Quitting my job at the peak of my international career and moving back to Melbourne is the bravest thing I have ever done. It might not sound like a big deal. In fact, when I spoke to my father about it he suggested that surely moving with three children under three to South Africa, where we didn’t know anyone, to take up a demanding new job, was more courageous. “No,” I explained; “that was normal.” That was my regular life, the pattern I had pursed for years. Yes, it had its challenges but it wasn’t courageous because I wasn’t afraid of doing that. You see, courage, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is the ability to do something that frightens one. 

Courage is the ability to do something that frightens one.
— Oxford English Dictionary

I probably should have been petrified moving half-way across the world when my twins were just 4 months old. But I had totally underestimated the enormity of going from one to three kids overnight and underestimated the responsibility of my new job. In my defence, my brain was in a state of sleep-deprived mush. However, after the first intense year in South Africa, I started to secretly wish for a different life. I was still passionate abut the work but instead of presenting at international conferences, I dreamt of sitting in a quiet studio overlooking the ocean, writing a book, having just finished yoga and meditation practice. I wanted to stop for lunch and play with my children; to cook a beautiful meal for my husband and friends and sip red wine, and laugh and be. This was my deepest yearning but seemed impossible.

The idea of quitting my job, with no other employment in sight, when I was finically responsible for four other people, and leaving South Africa, having just bought a house and two cars and a horse(!) was so very scary that I had actually wished, at one point, that I had cancer (preferably not the terminal type) to provide me with a legitimate excuse to dramatically change my life. At the same time, the idea of staying where I was, keeping up the superwoman act, and not pursuing my dreams filled me with an even greater dread, and felt like a self-imposed jail sentence. I was afraid that if I didn’t follow my heart I would regret it for the rest of my life. I was afraid that that my marriage would not survive the stress we were under.

But which fear should I run away from and which fear should I lean into to? After much-needed sleep, regular therapy, daily meditation, and honest conversations with family and friends, I came to the conclusion that my two fears, while they seemed similar, were actually very different.[1] My first set of fears, stemmed from what is often called the reptilian brain. These fears come from an ancient part of the brain and are driven by the survival instinct; concerned with territory, and social dominance. “I won’t have enough money to support my kids; we’ll be homeless; I’ve spent almost 15 years building this career, I’d be crazy to turn my back on it now; people will be so disappointed in me; my dreams are crazy and I’m bound to fail.” I could virtually feel the scales growing on my skin as this mantra got louder and louder in my mind. 

On further reflection, I realised that these fears were based on an imagined future that had not actually occurred. So why did they feel so very real? You see, even though we have evolved to be able to feel, think and reason, the subconscious brain is still catching up and cannot yet differentiate between reality and our imagination. That means our thoughts about possible threats create exactly the same response in our brains and bodies as if we were being attacked by a T-Rex. On the other hand, my second set of fears, the fear I had for my own mental health, for my family, and of not pursuing my passion, seemed to be more rooted in reality, and to come from a deeper place inside myself, my true self.

In the end, the key to making my decision was not rationally comparing a list of pros and cons for each option (I did try that, but got nowhere). Instead, I consciously sat and observed what each choice – to stay in my current career in South Africa, or quit my job and follow my dreams – felt like in my body.  What I noticed was that the thought of staying in my job and keeping up the superwoman charade made me feel as if I was being drowned in toxic sludge. I felt physically repulsed and wanted to run away. In contrast, the prospect of quitting, being financially and emotionally vulnerable and starting a new life felt like jumping off a cliff without a parachute; scary, but somewhere within myself I knew that I could fly. 

So I leapt. And the ride has been terrifying but transcendent. And let me tell you, all of those imagined fears were just that, imaginary. Yes, we had to move back in with my mum, but we were not homeless. Yes, it has been a financial struggle, but thanks to social security and generous support from family (which I know not everyone has the luxury of), we have not starved. I still get to work on the issues I care about, but on my own terms. And the astounding and truly humbling reaction I received to my first blog makes me believe that dreams are possible. Life has not suddenly become easy, but I feel more myself than I have in years. I am more deeply connected to my kids, my husband and this spectacular life. I know without a doubt that this is the best, be it hardest, decision I have ever made.

So I encourage you to listen to your own fears, and reflect on the underlying thoughts and beliefs that are driving them. Then leap into the fear. Leap into the life of your dreams. Leap, I say. 

What’s the bravest thing you've ever done? How did it work out for you?

[1] Others have written more about this – Martha Beck, Deepak Chopra and others.