Note from Sean: This is a guest post from blogger and photographer Matt Koenig. (If you want to guest post for the site, check out these guidelines).
I asked Matt to write for me because he is going through the exact same things I struggled with, and I know many of you are struggling with now. He is on his way to overcoming his uncertainties and has really helped me clarify my thinking for my upcoming book on the subject. I highly recommend you check out his photography blog, and wish him luck as he tries to make some big changes by the end of the year!
All photos in this article were taken by Matt.
Have you ever really wanted to do something, I mean really wanted to do something, but you missed out on the opportunity because you were too afraid to take a chance because what you wanted to do seemed too risky?
That scenario has played out in my own life again and again.
There is this notion that we have this freedom to do whatever we want. But the truth is that many of us, myself included, are paralyzed by fear. It’s this fear of the unknown, this feeling of uncertainty that keeps us from realizing our dreams and living up to our full potential.
Maybe your dream is to start your own business. Maybe you just want to travel the world. We all have dreams that can seem out of reach.
My personal dream is to move my family to the tropical paradise of Indonesia and run my own business.
My one true passion is photography and I love doing that more than anything else.
Remember the first time you had a big dream? There was that rush of energy and excitement and it seemed like there was nothing that could stop you from moving forward. But then this thing we like to call “reality” snuck in and the excitement of that dream was dulled by the uncertainty of making such a life change. We put up a fight clinging to our dreams but the battle became too much and we end up accepting the “reality” that we’ll be stuck in the same place year after year.
By traditional standards, the place where I became trapped isn’t that bad. I’ve got a good paying gig with a lot of benefits. I’ve got a great medical plan, a matching 401K and all the other perks that come with a normal job. But what the job has in perks it lacks in fulfillment. I go to work each day just to go through the motions and collect a paycheck. I watch the clock impatiently waiting for 5 o’clock. I count down the days of the week until the weekend.
Maybe your life is the same. Maybe you have this nagging dream that for whatever reason just won’t go away. And maybe like me, you have been stuck in the rut of life because the fear of uncertainty and those little voices of reality have been too overwhelming that you never get out of the dreaming and planning stage. This fear takes away our choices and can keep us from doing the things we really want to do or need to do for ourselves. But fear doesn’t have to steal away our dreams.
So now that I’ve told you that I suffer from the fear of uncertainty I want to tell you what I’m doing to overcome that fear. But first think about your own fear and anxiety. What questions does it always bring up? How does it make you feel? When I think about quitting a good paying job to move my family across the world so I can work on my own business, I start to panic. What the hell am I thinking? What will happen to us if I can’t make any money? Do I really have the skills to run my own business? What am I going to do for health insurance for my family? What about Visas? What if I come down with some strange tropical disease?
The point to this is that the questions are endless and no matter how silly they may seem and no matter what kind of reasoning I give as to why they are invalid, it doesn’t make a difference. I can never satisfy my own demand for security and absolute confidence. No reassurance will ever be enough.
We all have different levels of tolerance when it comes to risk but the fact of the matter is that life demands risk. When we get trapped in the mindset that events must go a certain way, or the result must fit certain criteria in order for us to feel secure we do ourselves a disservice. Let’s face it, the world is in a constant state of flux and continual change. It’s impossible that things will line up just the way we want them to and if you sit around waiting for that to happen life is going to simply pass you by.
Here is another thought. We all seem to think that we have plenty of time to fulfill our dreams. We go through life as if we will live forever and tend to forget that one day we too will die. If we keep putting off the things we really want to do, we may just wake up one day and realize the bulk of our life has passed us by because we kept thinking we had plenty of time. Have you ever told yourself “I’ll do that next year”? And then a year goes by, and then another, and before you know it 20 years have come and gone and you wonder where they all went. That alone should be enough to motivate us to overcome uncertainty and go for it while we still can.
How Can I Overcome This?
So what can we do to break free? There are five things I’ve started doing to try and overcome my fear of moving forward. These are things that anyone suffering from anxiety of the unknown can do to change their way of thinking.
1) Respect myself. I’m consciously trying to minimize negative thinking or negative beliefs about myself. When I’m self-critical what ends up happening is I limit what options are available to me. In other words, when I think that I cannot do something, then that something no longer becomes an option no matter how capable I may actually be. So I focus on believing that I can be successful, that I’m actually worthy of success and that mindset will open up unlimited options and choices. Respect yourself. Believe in yourself. Replace negative thoughts about yourself with thoughts of yourself successfully obtaining your dreams and goals.
2) View challenges in my life as an opportunity to learn. With this I focus on my desire to learn and grow as a person. When feelings of uncertainty and doubt start to creep in, I face those feelings directly and ask myself how can I learn from this to better myself as an individual? I realize that I’m not always going to be in control of my circumstances, and by embracing challenges I’m allowing myself the ability to learn. This has been tough because it requires that I don’t retreat from uncomfortable situations. It requires that I become proactive and not reactive. By doing this I can reduce the involuntary nature of my fear.
Every challenge is an opportunity.
3) I stop focusing on the terrible things that might happen. How many times have you visualized the worst that could happen instead of focusing on the success you might have? I accept that I’ll make mistakes and that I’ll learn from them. I try to worry less about what the outcome might be. Being anxious about the end result will tend to lessen my ability to think with a clear mind and come up with creative solutions to problems. Stop focusing on what might happen but rather set goals and apply effort to them. Mistakes will happen regardless.
4) I accept the fear of uncertainty. I realize and acknowledge that it’s impossible for me to experience zero risk. I accept that there is a possibility that the negative events that I imagine can happen. So what can I do? I can plan for the worst to lower the risk of these events happening as much as possible and then realize that there will always be some risk that I’ll have no control over. For example, one of my main concerns with moving overseas and starting my own business is that I won’t make enough money to pay the bills and will quickly burn through all my savings. Could this happen? Absolutely! I can plan to avoid that event, I can work hard to make sure it doesn’t happen, but the fact is that there are things outside of my control that may make that event a reality. I need to learn to accept that and have alternative plans in place to move forward. For me, worrying and fear are both coping mechanisms that I use to try and stay in control of my own situation. The hard truth is that there is uncertainty in everything that we do. Accept the fear of uncertainty.
5) Realize that not everything will go according to plan. This is similar to accepting the fear, but takes it a step further. When I realize that even the best laid out plans can fail, then I can remove the demand for success. I accept that it’s OK if things don’t work out, that failure is actually a part of succeeding. There will always be options. Failure in light of success is an opportunity to learn and grow. When I realize that failure is not necessarily a bad thing I actually increase the likelihood that I will be successful because I’ve removed that pressure. Freedom comes from welcoming the fear and anxiety and then doing something to diminish it.
Here’s the kicker. We cannot control this world. We cannot control every aspect of our life. There is a certain amount of risk in everything that we do. We use worry, panic, and fear as a way to make ourselves believe that we are really in control. But the reality of it all is that fear is only inhibiting when we allow it to control us to the extent that we end up settling for the things we don’t really want to be doing. We lose the power to choose. I need to continuously ask myself, do I want to take the easy road and settle? Or do I want to fight for making my own choices and a future that provides excitement and meaning to my life? How about you?
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