What's holding you back?


This essay first appeared in my newsletter, The Weekly Pep Talk. If you’d like to subscribe for a big old dose of positivity in your inbox every Sunday, you can sign up here.

“What’s holding you back?”

That’s the question I seem to be asking my clients a lot recently. It’s also the question that comes up whenever my friends and I are a few glasses of wine deep, chatting about all of our wildest hopes and dreams for the future.

“What’s holding you back?”, I ask, when friends or clients talk about the things they’d love to achieve or experience. “What’s stopping you from just going for it?”

The answers are always different - money, family commitments, lack of time, lack of experience. But lying at the root of those answers is always the very same thing - fear. Fear of failure, fear of losing what they currently have, fear of being judged by others for their decisions.

When I hear those answers, I’m flooded with empathy. Because we’ve all let fear rule our decisions at some point, haven’t we? I certainly have. I’ve played small out of fear of being rejected. I’ve ignored my big dreams and hopes out of fear that I’d fail to make them a reality. I’ve kept quiet about new endeavours or passions out of fear that people would laugh at me.

Sounds familiar right? We all let that fear rule our decisions from time to time, because when it starts to flood our bodies, fear feels like a very real threat. Fear is such a dominant emotion because it has helped us humans survive for years. Being scared of the right things helped our ancient ancestors stay out of harm’s way, and ultimately stay alive. Fear has ultimately been a positive evolution for the human race.

But the challenge comes when we allow ourselves to be scared of the wrong things. Because there’s a very real difference between the fear of being eaten by a lion, and the fear of being judged by our friends. But our minds can trick us into believing that the threat level is exactly the same (spoiler: it isn’t, no matter how much it feels like it).

And so sometimes we have to press override. Sometimes we have to choose not to listen to our fear, sometimes we have to decide to ignore the adrenaline coursing through our veins. Sometimes we have to think about what’s truly scarier - pushing out of our comfort zones and enduring some short term fear and insecurity, or giving up on our hopes and dreams forever.

Because if we keep serving up those excuses, if we keep giving in to our fears, our biggest hopes and ambitions will stay exactly where they are - in our dreams. And it was realising that that helped me to start making progress. Because while I’m still scared of being judged, and while I still have a very real fear of failure, I know that the biggest failure lies in not even trying.

The biggest fear I have now isn’t being laughed at by other people, or being rejected for an opportunity that I’ve put myself forwards for. No, it’s waking up 20, 30, 40 years from now and feeling like I haven’t lived my life as fully as I could have done. It’s reaching old age and being disappointed at how I’ve spent my precious life minutes. And I know that the only way I can avoid that disappointment is by facing up to my smaller fears now, and pushing through the temporary discomfort.

And so, if you’ve got some big dreams or hopes that you’d love to achieve some day, ask yourself what’s holding you back. Get to the root of the fears that are stopping you from taking action, and ask yourself what’s scarier - facing those fears head on, or failing to even try. I’ll bet everything that I have that it’s the latter.