are of what will happen as a result. Even if you are paralysed with fear of the unknown – when you feel that the change is right for you, you have to embrace it.
Below are the 5 steps to overcoming the fear of the unknown which I found to be the most effective. Use them, make positive life changes and share them with others who are in doubt in their lives.
Accept your feelings
First thing to do once you decide to make a big life change is to accept your feelings – no matter what they are. You will probably be feeling a whole spectrum of emotions. When we decided to move to South America and pursue our dream of working for ourselves, I went from feeling overwhelmed with excitement to being kept awake at night with worry. It’s fine to be afraid – you are making significant life changes, after all. You might be quitting your job and giving up regular income to try your luck as a freelancer in another continent, or you might be leaving your partner after many years together, because it no longer feels right.
You might be changing careers and starting from zero as an intern, or moving to another city and leaving your family (and a beloved old dog) miles away. It can be scary not knowing what will happen – especially because people have the tendency to get used to stability, and leaving the familiar often feels like we’re leaving our comfort zone. Accept that fear will be part of your major life decisions, and simply let it coexist with the other emotions. Once you accept it, you can use fear as a positive force that drives you forward.
Listen to your thoughts and write down your fears
It’s time to take a closer look at the worry and fear that comes with making big life changes. This step helps identify the exact thoughts that cause fear and anxiety. Are you afraid of not succeeding and being seen as a failure by others? Or are you afraid of being alone forever? For example, some of us may be afraid to make a big change because there is a risk of disappointing others – like our parents or friends. Or it could be that we worry about not making enough money and ending up in tricky situations. It helps to write these fears down on a piece of paper, so that they become more tangible. Write a shortlist of the fears that you have about the future in relation to the big life change you are making. There’s something about having them on paper that makes them seem less daunting.
Defining your ‘worst case scenario’
One of my favourite authors, Tim Ferris, has recorded a great podcast on the topic (insert link – https://soundcloud.com/tim-ferriss/the-power-of-negative-visualization). Now look at these thoughts again. What’s the worst that could happen if, following the change you made, things didn’t go as planned? Would the consequences be irreversible? Would there be no solution at all? Or are there positive things that could possibly come out of it? Have a think about your ultimate worst case scenario, and write down a couple of possible solutions that could get you out of the situation. For example, here are my worst case scenarios…
Worst case scenario: I don’t make enough money as a freelancer in South America, and run out of savings sooner than I thought.
- Solution #1: I get a job at a local organic farm, café or a hotel. When not working, I learn Spanish from the locals and continue writing about my experiences abroad. I live out there for a year and then come home.
- Solution #2: I return to the UK and get a job in sales for half a year. After earning some cash, I go travelling again and give freelancing another try (and probably write about how much I hated working in sales).
The truth is – there is almost always a solution, and your worst case scenario can even have a positive outcome. You can do this exercise with as many worst case scenarios as you wish if you don’t just have one.
Creating your ‘ideal scenario’
Now that you have faced your ‘worst case scenario’ and have thought about what you would do in such situation, it’s time to create a clear vision of what your ideal scenario looks like. This exercise really gets your imagination going. If you make this change, how will your life circumstances change – if there was absolutely no way that things could go wrong? Allow yourself to be creative and positive. This is my ideal scenario…
Ideal scenario: Before moving to South America, I get some stories commissioned by a few of the bigger travel blogs, and they offer a good monetary reward and a chance to make some useful contacts. While out there, I continue getting stories commissioned by magazines and blogs and make about a £1,000 a month. Our blog (borrowedroads.com) is a booming success and people love our original content. We are able to sustain our lifestyle for years, and move from one country to another, exploring the world, learning new skills and enjoying life.
What’s your ideal scenario? Whatever it is, write it down on paper and hang it on your wall. You can write it as a paragraph, as bullet points, or, if you are feeling creative, you can even draw it! I’ve hung a drawing of my ideal scenario on my wall before – it’s a powerful motivator, which helps your mind focus on success.
‘Pat on the back’ moment
The truth is, we’re often much better at praising others for their achievements than ourselves. What if your best friend needed a bit of praise to encourage them to make a big positive change in their lives and boost their confidence? What would you say to them? What skills do they have that you think will allow them to succeed? What achievements do they already have that show that they are capable? Now imagine that you are your best friend. List the things that you have achieved over the years and don’t be afraid to feel proud of yourself. It can be any achievement – praise generously. This is a wonderful way to remind yourself that you are capable of making any significant change you like, because you have already achieved so much. You are in charge of your path in life.
Sometimes we just have to make big life changes – even if the outcome isn’t entirely known to us. The fear of the unknown is just part of the exciting process, but don’t let it become the barrier to your happiness.
Borrowed Roads x
If you enjoyed this post, why not read our 6 Key Life Lessons Camino de Santiago Will Teach You