Overcoming your Fear to Live your WorkLife with Courage

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

Living your best WorkLife is about choice. It is about having courage to make changes. It is about taking a step back and asking why is this not working for you, and exploring why you are unhappy in your WorkLife. It involves taking a hard look at yourself and recognising the sources of pleasure in your life and the sources of frustration.

A Case Study

Richards Story: Improvisation Career Change and Hiking In The Alps

Stepping beyond your Place of Fear to Embrace what Lies Ahead

During an improvisation workshop one of the exercises was for the group to work in pairs, and to tell a story by each saying one word at a time. We were using the first principle of improvisation: *yes, and …”  We did this by moving around the room, and began to step into the story, playing out the actions and emotions as the story unfolded. The instruction was to go with it even if it took us to a scary place, and to then go beyond that and experience where it took us from there. Every single pairing ended up dying, and then coming back to life in a different capacity; and that was where our stories became even more interesting, and great fun, as we began to explore unknown quantities in respect of the pathways ahead of us as they unfolded in the moment.

I have conversations all the time with people who have reached a scary place in their WorkLife, and they are struggling to go beyond that. This reminds me of a Mark Twain quote: “courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear”. Metaphorically speaking, the courage needed to go beyond that barrier of fear to the other side of their WorkLife can be compared to the fear felt before dying, and crossing over to the other side or spiritual world.

Richard’s Story 

Richard’s story is one of many in terms of people who have come to this place in their WorkLife. Richard is a language teacher. His first language is English, and he is also fluent in French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. His whole career had been within private schools teaching young adults; and while he enjoyed his work, he felt he needed a change, he was looking for adventure and excitement in his life. Unlike some people who reach this stage but do not know what to do next that will give them what it is they are seeking, Richard did know, but nonetheless it was still a scary prospect because to take this step beyond would take him away from the security and stability he had in his current role and into the unknown.

Richard wanted to move into the travel industry with a specific focus on educational travel languages and cultural programmes within Europe. This would allow him to use his language skills, and to nurture his knowledge and love of medieval and twentieth-century European history. He was experienced in designing school trips and had established strong collaborative working relationships with partners in a number of countries. He had also spent many holidays skiing and hiking in the Alps, and so all in all he was in a pretty good place in knowing the possibilities that could be out there.

But it kept coming back to giving up a full-time job and everything that went with that. It would also mean leaving his home in the UK for part of the year at least, as well as the social life he had established for himself. He had a pretty good life in London embracing his cultural interests, and he had a good circle of friends, and so he fought this urge to move beyond where he was, which was actually pretty good but at the same time lacking that sense of excitement and adventure that he yearned for.

It was actually three years after I first met Richard, and when he had shared his WorkLife dream with me, that it finally came to fruition. He admitted to having being scared to take the step he so wanted; and of course he needed to consider the reality of the situation, particularly around the financial implications, relocating and what he would do with his home in the UK as well as moving away from his friends.

However, during these three years he did work towards his WorkLife goal, and spent his holidays exploring the countries of his choice before narrowing it down to specific regions, all the time talking to people and building relationships and friendships. Once he began to open up to people about what he aspired to do, he began to have interesting conversations from which more and more ideas opened up to him around how he could make this work, along with an increasing awareness of the opportunities that were out there.

For peace of mind he wanted to secure enough work for his first year, and the good groundwork he put in place throughout his three-year research enabled this to happen. He got his first assignment in a ski resort in the French Alps, working with Japanese businesspeople to ensure they experienced the cultural highlights of the area. He has further work that will take him into the summer and autumn organising hiking expeditions throughout the Alps.

Richard has now resigned from his teaching position and he has rented his home for one year. His friends have all promised to visit him, and he has already established a good circle of friends in France. He has stepped beyond that place of fear and is ready to embrace what lies ahead.

*Rule number one of improvisation is the principle of “yes, and …”,  to accept and build on each new contribution. There is no time to negate or judge an idea. The shared goal is to propel a scene forward and make something new, so you roll with whatever is served. It is about letting ideas breathe, trusting each other, and going on a journey into the unknown together. Yes, and … lets you build and grow. This principle applies well beyond improvisation.

A Case Study

What If? Letters to Juliet

In the film Letters to Juliet, the character Sophie becomes mesmerised by the wall of letters in Juliet Capulet’s Courtyard, where people come from all over the world to write their burning question about their romantic dilemma, which is answered diligently by the secretaries of Juliet.

Behind a brick in the wall Sophie finds an unanswered letter written fifty years ago by a sixteen-year old English girl called Claire who had fallen in love with a young Italian boy called Lorenzo. Claire’s parent’s were taking her back to England and away from her Lorenzo. She wrote to Juliet asking her advice on what to do.

Sophie writes to Claire and poses the question “What If?” The letter resonates with Claire and brings her back to Italy fifty years later in search of her Lorenzo. Sophie accompanies her, and both women are swept along in a romantic venture that neither could ever have imagined.

Sophie’s letter began: “What If?” What and If are two words that are as non-threatening as words can be, but put them together side by side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life.”

It is a question I pose to people when they are considering a change in their current circumstances, to allow them to move away from a WorkLife that is uninspiring and de-motivating for them, to follow a path that allows them to be more fulfilled and energised in their work and life.

In essence they are looking for their Lorenzo. Some will know what the Lorenzo of their WorkLife is, while others will discover it along the way. Either way in a similar way to Claire they will need the courage to follow their heart and metaphorically speaking cross oceans to achieve their dreams; and while they do not always know where their story will end, the important thing is to know that it is never too late to be true to themselves in their quest for happiness in their WorkLife.

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

Every book, every chapter, every story begins with an outline: bullet points of ideas that are then left to breathe. Draw on the principles of “yes, and …”  to step into your WorkLife story to play out the actions and emotions as they unfold. Go with it even if it takes you to a scary place, and then go beyond that and experience where it takes you from there. Explore your ‘what ifs’ to know what you could do to overcome your fears, what steps of courage you need to take to develop a new WorkLife chapter. 

Yes, And … Assignment

To do this simply walk and talk to yourself. Begin by saying your first sentence, e.g. Richard’s first sentence could have been: “I want to work in Europe” followed by” “yes, and I could use my language skills”, “yes, and, my knowledge and love of medieval and 20th century European history”, “yes, and my experience in designing school trips” and so on … 

Remember not to negate or judge an idea. The goal is to propel your WorkLife dream forward to expand your ideas to come up with something new, to explore the unknown, to courageously step beyond your place of fear, to embrace what lies ahead.

What’s the Worst that Can Happen? Assignment

Asking yourself what is the worst that can happen is often a helpful exercise. It might show you there is not a lot to worry about. If you are thinking of pursuing a big dream or a project, even a small goal, what is the worst that can happen? It might not work out, so you go back to what you were doing before, or you might do something different. 

Here are a few questions to start your thought process about where you are in your WorkLife right now and where you want to be in the future:

What is in my face that I’m not facing?

What is the worst that can happen if I face this? 

What is the worst that can happen if I don’t it?

What am I assuming that makes me turn away from this?

Moral of this Story

To overcome your fear and achieve a goal that is important to you, you need courage to take that first step without any guarantee of safety and security. You have to put yourself in a vulnerable position to take that step. To mitigate risk you can take small steps to test and prove your concept, as Richard did during the three years he was exploring his WorkLife dream. Trusting your intuition, instincts and vision requires a belief that it is possible. Try to live in a moment of courage and take that first step to see beyond what is in front of you.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Do you want it badly enough to take a risk? That is the question you want to ask, reflect on and feedback on to yourself. 

Developing a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

It takes real courage to do something different. It helps to ask yourself simple questions, to allow yourself to wonder and wander use the power of ‘If”:

What if?

If only …

I wonder if …

Words of Wisdom 

Nothing changes unless and until you do. Fear has the power to cripple you. Challenge yourself daily to step into the unknown with courage. Be bold but resourceful.  

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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