It had been brewing for some time. It would bubble up and haunt me, but I would talk it away – “you’re just asking for too much” I would tell myself.
“You just need to find more balance”, I would rationalize.
And yet there came a time when looking at my dissertation proposal thinking, “This is not what I want,” could not be ignored any longer. (I may have been a lump sobbing on the ground.)
The process of following one’s dreams, intuitions, and inner guidance, however, is not as easy as we would like. It requires facing fears that we have long ignored, taking risks we have felt too scared to take, and learning more about ourselves than we ever have before.
Is it even worth it?
As I write this now, I feel confident in my decision and so much more excited about my life, my place in the world, and delving into my true passions.
Was it easy to get here?
First, the Fears
They’re those dehabilitating, gut wrenching, sleepless-night causing, distracting thoughts that surface all too easily and frequently when we are faced with a huge decision that marks the difference between following our dreams and continuing with the life-sucking business as usual.
Some common ones that surfaced for me were:
- I will have wasted so much time. I had already put 4 years into my PhD program, how could I possibly turn away from that? How could I ever recover from having spent so much time on this pursuit only to leave it behind?
- What will I do instead? Although I had a vague idea of the direction I wanted to move in, it was not solidified (and it’s still a work in progress). All I knew for sure was that my current direction felt wrong, and that I was about to commit myself to at least 3 more years of the same.
- What about money? If I was to leave my position as a Graduate Research Associate, where would I get paid? How would I have rent money? Insurance?
- What will people think of me? How would I explain the decision to leave? Would people think I’m crazy to give up this role?
- Who will I be? I’d labeled myself as a PhD candidate for so long and became so used to the way that people responded to that. How would I define myself now? Who am I anyway?
- What if I make the wrong choice? How would I truly know if it was the right decision to change my path? Would I regret it later?
Then, the Risks
Despite all of the fears, something deep inside kept nagging me that I was on the wrong path, that I would get stuck in a life that wasn’t what I desired, and that I would remain dissatisfied. In the face of overwhelming fear, I decided to take some risks and trust that:
- I hadn’t wasted time. The lessons that I learned while working and studying at the zoo were invaluable. They helped to shape my understanding of what sustainability really means (and that I couldn’t reach my ideal for a sustainable life working in a zoo), allowed me to practice and further develop my critical thinking and writing skills, and left me with a lot of fun memories and experiences that many people will never have. And I still got a Master’s degree in Biology out of it.
- My true life direction would become available to me. As soon as I made the decision to leave the zoo, doors began opening for me. To be honest, at first I was not excited by this because I felt so guilty and worried that I made the wrong decision, but now these doors are my constant reinforcement that I am following the right path.
- My friends and family wouldn’t let me be without food, water, and shelter. People have helped support me in ways that I could not have imagined were possible before I started thinking about taking a new direction in my life. And things have worked out so that I haven’t had to depend on anyone else for my basic needs (at least not too much – maybe someone who only lives with me ½ of the time now helps me with part of my rent – thank you!), and I’ve certainly depended on others for moral support (and it would have been ok to ask for more if I needed it)!
- My own goals, desires, and dreams are more important than what other people think. And it also turns out that people really respect you for following your dreams. It’s a rare enough thing that it impresses others when people are actually willing to do this.
- I am a dream-follower, authentic human who doesn’t need to be attached to labels to help give myself meaning or prove that I’m intelligent. So what if I don’t have a PhD? Maybe I’ll get one sometime in the future, or maybe I won’t. They don’t automatically equal intelligence and the life of your dreams.
- There are no wrong choices, only moments for learning. That’s just the way it is.
And Then You Realize How Much You’ve Learned
Through all of the sleeplessness, the false alarm emergency room visits for heart attacks (this was a hard decision!), the tears, the fears, the worries, and then the risks, I have learned a lot. Not only about myself, my strength, and my capacities, but also about the life I want to create and how to do it.
Facing such a major decision made me want more than just intuition-based feelings that I was making the right decisions, so I also came up with long lists of real-world reasons that my decision would make the best sense for my desire to live a more healthy, sustainable, and freedom-based life. They fed right into and supported my intuitions in ways that provided me with strength to do the right thing.
I could make another bullet-point list of things that I’ve learned, but that’s what this blog is about, so look around and stay tuned for more insights!
What about You?
Are you a risk taker and dream maker? Are you living your authentic life?
Sadly, I don’t think many of us are. But you can! It might take some hard work, inner searching, determination, and de-conditioning from cultural expectations, but it’s worth it.
I believe the world would be a much more inviting, exciting, likable place if we were all following our passions and dreams rather than living in a belief system based on fear and what-ifs.
So name your fears. Acknowledge how scary and terrifying they are, and then defy them!
P.S. Although I enjoyed the elephant encounter shown above, I would prefer that we not keep elephants in zoos.