Excerpted and adapted from Thriving through Uncertainty: Moving Beyond Fear of the Unknown and Making Change Work for You (TarcherPerigree)
By Tama Kieves
Are you at a turning point in your life? You may have more questions than answers.
Whether you’re going through a rough patch in your marriage, experiencing a fluctuation in your health or business, or you’re pining for fulfilling self-expression, it’s easy to feel uncertain. Is this the time in your life to take a risk? Or should you use caution? Are your fears holding you back or do they represent the voice of reason? And is the voice of reason “reasonable” in this situation?
I’ve had the privilege to be a career, life, and success coach for decades, and this is what I know.: You already have a path. It’s not something you figure out. It’s a trajectory you let out. You let it out by learning how to listen to yourself.
Learning which instincts to listen to, can change your whole life. I know this not only as a coach, but from pivotal personal experience.
When I was younger, I knew I loved writing. But I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, within an Orthodox Jewish family. “You’re going to write? You’re going to starve!” said my mother. I got “serious” and graduated from Harvard Law School. I worked for a corporate law firm. Everyone thought I’d made a “practical” choice. But, really, I’d chosen out of fear.
And a decision made from fear leads to more fear. I felt depressed at work. I lived a “successful life” on the outside. But I was dying of meaninglessness. I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. I thought about taking my own life.
Finally, a friend said, “If you’ve been this successful doing something you don’t love, what could you do with what something you do love?”
I left law without a plan and I’ve now written four books on creating a life you love, led hundreds of workshops and retreats, and found my exquisite truth.
And from my experience, I’ll tell you this. No matter what fears come up, it’s never practical to ignore your deepest desires. It’s always more secure to express your full potential.
Of course, not all fear is frivolous. It’s healthy to fear Grizzly bears or the mafia. This type of fear boosts your odds of survival. It’s also wise to listen to a fear that tells you-you’re not ready for something. Yet other fears, like fear of failure, can stunt our self-expression. Any real change requires experimentation, attention, and discovery. Some of the greatest breakthroughs in medicine, art, business, and politics required stepping into unknown territory without a net.
So, how do you sort it all out? I don’t subscribe to formulas. I suggest cultivating a relationship with yourself–where you become aware of the pivotal decisions you’re making and why you’re making them.
Here are 2 considerations to use:
1. Who thinks this is practical?
Pay attention to the source of any advice you take. For example, if you ask your grandmother what’s practical, she might suggest wearing a wool sweater every day. A monk could tell you to give up meat. An entrepreneur might say plunge into debt and invest in your product. Practicality is a point of view.
When you’re in transition and feeling vulnerable, be wary of advice. Uncertainty attracts advice— like a cantaloupe on a picnic table attracts black flies. Everyone is suddenly an expert. Sometimes, you may need to fight for your right to stay uncertain, because you are giving yourself time to experiment and move in the organic ways you need to move. And please: Never take advice from unhappy people—or those who have denied their dreams.
I’d say ditch rote definitions of practicality and invent your own. For example, I’d been taught it was responsible to save money for retirement. But when I left my career, I needed to save my life, more than I needed to save for the future. I took money out of “retirement” so that I could invest in courses, time off, and a trip to see the ocean.
2. What is the tone of the advice?
Your inner wisdom is never cruel. It won’t say, “Hey Dumbo, that’s a stupid idea, and you’ll never heal from that divorce.” Harshness belongs to your inner critic. It’s “job” is to hold you back from growth. It’s easy to determine what voice you’re listening to by noticing the tone in which it speaks.
Words can be deceptive. It’s the undercurrent of how you feel when you hear them that matters. My inner critic mocked me for meditating, calling it “navel- gazing.” Now my inner critic berates me for not meditating. Yes, the words point to positive suggestions, but the delivery is poison. Any suggestion that diminishes you in any way is not helpful advice. It’s a detour.
When determining the tone of this inner voice, consider this: Do you feel encouraged or empowered? Do you feel challenged in a positive way? Do you feel protected in a positive way? Ultimately, how do you feel about yourself when you hear this voice?
Of course, it’s healthy to consider fears. Yet remember, you are more than your fears. You are your strength and your response to situations. A true practical voice within will acknowledge fears and work with them.
Remember, love is practical. Listen to the inner voice that advocates for you and your greatest potential. It’s telling you the truth.