How to Live Your Dream When You’re Scared to Death

This is a guest post by Jeff Goins. Jeff is a writer who lives in Nashville. He works for Adventures in Missions and recently released an eBook called You Are a Writer. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

There is a tragedy in our world today. Most people aren’t living their dreams, and the reason is simple: fear. They’re scared to be who they are.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/richvintage

When you endeavor to find your life’s work, there is a lot at risk:

  • You could fail.
  • You could lose the respect of your friends.
  • You could go broke.

You could mess up in a hundred different ways. But—and this is important—you could also succeed. And until you start living into your calling, you’re robbing the world of a gift.

After years of procrastinating, I finally pursued my dream. I decided to become a writer. To my surprise, I saw success far more quickly than expected: I launched a popular blog, got a publishing contract, and found my true fans—all within a year.

How did this happen? Simple. I believed in the dream before it happened. I didn’t wait for fear to go away; I started living into the reality I was longing for.

If you’re going to live and lead intentionally, you’ll have to do the same. There are three steps you need to take if you’re going to pursue your passion.

Step 1: Declare it. Although I’ve written for most of my life, I never considered myself a writer—not until recently.

When a friend asked what my dream was and I told him I didn’t have one, he said, “That’s funny… because I would’ve thought it was to be a writer.” I said that was probably true.

Then he said something I’ll never forget:

You don’t have to want to be a writer; you are a writer. You just need to write.”

The words resonated in my soul. I realized that before I could expect others to believe something about me, first I would have to believe it myself.

Step 2: Believe it. Friends and family often notice our gifts before we do. They acknowledge the talents and resources we’ve been doubting and dismissing.

The only way to find your dream is to trust the gifts you’ve been given. I’m not talking about a misguided “name it and claim it” philosophy. You need to accept the value you offer, not invent it. But at some point, you need to stop doubting yourself.

There is a word for this: it’s called faith.

Before the ancient Hebrews saw the Promised Land, they believed in it. They trusted in a place they hadn’t yet seen, which brought them through the desert and into their destiny.

You need to grasp the possibility of achieving your dream before it happens. You’ll have to believe it before you see it.

Step 3: Do it. A few years ago, my wife and I attended a concert, and halfway through the show, a man clumsily spilled beer on her coat. I complained to one of the ushers, and he warned the man, but no further action was taken.

Later, I went to the bathroom and returned to a crying wife. She wanted to leave. On our way out of the auditorium, she told me the man had harassed her while I was gone. I was outraged.

Turning around, I marched back into the auditorium, and confronted the man. It was, honestly, one of the scariest things I’ve done as an adult.

I hadn’t stood up to a bully since the second grade, and there I was—in front of a towering, muscle-bound beefcake, calling him an idiot.

With my heart racing and my palms sweating, I demanded respect and an apology. And then something incredible happened.

He said he was sorry.

In that moment, I learned an important lesson: until we act, our values are just dreams. I believed in my wife’s honor—in theory—but until I stood up for her, it was just a good idea.

This is an essential takeaway for all of us called to meaningful work. Although we are not merely what we do, we become what we practice. And if you’re practicing insecurity and fear, what does that make you?

If you have a dream or calling you’re not yet living into, it’s time to get to work:

  1. Declare you are what you’re waiting to be.
  2. Believe in your dream before you see it.
  3. And then do it.

Remember: Until you start living it, you’re only dreaming.

Question: When was the last time you pursued a passion in spite of fear? Leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Post guest

    Btw Jeff, what would you say to all those who stood up for their “wives” and instead of an apology they got their butt kicked. Let’s be honest there is only a number of cinderellas out there and some have to face the sad reality.

  • AmericanWriter

    Absolutely FAN-TASTIC.  In that moment, I learned an
    important lesson: until we act, our values are just dreams. I believed in my
    wife’s honor—in theory—but until I stood up for her, it was just a good idea.  Michael – it so much reminds me of Dr. Henry Cloud’s concept: learn to hate well! Rock on brother!!! 

    • Jim Martin

      I thought this was an important lesson as well.  Moving beyond theory and a good idea to action and protecting her sense of honor.

  • http://www.TheNarrowPassage.com/ Timothy Lynn Burchfield

    I am learning to go the final step of DOING those things I dream.  Most stop because they talk themselves out of doing great things.
    Fan the Flame and we will see great things.

    • Jim Martin

      Timothy, good point!  Our self-talk really does make a difference.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

         The power of life and death is in the tongue.

  • http://www.matthewreedcoaching.com/ Matthew Reed

    Jeff, the process of ‘declaring’ your dreams is so VERY important.  One of the first ‘assignments’ I gave myself when I left church work for the world of coaching was to make sure that I told someone everyday ‘I am a coach now’. That process really helped re-align my mindset and make my dream of my coaching business a reality.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Love it, Matthew.

  • http://brianbbaker.com/ B.B. Baker

    I used to do things only to make my dad happy. I went to college because he wanted me to, I joined the military–only to be discharge a week in–because I thought it would make him proud. I never stood up for myself–like you did for your wife–or did things I wanted to do.

    I thought doing things my dad would want me to do would make me and him closer. But it didn’t. My dad thought my pursuit of writing was a passing phase.

    I started writing in eighth grade and I’m 36. I realized it’s not a phase I was going to grow out of six years ago. I started writing for me, because I love it, not for anyone else. The strength it took to get over the fear that I might disappoint my dad was tough to get through.

    But now I’m enjoying writing for me, and I only fear disappointing myself.

    Great article!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Thanks, BB!

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  • E Deepakjain

    Great :) 
    Until you start living it, you’re only dreaming. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       yep. :)

  • algonzalezinfo

    This is so motivational, thank you.  I am happy to say  I am living into my dream and working on the 2012 Sustainable Leadership Tour of Colleges to share ideas on how to lead sustainable teams.  http://www.giveleadership.com is the declaration of my dream. 

    I needed to read that believing works, doubt and fear are so powerful.

    Al Gonzalez

  • Artscriber

    Fear has sabotaged me all my life.although I’ve started doing some things in my heart fear always put an end to what I started. This week I heard someone say fear is a spirit– speak to it and tell it to leave. That is what I’ve been doing this week. As a result of that t
    I picked up my guitar that was collecting dust, opened the lesson book and plucked a while. Doing that awakened the desire in me that I’d let go to sleep. Now I’m going to fulfill my dream because I love music.

    Thanks for the great post.

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  • Betty Schuldt

    I just recently read a great book, “The User’s Guide to Being Human: The Art and Science of Self” by Scott Edmund Miller that has helped me search deep inside myself to find my inner talents.  One thing I discovered about myself is that my fears have been holding me back from following my dream job .  I am still trying to get past the fear, but at least now I know what I am capable of doing.  Thanks for the great post- it was very helpful!
    http://usersguidetobeinghuman.com/

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  • Brent

    Jeff your writing inspires me to take a leap of faith.  I am tired of excuses and procrastination.  I’ve read many of your posts and the one thing I have trouble doing is finding a mentor.  I am having a hard time finding other writers in my area.  Maybe I am just looking in all th wrong places.  Anyways, you are a total inspiration and I will continue to follow your blog. 
    Thank Jeff!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Brent!

  • http://www.no-obligations.com/ Rocca Rooney

    The Breitling Boy’s growth up, read all the books and leap from Infinity to Beyond, tell HIM it can’t be done.
    Is life imitating art ? Or is art the expression of our subconscious ?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SH-LEYKzXDg&feature=fvwrel&NR=1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYz2wyBy3kc

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  • Carolyn Kettle

    right on !

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  • Speechlessspeaker

    what happens when life has beaten you so bad that the thought of dreaming is out of the question?

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  • Amber

    I just quit my job to go for my dream to be a writer. I was tired of wishing and waiting. The urge to “just do it” was overwhelming so I did it. I had a government job that most people would love to have, but I was miserable. So tomorrow is my last day and the first day of living my dream. I will always celebrate 03/29 as the day I started living. You are a confirmation of everything I know is true! It’s amazing to me how many people told me they wished they could quit too, but they aren’t financially stable. I’m not rich but there are a lot of things I can live without. What I’m left with is much more than I’ve ever had. Who needs 300 channels of cable that I don’t watch? Do I really need Siri? Life is way to short not to go for it! The way I look at it the worse thing that could happen is I accomplish everything I dreamed about. I’m aiming for more…

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Love this, Amber. I left my job on the same day. Very cool.

  • Shannon_CC

    Thank you for reposting this article. It’s exactly what I needed today.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Awesome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=706646980 Mercedes Adele Consuelo Tomase

    Well….interesting article! I have being pursuing my fears for a year now…I am 59 and yesterday took my most difficult decision …..finally going back to school and get my college degree….I know I probably do not need it, I speak 3 languages, know much more than a lot of persons that have university degree, read a lot….but this was something I always felt soooo bad! From next week on and for a year and a half I’ll be studying and getting ready to get my diploma. Then, directly to University…still don’t know what but…..I will! It will be my dream come true! Thanks so much! Hugzzzzz

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  • http://twitter.com/JG_Ink Jennifer Gilhool

    Success is an option — great perspective. We are so quick to focus on the can’t that we do forget about the can!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Amen!

  • http://www.strategicplanningforgrowth.co.uk/ Jane Bromley

    What a great post. I could not agree more.

    Don’t lead a life that is a pale shadow of who you really are. Commit. Believe and Take action. In other words, chose to believe in yourself!

    There are so many examples I could give. My decision to learn to event horses – which I adored. My decision to spend 5 months in Africa – one of THE best times in my life. Yet I was really scared at the start.

    Can I add a little bit? You see, for me at least, it is the “believe” part that is the hard part. You see it is about choosing to believe in yourself as well as “believing”. It is one thing to believe in an all powerful God and quite another to believe that you or I can make a dream reality.

    I do not have all the answers on that one but I have developed that belief many many times – even when I was quaking in my shoes…..

    Thank you.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Well said, Jane!

  • Glen Hunt Fanelli

    Not sure where to start, but I am a collegiate tennis coach who is trying to find the right people who have the right resources to help me build a tennis club for our community that is different from most other tennis clubs located in the deep south. Also to help our school to obtain a national tennis championship at the University of West Alabama. I am not really afraid to my knowledge but I am unsure how to meet the right people and how to go about doing so. I would go to the conventional financial institutions but after going through a divorce my former spouse ruined my name and credit, that could help me get started again. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Glen

  • http://www.ahhthesimplelife.com/ Carol Preibis

    Hello, I agree that fear is a often a factor that prevents us from pursuing our dreams. However, I do think that we need to consider other factors as well. Please read my post: Your Bucket List: Why You’re Not Living Your Dreams
    http://www.ahhthesimplelife.com/bucket-list-living-your-dreams/

  • kim

    I have lived one of my dreams and become a qualified Carer. I have now started living another dream and have moved and have a new job, but am fighting through, as I have never lived so far from my family and never worked in a residential care home

  • Magex

    It’s so true about fear. That’s why I came here. I am someone who dreams of being a successful writer too. I want it so badly I can taste it. And I’m terrified…what scares me the most is not necessary failing, but losing the dream–to have a future where that dream isn’t a reality and there isn’t even hope left that it may come true one day.

  • http://www.praverb.net/ Patrick McNease

    Absolutely phenomenal blog post. I had to read this post after listening to Episode 17 of your podcast. I really appreciate what you do and @jeffgoins:disqus is amazing.