Once again I find myself in a state of transition—not as in caterpillar to butterfly but more like Phoenix from the ashes. I’m sure you can all relate.
After all, life is, if nothing else, a series of transitions linked by brief periods of inertia.
Change, as we all know, is inevitable. It can be quite exciting but also extremely unnerving. Some changes we have no control over like losing a loved one or getting laid off from a job; but some we do, such as saying yes to a marriage proposal or moving across the country to accept a job. In all cases, there are two things that accompany change and transition—fear and choice.
And the choices we make in the face of fear are the ones that have the most profound effect on our lives.
Let’s talk about fear. Fear is something we all experience in the face of change. Even the most confident, successful, put-together people experience fear during important personal and business transitions. Just look at some of the most successful women in the world today.
When Oprah Winfrey entered into a deal with Discovery to create OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network), it was not without fear and trepidation. Oprah shared her fears in an interview with Fortune magazine in 2010. “OWN actually [had] been percolating in Oprah’s mind for almost two decades, but fear and a sense of her own limitations kept her from acting on it.”
Michelle Obama admits freely to being scared a lot of the time. Her advice to her younger self? “Stop being so afraid.” In an interview with People magazine, the former first lady said, “That’s really what strikes me when I look back—the sheer amount of time I spent tangled up in fears and doubts that were entirely of my own creation.”
Nora Ephron, an American journalist, writer, and filmmaker best known for her romantic comedies such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle states in an interview with MAKERS, “I put one of my biggest worries into When Harry Met Sally, which was that I would move to New York and nothing would become of me, and I would die in my apartment and no one would notice until the smell drifted out into the hallway.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling book, Eat Pray Love, writes on her website, “My fear wants me to stop, because my fear wants me to be safe, and my fear perceives all motion, all inspiration, all work, all activity, all passion whatsoever as potentially life-threatening. My fear wants me to live a smaller life. The smallest imaginable life, ideally. My fear would prefer that I never got out of bed.”
And fear is not just limited to women. The most powerful, successful, and influential men also experience fear and use it to propel themselves forward. In a conversation with Sam Altman of Y Combinator, Elon Musk quite candidly admitted, “I feel fear quite strongly.” He also went on to say, “There are times when something is important enough, you believe in it enough, that you do it in spite of fear.”
Sir Richard Branson writes on his blog, “We all feel fear at various times in our lives, especially when starting out at something new. Fear is a healthy human emotion, so long as you don’t let it get in the way of opportunity. You should never let fear hold you back from achieving your full potential. Harness it and channel it into passion.”
And the great basketball player, Michael Jordan, is quoted as saying, “Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion. Failure always made me try harder next time.”
There is not a single person who has achieved any level of success without encountering fear.
Their success or failure had nothing to do with the fear itself, but with how they chose to deal with the fear. Fear, scientifically, is the body and mind’s response to stressful stimuli. We have all heard of the fight-or-flight mechanism. It is the brain’s job to keep us safe. So when faced with unknown entities, circumstances, or ideas, fear is automatically generated. Luckily, we have the ability to ponder our fears and determine the level of danger. So, we can choose to be stunted by our fears or thrive in spite of them.
Ah, choice. How can one little word carry so much weight. Choice is heralded as the great equalizer. But with choice comes great responsibility. It can be freeing, or it can be damning. Ironically, when faced with an important choice, fear creeps in; and the only way to conquer the fear, is to make the choice.
And so you either become paralyzed with fear or you move forward in spite of it. Either way, you’ve made a choice.
If you read articles, biographies, autobiographies, or memoirs about successful people, they all talk about fear and the choices they made. Great success brings with it an element of risk. Risk and fear go hand in hand. It is the courage to walk through the fear that brings the greatest rewards—not the least of which is the overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It is perfectly legitimate to feel fear, but in order to grow and transition into the next version of yourself, you have to make the choice to do so. Say to fear, “I see you, but I got this.” Make the choice to lean into your future.
So, as I said in the beginning, I am currently in transition. And it’s a big one. For the first time since I was 14 years old, and by choice, I do not have a job. In 2018, the organization where I had worked for 17+ years—working my way up from a technical writer to eventually the Director of Communications—changed leadership, brought in a strategic planning consultant, and in the end dismantled my department. Although they assured me that I was an asset to the organization and there would be a place for me, time passed without any indication of what my new role would be. The chaos and lack of clear direction began to take a toll on me. After much deliberation; many conversations with my husband, family, and friends; and hours of quiet contemplation and meditation, it became clear to me that I could not stay there. I gave my notice and December 31, 2018 was my last day.
During my time of deliberation and contemplation, I realized that not only was I unhappy at my organization, I was also no longer fulfilled doing the type of work I was doing. I realized that the Universe had engineered this change in response to my desire to do something different—something that inspires me and makes me wake up each day with a sense of excitement and purpose. I have been given the gift of opportunity and with my husband’s support and encouragement, and the Universe kicking me in the ass, I am choosing to step into the next version of me.
And so you see, this is much bigger than caterpillar to butterfly. This is burning down the career I built and from the ashes creating something that aligns with the person I have become.
This is something I have to do for myself. Take a breather. Do some soul searching. Learn what’s most important to me and what gets me excited. And each day, I make a choice. Some days I am paralyzed with fear. Some days I am motivated by it. And other days I let it all go and sit on the patio and read and take my dog for long walks or watch Gray’s Anatomy for four hours on Netflix. This transition is a hard one. But I have no doubt I am being called to something great. And when fear rears its head, I do my damnedest to choose courage. To lean into my future, look fear in the eye, and say “I see you, but I got this.”
Have you made a significant life transition? Or, are you feeling called to do so but fear is standing in your way? I’d love to hear your story.