Fear of Living My Dream

by Mara Karpel

Dear Dr. Karpel:
I’m 60.  I recently took early retirement and have saved up enough money to have a very comfortable long retirement.  I’ve always lived a “careful” life (that’s how I now have all of this money).  Deep down, I’ve always dreamed of moving to Colorado and biking or hiking every day.  I have a friend there and have so enjoyed my visits.  I’m in good shape and can still hold my own hiking up a mountain trail.  My kids are grown and live on the east coast, where I currently live.  Quite frankly, they really don’t need me to be around all the time and, now that I’m retired, I’m bored hanging around with them and around the house.  I keep thinking of Colorado.  This is my dream.  But fear holds me back from living my dream.  What if I move there and it turns out to be much different as a resident than it was as a visitor?  What if I hate it and have to return home with my tail between my legs, having failed?  I’m not even sure what else I’m afraid of, but I keep hearing the voice in my head saying over and over, “What if…?”  Any words of wisdom?

Dear Jane:
My question for you is:  What if you don’t follow your heart and you always wonder what it would have been like to live your dream?  Maybe living in Colorado will be different than being a visitor there.  But what if it’s actually better?  And, if not, what’s the worst that can happen?  So, if you give it a fair chance and you end up not liking it, why can’t you return home holding your head up high, proud that you had the courage to take the risk, rather than with your “tail between your legs?”

I recently read the book, “You Can Have What You Want,” by Michael Neill.  In it, Neill says something that really stuck with me:  “You aren’t afraid of what you think you’re afraid of.  You’re afraid of what you think.”  So, Jane, what are you thinking?  It seems that you are thinking that you might appear as a “failure” to others if it doesn’t work out.  Okay, so now look at the risk of what you think other people will think of you if it doesn’t work out (such as, that you’re a “failure”) and weigh that against the risk of never living your dream and living out the rest of your life “safely,” having saved up all of this money never to be utilized in the way that you had always dreamed of.  Take your thoughts out of it and feel which of these choices feels like the greater risk to your happiness.

In his book, Neill goes on to quote former U.S. Navy Seal, Richard Machowitz:  “Fear is not a true indicator of danger, evaluated experience is.  It’s a given that fear exists for every one of us.  But never for a moment think that, if you’re afraid of something, that fear is somehow a warning that will save you.  Good evaluation of past experiences makes for good decisions, period.  And it’s good decisions that will save you.”  It sure sounds like your past experience of visiting Colorado is one of having a wonderful time doing the things that you enjoy.  You sure don’t sound impulsive, given that you’ve been saving for this adventure in your retirement so that money would not be an issue.  You’ve additionally evaluated that your children are able to live their lives without you living near-by.  It sounds like you have engaged in a good evaluation of your past experiences in the process of making your decision.

Finally, here are three questions that Neill says to ask yourself when you are feeling fearful about doing something:
“What’s the worst that can happen if that which I fear came to pass?”
“What’s the best possible outcome for me or for others if I ‘felt the fear and did it anyway?’”
“What’s more likely to happen than either of these two things?”

Jane, I wish you luck in making your decision and I wish you a wonderful dream-fulfilling retirement.

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