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What’s holding you back?

[ 23 ] August 2, 2011 |

Note: I’m thinking about making a free product for you. But before I go nuts and throw myself into it like a madwoman, I want to make sure you actually want it (so I don’t feel like an idiot). More details at the end of the post.

A guy climbs over a barbed wire fence.

Image by Mor Gnar... on Flickr.
Used under Creative Commons License.

It’s been a little over week now since I left my job. At last, I’m on my own! True to form, I’ve been on a mad cleaning rampage instead of working on the things I intended to do, but that seems to be my coping mechanism for change.

Things get weird? Time to create some order. Clean things, file things, write to-do lists, plan. Once I do enough of that, then I have the mental space available to get back to creating.

I’ve been blown away by all of the people who have sent me words of encouragement and celebration. Thank you all! I’m really touched.

Many people I’ve talked to have told me they wish they could quit their jobs, too. I appreciate the spirit that’s meant in, but at the same time, it kind of bothers me to hear it. The implication is that some kind of magic has enabled me to do this, and without that magic, others simply can’t. That is just not true.

Here’s the real story.

A few years ago, I was a complete mess. I hated my life, but I didn’t know what to do about it. That scared me so much, I couldn’t even face how unhappy I was.

The more afraid I got, the worse it got. I was afraid of everything, even my own thoughts. I was convinced there was something ugly hiding in my mind, and it would destroy me if I let it see the light of day. I censored like mad to keep whatever it was locked down and hidden.

I was afraid to let my guard down for a second, with myself or with the outside world. I was in a screwed up marriage, and whenever my husband was around, I always felt threatened and anxious. He never abused me–on the contrary, he was always calling me “sweetheart” and saying he wanted me to be happy–but our relationship was sick in an insidious way that left me confused and perpetually drained.

I contributed to the dysfunction with my mistaken attempts to fix everything by continually sacrificing my needs for his. If I needed solitude when he was starved for attention, I gave him attention. If I needed sleep but he felt abandoned if I went to the guest room to escape his wiggling, noises, and cover-thievery, I stayed put and let him wake me up a zillion times a night.

Hundreds of scenarios like that come up in the course of a year of marriage. By choosing him over myself again and again, I came to believe that I was worthless and powerless, and my wants and needs didn’t matter.

The way I saw it, I was trapped. I had to do what he wanted or I’d be a bad person. I had to do great at work or I’d be fired. I had to make sure all the bills were paid and everyone was happy and everything was perfect, or disaster would ensue. I had to keep up a pretty facade or nobody would like me. I had to hide my true feelings from everyone, especially myself, or it would all go flying apart.

I was absolutely convinced that there was no way out of any of this. I had to find a way to make it work and be what everyone needed me to be.

Things kept getting worse and worse, until finally, I hit bottom.

I wish I could say that I realized what was happening, pulled myself together, and started pulling myself up by my bootstraps. That might have happened eventually, but what really happened is I had a horrible allergic reaction. I suspect my body was in some whacked-out high-gear attack mode due to all the stress and depression, but I don’t know that for sure.

Anyway, the doctors put me on a heavy dose of steroids. The drugs gave me this insane manic energy. I couldn’t sleep more than three hours a night, and suddenly, I had all these connections in my brain that hadn’t been there before.

More importantly, my denial and bullshit factories shut down. Suddenly, the reality of my life became inescapably obvious. I was in a bad marriage that was destroying me. I hated my job. My house was way too expensive, and I hated the commute. I’ve never liked living with anyone.

Basically, everything needed to change. But, at the same time, the realization came that it could change.

I wish I could say it was easy after that, but it wasn’t. It took more than three years before I managed to extricate myself completely from the last remains of that mess, including some very ugly times. But it was more than worth it in the end. Really, who cares about easy if you can have happy instead?

I think, deep down, the biggest fear I had was that if I faced reality, I would have to change my life. If I acknowledged how unhappy I was, I would have to take action and do something about it. I was so exhausted already, and what if it didn’t help, and what if I did all that work just when it was about to get better on its own?

When I finally took ownership of my life and started working to make things better, it didn’t happen over night, but it did happen. If you had told me back then how great things are going now, I don’t think I would have believed that I would…

  • race cars for fun
  • create a successful blog with friends and visitors from all over the world
  • help other people change their lives and be happier
  • write an ebook on how to have a good relationship, and get it into over 1100 buyers’ hands in the first two months
  • come up with the idea for a huge project, get dozens of big-name people to collaborate, and see it gross over $100,000 dollars in three days
  • quit my job and follow my dream of supporting myself as a writer

The thing is, all of this was in my power all along. I just didn’t see it. My own fears, doubts, and mistaken beliefs were holding me back and keeping me trapped in a life of misery. All that time, I had the key to my own cell and chains. I just didn’t realize it.

It’s amazing, once you start facing your fears and doing the things you’re afraid of, how gratifying it is. It’s not just being able to do the things you always wanted, although that is very satisfying. It’s also how great you feel about yourself! You respect yourself more and realize your worth. You no longer need to compare yourself to other people or worry about what they think, because you have confidence in yourself. And you open yourself up to so many more possibilities!

As I’ve done each scary thing, it has seemed terrifying before I did it, merely part of life while I did it, and astonishingly no big deal after I did it.

As I’ve demonstrated to myself that each of these things was neither impossible nor dangerous, my comfort zone has gotten bigger, giving me a foundation for trying new, bigger things. And I’m not sure there’s anything more exhilarating than the whoosh of your comfort zone expanding, whether it’s from jumping out of planes or just getting guest posts accepted.

I know many of you struggle with the same things I did. You may feel stuck and trapped. You may not even know what you want to be or do–maybe you’re afraid to know. Or maybe you’re one of the many who want to help people, do meaningful work, and change the world. Maybe you’ve always wanted to publish a book or support yourself with your art.

I want to see you do all this and more. I want to see you living your dreams, and dreaming bigger and bigger.

I’m thinking of creating a free resource for you, if you’re interested in overcoming your fears and changing your life.

I’m humbled and amazed at how many people have written to me about this! There’s a lot of interest in the workshop for overcoming fear that I’m thinking about developing. But to test the waters, I’m thinking about making a value-packed, 100% free guide to facing your fears and finding out what’s holding you back, just for you.

This guide will show you:

  • how to figure out what’s really holding you back
  • how to get control of your own life
  • how to get clear on what you want
  • how to know whether you should take a risk or listen to your fears (they are right some of the time!)
  • what to do to make your efforts more likely to succeed

Here’s the catch.

If you’ve been hanging around 17000 Days very long, you know I go all out whenever I do something. I get ideas, and they take over my whole life and become all I talk about. A classic example is the relationship workshop I built back in May–that was meant to be a small ebook but quickly mushroomed into a 25-module workshop with over 38,000 words of text and 88 pages of exercises.

There’s no reason to think I’ll be any different with this project. To tell the truth, I love throwing myself into things and writing and building like mad. But I would feel really stupid if I did all that and it turned out nobody wanted what I made.

Before I get carried away, I want to get a list of everyone who is interested in overcoming fear and getting this free guide.

Here’s what I want you to do

I’m making a list of everyone who is potentially interested in getting my free guide and getting in at the start of all this. If you’re interested, then enter your email address below. If I end up making it, I’ll send it to you at the email address you list below. (Leaving a comment with any suggestions on what you’d like to see in the guide would also help.)






What’s holding you back? Sign up if you want a free guide.

Even if you’re already subscribed to my newsletter, please sign up here–this is a separate thing.

(If you can’t see the form, please go to the original post to sign up.)

If enough people get on this “interest list” then I’ll make the free guide and send it to everyone on the interest list. But if nobody wants the free guide, no worries. I still have plenty of dusting and organizing to do, and you know that vacation I keep saying I’m taking? I’m finally doing it. Tiny cabin in the woods, here I come!

About Cara Stein: I'm a writer and dreamer with a PhD in self-reinvention. (Or was that computer science?) Whether you're stuck, lost, or just looking to enjoy your life more, I want to help because I've been there!

Comments (23)

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  1. Laurie says:

    Thanks for sharing all this, Cara…it’s always so nice to know I’m in good company!

    “Who cares about easy when you can have happy instead?”

    I love that. :) There’s nothing very easy about what I’m doing now, but I certainly am happier than I was for years. Finally, I have enough space around me mentally, physically, and emotionally to make my way thru the tough stuff MY WAY. It’s brilliant!

    The one thing that continues to hold me back is fear about money. I know if I could let go of that anxiety, the ideas would flow more easily, and therefore give me more income…giving that control over to the Universe is still really challenging for me.

    Hope there’s lots of interest in your guide, cause I’m looking forward to reading and applying it! Your ideas rock :)

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, Laurie!

      There’s nothing very easy about what I’m doing now, but I certainly am happier than I was for years.

      Exactly!! I love being on this journey with you. It is so awesome to be surrounded with other people who are going through the same thing. :)

      Thanks for your support–it means a lot to me!

  2. Helen says:

    Thank you so much for this! I let fear hold me back for too long! Enough is enough!
    After working through the workbook, I’ve made some more steps, bigger ones this time, and release a lot of fear. My thing is that I know what I want to do, I just have trouble breaking the steps down to get it done, and get overwhelmed sometimes. And I procrastinate on a daily basis.
    I hope there is a lot of interest in this because I would love to read it and release myself from more of the things that I use to hold myself back. Sometimes I am my biggest obstacle.
    Thank you so much for all you do!

    • Cara Stein says:

      Good for you, Helen! I’m absolutely delighted that the workbook has helped you. Thanks for your kind words!

  3. Boy did I relate to this post, Cara! (Even the part about coming down with a ghastly allergy, which happened to me after one of my spinal reconstructions. When they finally figured out what was wrong with me — a whole-body reaction to an IV antibiotic, vancomycin — I had to go on prednisone for 3 months. If only my “steroid trip” had been as instructive and productive as yours was!)

    I can also empathize bigtime with your previous incarnation, when you were putting yourself aside habitually to do just what your spouse wanted. Been there, done that — for about 20 years too long!

    The post itself was so helpful in reminding me of some of my own persisting blocks and failures of self-care that I can’t wait for the larger project you’re considering. Personally, I am especially interested in finding out the “what” of what’s holding me back now. I “should” be out there actualizing myself and helping others like crazy — I have skills and experience and so much to share — and it is driving me absolutely batty that I am still curled up here in my little chrysallis, inexplicably inert. If your product can help to elucidate this maddening issue, I will be eternally grateful. (I’m still scraping by on a minuscule disability stipend, and although I’m blessed to have decent health insurance through my estranged spouse, it doesn’t cover intensive therapy!)

    Best,
    Elizabeth

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m glad this post helped you–I hope the new project does even more. You have so much to offer the world. I know you have great things inside you, just waiting to come out! I would be honored to facilitate that.

  4. Cordelia says:

    Signing up now. You are definitely my “where I want to be in a few years,” and I’d love to hear your advice on how to get there!

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, Cordelia! It definitely doesn’t have to take years. From my perspective, it seems like you’re already where I was a few months ago. It would be my pleasure to help you break out as soon as possible!

  5. Mary says:

    I’m almost afraid to find out what I’m afraid of – what fear it is that’s holding back, but I’m looking forward to learning about it and moving past it. Thank you!!!

    • Cara Stein says:

      Oh man, have I been there! In my experience, it’s actually a huge relief to know, once and for all–the fear itself is less scary than not knowing. Here’s to moving forward!

  6. I love the energy in this post and what you’re creating Cara. Looking forward to the next chapter and watching it unfold.

  7. Marianne says:

    I think I will have my work cut out trying to get passed everything I’ve built up. Scary Stuff. (bites finger nails) but exciting! (buys nail polish in preparation for new bite-free nails!)

  8. Deanna says:

    I can so relate to losing yourself in pleasing others and depression. I have an ongoing battle with depression and fears. I fear failure, but I think that I also fear success. But I am glad to have found some support groups in the area where people understand and classes to take. I’m also glad to have stumbled across your website.

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, Deanna! I’m glad you’re here!

      For a long time, I never really thought that much about fear, or especially fear of success, but as I’ve talked with people over the past few months, I’ve come to realize how much fear really holds us back, and how universal it is.

      Good for you for finding support groups and resources to help!

  9. RavS says:

    You know what Cara you write some really big posts (at least the ones I have read till now), which makes me procrastinate over reading them, but once I start I just can’t leave it until I finish it, because they really seem to be honest (instead of “written for readers”).

    And I am really glad that you want to genuinely help your readers.

    Personally, I have a few dreams of my own but I am fearful of facing them:

    I feel like I would get embarrassed doing them (I am over 20 and don’t know how to cycle) OR don’t have in me to achieve them (I want to work in a huge MNC) OR would never achieve some of them, howsoever hard I try (like a great physique).

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, RavS! I really appreciate your feedback. I do tend to write long posts, especially this one was huge! I’m glad you connected with it. I really do love helping people–that’s the best part of all this by far!

      I can relate to your fears! I think most of my fears, if you really look at them, boil down to being embarrassed. I feel like I should already know everything and be good at everything, even though rationally, I know that’s ridiculous! I say go for it–you’ll never learn to cycle except by learning it. That part can be painful, but you can minimize the pain by accepting that you’re learning and won’t be perfect yet. And then, you’ll have a new thing to enjoy forever!

      For the fears of not having it in you to achieve them or never achieving them, I recommend looking at the process as worthy in itself, even if you never achieve the end. Not always easy, I know! :)

      Thank you for sharing your fears–that’s a valuable contribution to the conversation. I appreciate it!

  10. […] What’s Holding You Back? “When I finally took ownership of my life and started working to make things better, it didn’t happen over night, but it did happen. If you had told me back then how great things are going now, I don’t think I would have believed that I would… […]

  11. Benny says:

    Great post Cara! So inspiring. I know it must have been so hard to make huge changes like that but in the end you are a better person because of it. So many points you made in the post I completely agree with. We do have choices. As humans we have the choice to take our life in any direction we want. Sharks can’t do that. Lions can’t either. We can stop going down one path and do something completely different. It’s such a gift but so many people don’t use it. They’re scared like you said. I’m glad you did and you want to help others too!

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, Benny!

      As humans we have the choice to take our life in any direction we want… It’s such a gift but so many people don’t use it.

      That’s it exactly!!

  12. Steve Roy says:

    Cara,
    This was the first post of yours I read and I love your openness and honesty.
    So many people (including me)feel trapped in jobs they hate and the feeling of helplessness can suck us right down the drain.

    It’s inspiring to see someone take their life head on and make it happen! I’ll be reading more of your stuff for sure!

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, Steve! It feels great to hear that! My highest goal is to help other people escape the so-so and build lives full of meaning and joy.

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