Take the leap

Follow your dreams, even at the cost of taking risks

By Barbara Pierce

Is there something you’ve been longing to do?

Got something that keeps nudging in the back of your mind? Maybe you have a dream you’d like to chase, a risk you feel is right for you to take.

Other people are fulfilling their dreams. So can you!

I’ve done it. My biggest leaps have paid off — like adopting a 9 year old as a single parent; selling my home to live on a boat; and quitting a dream job gone sour. However, I am essentially a cautious person who second guesses every choice, from where I should live to whether I should buy a pink or red collar for my golden retriever. But I still believe in taking chances — to look at what I have to gain rather than what I have to lose.

I was still childless in my early 40s. I always planned to have a child. My then-husband didn’t have that goal and my career was important to me.

That’s how I became the single parent of a scruffy, feisty 9 year old. It was a huge leap. I didn’t know how to be a parent; she didn’t know how to be a kid. Life had been harsh for her. We had a tough several years as we learned to live together.

But it was well worth it. She has become a wonderful woman and friend and I passionately love my grandchildren.

As a psychotherapist, I often met people seriously thinking of making a life-changing leap — like coming out of the closet to intolerant relatives, ending a marriage, quitting a job, or starting over in a new area. There were many reasons they didn’t move forward to get what they wanted.

Few people do take that big leap and do what they really want to do.

What stops us from going after our dreams?

Fear. I think fear is what stops us. It’s a survival instinct. Our brains are programmed to fear anything that might put our lives in danger. It’s an evolutionary trait to keep us alive.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fear is a reminder that you need a plan before taking that giant leap of faith. But if you want to be happy, eventually you have to leap.

There’s a difference between the fear that keeps you alive and the fear that keeps you from living.

Most of us are afraid to dream big because we’re afraid we’ll fail. Put it in perspective: What would be the worst thing that could happen if you failed? The absolute worst thing? Could you deal with that if it happened? What could you do to prevent that worst thing happening? What help would you have available?

Weigh the consequences

This is how it worked for me when I took a leap not long ago. At the age of 72, I left my husband. I left with only the clothes on my back as he had stripped me of all of my financial assets. I only had Social Security.

Many times I thought I would end up homeless, living in my car in the Walmart parking lot. That would be the worst thing that would happen. Then I reminded myself that I did have family and friends who would lend me money, even take me in. The worst wasn’t likely.

After you’ve thought about the worst and how you would handle it, think about what success would be like? Does what you have to gain outweigh what you have to lose?

Is the possibility of failure worth it for the possibility of success?

Consider redefining what failure is, i.e. if you want to start a business, failure would be not making a profit. But if you’re starting a business to learn how things work, then you won’t have failed; you’ve had a learning opportunity, and success!

Sometimes we don’t move ahead because we’re waiting for the “right” time. There’s never going to a “right” time. If you sit around waiting for the right time, you’ll spend the rest of your life waiting.

Most of us have people in our life who aren’t going to be supportive if we go for it and dream big. Realize that they may be projecting their own fears onto you. They’ve convinced themselves that their dreams aren’t possible, and they try to convince you of the same. By going for your dreams, you’re reminding them that they aren’t achieving theirs. Some people don’t like that.

Don’t trust the advice of others over your instincts. Trust your gut. Believe in yourself enough to turn your ideas into more than mere words.

So take the job! Hop on the flight! Say yes to that scary opportunity! Take a risk based on how happy you will be.

Believe this Native American wisdom: “As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It’s not as wide as you think.”

Make this the year you jump.

• Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at barbarapierce06@yahoo.com.