Have you ever wanted to say YES to something new, but talked yourself out of it?
Do you want to make major changes in your life, but feel like something is holding you back?
That something is usually our self-talk.
Saying YES to new experiences can have extraordinary, life-changing power.
But to get there, we have to challenge the inner voice that tells us all the “reasons” why we should be afraid – or why we’re not good enough.
MOVING TO A NEW PLACE
After one of my recent talks, a graduating student came up to me and said:
“Pursuing my dream would involve moving to another state, but I’ve been really hesitant to do that because I feel scared and I don’t know anyone. Your talk was exactly what I needed right now, and didn’t know it. I now feel certain that pursuing this dream is exactly what I’m meant to do. Thank you!”
I felt deeply moved.
Many of us will find a great opportunity at some point that requires us to move. We may feel excited, but fear-based thoughts often start popping up:
“I don’t know anyone. I’ll be lost and alone. Maybe I should stay here where I feel comfortable.”
I’ve been there.
I was finishing my Master’s Degree in Ottawa, Canada, but my real passion was sabre fencing.
This passion was sparked by a small YES four years earlier when a friend asked if I wanted to come to fencing practice one night.
And…I fell in love with fencing. I experienced the kind of passionate love that re-orients our whole world in such a way that every thought, action and decision revolves around our dream.
As graduation approached, I’d racked up a number of accomplishments locally, but I felt that my fencing journey was unfinished. I wanted to go to the next level.
So I started to look at where the great coaches were – and found one at The Ohio State University. But I was living in Ottawa, Canada – how was I going to train with him?
Then it hit me: I’d get a Ph.D. at Ohio State!
Of course! It was so… obvious.
So I applied and got a full academic stipend with paid tuition and living expenses. But despite this great opportunity, I still went back and forth in my mind countless times on whether to accept the offer.
It wasn’t an easy choice to leave my comfort zone, and move to a new country to pursue my dream. I was even in a relationship at the time, which made the decision even more difficult.
But I said YES anyway. Deep down I knew that I would regret missing this opportunity.
For the first few months, I was on an emotional roller coaster.
There were days when I missed my old life terribly and wondered if I should just drop everything and move back to Canada – and other days when I was brimming with excitement and adventure.
But within a few months, I settled in. I made new friends and met wonderful people helping me on my journey. I improved my skills, and earned the bronze medal at the Canadian national championships.
But far more importantly than gaining skills in a sport, my personal growth was immeasurable.
And a couple of weeks after completing my fencing journey, I met my future husband Mark. Everything worked out better than I could ever have imagined.
Change can be uncomfortable, but our growth skyrockets when we take leaps of faith to follow the path that truly resonates with us – and not the path of fear and doubt.
Most of us don’t stay tied to a single interest or passion our whole lives. Nearly every one of us has thought of changing careers at some point. We’ve felt a pull toward trying something new.
But the voice of doubt says things like:
“I’ve been in this line of work for so long. It’s all I know. What if I can’t hack it in a new field?”
“Changing would mean a pay cut at first. I can’t afford to do that. I’ve got bills to pay!”
“What if the economy collapses – you know what they say, “Last hired – first fired!”
If we listen to that voice, we can miss out on fulfillment and satisfaction.
I’ve heard that voice of doubt too, telling me to stick to what I know.
Once I finished my Ph.D., I knew that I wanted to do something completely different. I wasn’t sure what – but I knew there had to be something out there that was a better fit for me.
Even though every fiber in my body was telling me to move on, doubt still spoke up.
Doubt: “You’ve invested too much time in your education. You got a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Aerospace Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering. It’s too late to change now.”
Me: “OK. So it took me 11 years to figure out what I didn’t want to do. But now I know for sure.”
Doubt: “You’re going to throw away all that blood, sweat and tears for something new???”
Me: “There has to be something out there that I’ll find more satisfying. There’s no way I’m spending any more of my life doing what I used to do.”
Doubt: “You’re not a kid anymore – you’re 29 years old! It’s time to live in the REAL world.”
Thankfully, I didn’t listen. I was ready to take a leap of faith.
I accepted a job in a completely different field, managing a public program that invested in and supported entrepreneurs.
It didn’t pay anywhere close to an Engineering Ph.D. salary, but I was excited about it.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t dread going to work in the morning. My enthusiasm was high and I committed myself to doing a great job – resulting in promotions and an award.
And how did I get the job?
The power of saying YES, of course!
During my Ph.D., a friend told me that he was going to check out an entrepreneurship class one night and asked if I wanted to come.
Yup – I went.
The shocking result: Co-founding a biomedical company, winning business plan competitions and raising over $100,000 in startup capital.
Like most startups, this one didn’t work out in the end. But the experience opened my eyes to new possibilities outside of academic research and ultimately helped me change direction entirely.
We have the freedom to make life our playground and do anything we choose!
But we have to challenge that inner voice that tells us all the “reasons” why we should be afraid – or why we’re not good enough.
CHANGE YOUR SELF-TALK
Many of us have experienced negative self-talk in some areas of our life.
These thoughts, if unchallenged, can stop us from doing the things we’d love to do.
They may come in many varieties, but they’re rarely helpful.
Let’s say that Billy would like to learn a new sport, like tennis.
Here come Billy’s self-sabotaging thoughts:
“I’m not an athlete. I was always the last one to get picked for handball in second grade. And I’m out of shape. I’ll just embarrass myself.”
What if Billy said:
“I’m motivated and I’ll train hard. I’ll have fun and laugh at my mistakes. I won’t compare myself with others, but will focus on how far I’ve come. This will be a great experience.”
He’d probably run to the nearest lesson!
Or let’s say that Susan is well into her career, but wants to go back to school for something she’s always dreamed of doing.
The voice of doubt helpfully informs Susan:
“Who am I kidding? I’m too old! Other students will be running circles around me. And I’d have to take math classes – I’m terrible at math.”
What if Susan said:
“I’m a smart person. I had one low math grade with a bad teacher, but I can figure this out. Plus, I bring a wealth of real-world experience. Other students would be lucky to learn from my perspective.”
Being consciously aware of what we tell ourselves – and changing our self-talk when needed – can have a profound effect on our confidence and our willingness to say YES to new experiences.
We may be presented with many opportunities to say YES. If you’ve had such an opportunity, what did you choose to do – and how do you feel about your decision? Please share in the comments!