Have you ever had an idea percolating in your head, one that could seriously change your life, only to have a little annoying voice drown it out with “Come on, you’re too _________ (insert adjective here) to do that!”?
Of course you have. It’s called self-doubt and we all have it, no matter how confident we appear to the outside world. (Don’t get me started about social media.)
Whether it is making a major life change, learning a new skill, trying a new sport or simply changing up your routine, self-doubt is the reason so many of us stay in our comfort zone well past its expiration date. Not that there’s anything wrong with staying in your comfort zone – if that is where you really want to be. The problem arises when it isn’t.
I should know. It happened to me.
Identify The Problem
Nearly a decade ago, I was – by all outward appearances – living a pretty comfortable life back in the States. Nice house, (not-so-nice) husband, grown children, even a dog. The only thing missing was the white picket fence. Instead, we had an eight-foot tall, solid wood privacy fence, just like all our neighbors. I still haven’t figured out whether all those tall structures were designed to keep out the wildlife from the nearby mountains or keep in the housewives on the brink of a breakdown. I suspect both.
Yet despite the appearance of being the perfect wife with the perfect life, I was fairly discontent. Enough so to engage in some really dubious behavior. Stuff that surprised even me. And when I wasn’t dancing with the devil, I was shopping. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that retail therapy can accomplish. There are simply some problems even Louis Vuitton cannot solve.
And that whole time, I kept thinking one thing. It was almost a mantra – and not a good one. The phrase would dance around, nearly out of reach, in the periphery of my thoughts.
“I need to get out.”
Out of where or what, I wasn’t sure. I just knew I needed to make a change.
Make The Decision
Strangely, the one idea that kept popping into my head was moving to the Caribbean. I had fallen in love with an island a few years earlier, and couldn’t shake it. I obsessed about that little rock floating off the coast of South America. I imagined what my life there might look like, and it was absolutely nothing like my then-current existence.
In my imaginary future life, I would drive a beat up 4×4 (so long, uber-safe Volvo sedan), stop fighting my naturally curly hair (buh-bye flat iron) and throw out every pair of shoes except my favorite flip flops (no more stilettos? Hallelujah!).
What the hell, as long as I was dreaming, I would learn to kiteboard, too! Never mind that I had already crossed the big 4-0 mark and had zero idea how to kiteboard. I just felt like it was exactly what I wanted – no, needed – to do.
Of course, I had a gazillion and ten reasons why such a drastic move would be a Very. Bad. Idea. All courtesy of that little annoying voice. So instead I kept shopping and redecorating my house. I also drank a lot of wine, usually while staring out the window through the rain (did I mention I lived in Seattle at the time?) at the 8-foot privacy fence that marked the outer boundaries of my suburban existence. All the while hearing that stupid voice answering my idea of moving with a sharp “Don’t do it, don’t do it. Don’t do it.”
Yet while the voice was incessantly yammering, my gut was quietly saying “Just go for it. Like, yesterday. After all, bitch, you ain’t getting any younger.” Although my gut tends to whisper, it is not nearly as polite as the voice in my head.
Eventually, I grew tired of shopping and drinking and feeling empty. After all, that wasn’t really living, was it? I finally made the big change that was l-o-n-g overdue.
I followed my gut instinct and became a bit of a cliché. I bought a plane ticket, packed my bags and moved to an island. Obviously, it was slightly more involved than that. (Yet in some ways it really was that simple.)
But for purposes of this story, all that matters is that I did it. And you know what? It was the best decision I ever made. I seriously mean ever. Even after factoring in all the inevitable bumps in the road that flowed naturally from such a dramatic (and to some – insane) decision, it proved to be the right thing to do.
Enjoy The Change
Which brings me to what I want to reassure you about. You are never, ever, ever too old to make the change your heart demands.
Maybe it isn’t uprooting your life and moving halfway around the world (although, if that’s your dream I highly recommend it). Perhaps you’ve been thinking about ditching your 9 to 5 and starting your own business. Or exiting an unhappy marriage. Or learning a new sport, extreme or otherwise.
Yes, I did learn to kiteboard at the ripe old age of 43, and it is one thing I still love to do. I can even land a few tricks. Not bad for someone who just qualified for AARP membership. I don’t tell you this to brag (because, honestly, kiteboarding is not as hard as it looks…shhhh!), just to point out that almost anything is possible if you want it bad enough.
My point is if your gut instinct is pushing you in a direction, at least investigate the possibilities. In other words, IGNORE THE VOICE IN YOUR HEAD.
You know, the one spelling out all the reasons NOT to do something. That voice doesn’t give a shit about what your heart wants or what your gut is telling you. The little voice is the killer of hopes, dreams and ambitions. Over the years, I’ve learned to mostly ignore the little voice. In fact, I hardly ever hear it anymore.
Except in very limited circumstances. Like when I’m hiking and reach a summit with an unexpected sheer cliff that plunges hundreds of feet down, down, down. Then, when the little voice is in sync with my gut instinct and they are both screaming, “WTF…get AWAY from the edge!” I tend to obey. But that’s the only time. I find that unless my life is in peril, the little voice usually doesn’t have my growth and happiness in mind.
Some Last Advice
But enough about ignoring the little voice.
Let’s get back to YOU!
If you’re reading this, chances are you are a woman of a certain age who might also be wrestling with big life decisions, too. I get a lot of private messages along those lines, and they are primarily from women over 40. But age doesn’t really matter and is sort of beside the point. Whether you’re 30, 50, 80 or somewhere in between, the time to embrace your dreams is right now. Screw the little voice (within reason, of course, as noted above). After all, none of us are getting any younger.
As Warren Miller used to say, “If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.” Apparently, he learned how to ignore the little voice in his head, too. Wise man. RIP.
So let me leave you with this. When you stop making decisions based on fear (that little voice) and instead make them based on hope (trusting your heart and gut), you’re well on your way to living a fulfilling and content life. Maybe you’ll get a few scrapes and bruises along the way (as I have), but they heal and fade. Maybe things won’t work out quite the way you imagined. Then again, the unexpected outcomes are often the best ones.
At least that’s my experience.
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Also published on Medium.