Many of us live our lives paralysed by fear. We have dreams – travelling, writing a book, starting a business and so on – which remain unfulfilled because we are afraid. We worry that we’re not good enough, that we will fail or that people will judge us. I think the one thing successful people have in common is that they don’t let fear hold them back.
I used to be incredibly anxious and fearful – more so than the average person. There were a lot of things which deep down I would have loved to do, but I suppressed them because I just didn’t believe they were possible for me.
A prime example of this was driving. The test in the UK is one of the toughest in the world, especially as almost everyone here drives manual (stick shift) cars. I grew up in a very rural area with almost non-existent public transport, so I was keen to learn as soon as I turned 17. Unfortunately, I had some limiting beliefs that made this very hard. I was terrified of getting things wrong, which made me panic and, you guessed it, get things wrong.
After doing weekly lessons for an entire year, I failed my test in such spectacular fashion that I quit. I was about to leave for uni in the city, where I wouldn’t need to drive. I vowed to just live in urban areas my whole life. It was still difficult when I came home and wanted to hang out with my old friends, but I convinced myself I didn’t care. In reality, it was embarrassing getting lifts everywhere from my parents, especially when most of my friends had passed relatively easily. This was just one of the ways I let fear hold me back.
My journey towards overcoming fear began in 2016. I was dreading my final year of uni, and a friend persuaded me to do what I’d secretly been fantasising about – take a year out. So I took the leap and did it. I had a lot of big ideas about what I’d use the time for. It started off well – I got out of my comfort zone by volunteering on a permaculture farm, and I started this blog.
In early 2017, a Cornwall Vegan Festival organiser asked me to do a talk there. I almost declined on the spot! I had – and still do have – terrible performance anxiety. When doing presentations in school, I would tremble and forget my lines, and my heart would be racing at a million miles per hour.
And yet as I grew more passionate about veganism, I’d been growing interested in doing talks. Surely this was a sign that the universe wanted me to pursue this goal?
So I hesitantly accepted, despite my terror. I rehearsed my talk almost every day in the weeks leading up to the event.
A few minutes before the talk, I had never been so scared! I must have been on the brink of an anxiety attack. The nerves calmed a little when I walked into the venue, but my hand was shaking as I held the microphone. My practice paid off though – I got through the talk, and many people complimented it afterwards. My boyfriend, who had been watching, said he wouldn’t even have known I was nervous. Conquering that fear was the best feeling!
Unfortunately, I still spent most of that year held back by fear. I wanted to start freelancing, but didn’t believe I was good enough. And I didn’t feel comfortable travelling alone. I did a lot of blogging, activism and working on my hobbies, but not a lot to get out of my comfort zone.
My social anxiety got worse because I wasn’t seeing people enough. I began to feel trapped in life, worrying it would always fall short of what it could be. And my relationship with my boyfriend began to suffer, as he was in his third year of university and involved in a lot of extracurriculars. He just didn’t have the time or the energy to give me the emotional support I needed. We very nearly broke up, and decided to stop living together. I found myself back with my parents in rural Wales, jobless and with no means of getting around. Our relationship failed to improve, so we decided to take a break. And I decided to quit uni altogether.
This was a difficult time of life for me. I felt cut adrift, dependent and thought I had lost someone who was deeply important to me. But challenging times are often learning experiences, and so it was in this case.
I started meditating in search of an answer. And incredibly, as I sat and quietened my mind, it came. A voice in my head piped up and told me what now seems obvious. “You’re suffering because your life is too safe. You need to get out of your comfort zone and really live life. And you were relying too much on your boyfriend for support; you need to learn to be independent.”
I opened my eyes, and suddenly I knew what to do. I would move out and do Workaway, volunteering in exchange for food and accommodation. And in my spare time, I would work on other projects.
This was way out of my comfort zone; I have social anxiety, and I worried about whether I’d be good enough for the work. I had a lot of sleepless nights over it. But I knew I had to get away from home.
So I moved in with a family of strangers in the south west of England, helping with household chores and caring for their two young children. I could live where I wanted to, my money worries were much diminished, and I had lots of free time for activism, blogging, and planning my future. I began to dabble in freelance writing, and realised that earning a living that way might just be possible.
Getting out of my comfort zone was empowering. I began to tackle more fears. I’d wanted a navel piercing for a couple of years, but was put off by my fear of needles and my discomfort with having strangers in my personal space! I decided it was time to get over it, and booked in to have it done. I was really nervous, but it wasn’t that bad. And now I have a piercing that I love.
Volunteer placement over, I went home for Christmas. Over that period, I decided I was ready to become a freelance writer. I did a few guest posts, started putting together a portfolio, and did some research. In February, I moved back to the south west again, renting a cheap room this time. I was determined to make it work. There were some tough times – for a while I had no clients, and felt gloomy about my prospects. At one point, what I think was a stress-related illness wiped me out for a week – which only stressed me out more! And there were times I cried into my duvet because I felt so hopeless.
But things picked up. I got a client who needed regular work, and was soon supporting myself. Things began to happen quickly. I fantasized about starting a free vegan ezine, and within a few months, the first issue of Seedling was out!
As I was working on Seedling, I knew it was time to take on my biggest fear – one I still found it hard to believe I could achieve. So I started taking driving lessons again. And on October 25th, two months after my first lesson…
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because I was battling my own mind! I did a ton of journalling, meditation and self-hypnosis, and still felt anxious before every lesson. In the run up to my test, my anxiety was awful. There were times when I cried because I felt so despondent. Despite all the techniques I used to try to stay positive, I remained convinced I would fail.
On the day, my nerves led to me making a lot of stupid mistakes I wouldn’t normally. But a couple of years of getting out of my comfort zone had increased my ability to keep my cool. I kept doing my best to drive safely, and I was astonished when I got to the end and the examiner said I had passed! All my dreams of travelling and beach trips (and maybe getting a camper van one day) can now become a reality.
Oh, and the relationship? With time and patience, we managed to rebuild it. It’s now stronger than ever, and we just celebrated our fourth anniversary. I don’t think this would have been possible if I hadn’t made overcoming fear a priority – we’re both happier now that I’m more independent.
So if there’s something your fear has been holding you back from doing, go for it! Life is too short not to try to achieve your goals. Even if you don’t succeed, at least you’ll know you tried. And persistence can get you a really long way.
I still have plenty more fears to conquer, but now I’m confident I can tackle them. So over to you. What is it you’d like to achieve, but feel you can’t because of fear or self-doubt? Or is there something you were scared to do, but did anyway and reaped the rewards? I’d love hear your stories in the comments. And remember – feel the fear and do it anyway! It’s the only way to a fulfilling life.