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Dare to think of what you'd do

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Most of us let our fears get in the way of doing what we love.

Seventeen years ago, I was so afraid to let go of my law practice and pursue something I loved, that I honestly believed I simply didn’t know what I loved. This is the reality with which many of my clients first 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 who has become very unhappy with his profession.

“I honestly don’t know,” Frank responded.

“Is it possible that you have ideas about what you want to do, and that you’re just afraid to take a good look at those ideas?” I queried.

Frank responded all too quickly that he simply didn’t know.

“It’s not about being afraid of anything,” he insisted.

But the likelihood is that, long ago, Frank banished his ideas about what would make a great career and a great life — as he saw these things — to the place of the “unspeakables.” He hid them away and “forgot” them, so he wouldn’t speak of them, think about them, or even see them anymore.

But what is so dreadful about just having a dream career or a dream life — not even necessarily acting on those dreams — just having them?

After years of studying my own fears and those of the many clients who have consulted me for help with theirs, I’ve learned that the simple act of acknowledging a dream gives rise to tremendous fear: A fear that acknowledging it in any way might lure you away from your “Safe Neighborhood”.

The “Safe Neighborhood” is the life you’ve created for yourself, including the people you associate with, the places you go, and the security of your daily routines. These could all be altered in some way if we were to pursue our dreams — so it’s best not to have them, we think. I discuss the concept of the Safe Neighborhood (and why I don’t see it as a “comfort zone”) in my book, The High Diving Board.

Leaving our “Safe Neighborhoods” might put us in unfamiliar territory. We might fail, and become the laughing stock of those very people we are depending upon to hold us close where we are. So, yes — simply thinking about our “unspeakables” induces incredible fear.

The dilemma, though, is that if we’re unhappy (or uncomfortable) with our current situations, we ought to be looking in our secret corners or outside the walls of our “Safe Neighborhoods.” Instead, people usually stay stuck in the middle, frustrated and unfulfilled: 

    • They stay where they are in their jobs, rather than even think of changing careers or starting to work on their own.

    • They reach a plateau in the growth of their businesses and can’t bring themselves to think about what’s needed to take these further.

    • They lose their jobs — jobs they hated, anyway — and apply again for the same jobs at new companies, because they can’t bear to think of careers that would make them happier.

If this sounds like you, start today by simply taking some kind of action to do something you love. Sign up for that course in Italian, or that course in photography, or that ballroom dancing class, and watch what happens as you expand the borders of your “Safe Neighborhood.”

Let those “unspeakables” out of the dark, and keep reaching…

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