Seventeen years ago, I was so afraid to let go of my law practice and pursue something I loved, that I’d convinced myself that I didn’t even know what I loved anymore.

This is the condition in which many of my clients come to me.

“What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?” I asked Frank, an engineer who was recently laid off for the fifth time and very unhappy in his profession. He said he didn’t know. “Is it possible that you have some idea but you’re simply afraid to take a good look at it?”

“It’s not about being afraid of anything,” Frank responded quickly. But the likelihood is that long ago Frank banished his ideas about what would constitute a great career and a great life. He hid them away and “forgot” about them.

What is so dreadful about having a dream career or a dream life—not necessarily acting on those dreams but just having them? After years of studying my own fears and those of my clients, I’ve learned that the simple act of acknowledging a dream gives rise to tremendous fear—the fear that you might be lured away from your “safe neighborhood.”

Your safe neighborhood is the life you’ve created for yourself and it includes the people you know, the places you go and the security and familiarity of your daily routine.

If we were to pursue our dreams, we believe, these things might be altered in some way. So it’s best not to even consider it.

Leaving our safe neighborhoods would put us in unfamiliar territory. We might fail and become the laughing stock of those very people we depend on to hold us close. As a consequence, the mere act of thinking about our dreams induces incredible fear.

The dilemma, though, is that if we’re unhappy or uncomfortable in our current situations, we ought to be looking outside the walls of our safe neighborhoods. Instead, most of us choose to remain stuck, frustrated and unfulfilled:

We stay in our jobs, rather than even thinking of changing careers or going to work for ourselves.

We reach a plateau in the growth of our businesses and can’t bring ourselves to think about what’s needed to take them further.

We lose our jobs—jobs we hate anyway—and apply again for the same jobs at new companies, because we can’t bear to think of having careers that could make us happier.

If you’re struggling to embrace your dreams, take some kind of step today toward doing something you love. Sign up for that course in ballroom dancing or buy that fancy new camera. Learn to speak Italian or book that trip you’ve always wanted to take. Don’t let fear keep you trapped and unhappy in your safe neighborhood.

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Sandy SchusselSandy Schussel has been a coach and practice development consultant for insurance and financial professionals for the past 20 years. He is an approved MDRT coach and has served as the national sales training director for First Investors and Foresters. He is the author of two books, The High Diving Board, about overcoming fear and Become A Client Magnet, about attracting and keeping clients.