Why it’s so terrifying to go after what you want (and what to do about it)

Since January, it has been the hugest of honors to lead the first Courageous Coaching Training Program, supporting a group of women who are training to become life coaches.

The honor of it all comes from being part of helping people to do what they want with their lives, on their terms, which is part of the path of using your life for not just one’s own purposes but to create something bigger (living on one’s own terms in a vacuum? Painfully empty).

The honor of it all comes from watching as people choose to actually utilize the power that they have access to, to create better lives.

The honor of it all comes from watching people take tentative steps into saying, “In every facet of my life, even in the domain of money/career where I’ve been told over and over that I can’t expect much, I’m doing what I desire, on my own terms.” I know how it feels to have walked this path, and now there’s a giddy excitement in watching others as they start to step forward, as well.

There’s giddy excitement any time we go after what we want, and at the same time, there’s fear.

Why you’re so afraid (you’re not just crazy)

There’s the fear that if you tell people what you really want, they’ll downplay it, criticize it, laugh at it, or ask “Who do you think you are?” (which, aside from not feeling great, would bring up all of one’s own personal Stories and internal narratives that they are rejected or unloved or unsupported).

There’s the fear that, well–the person who did all of those things might be right (embarrassing at best, shame-inducing at worst).

There’s the fear that if failure happens, it will feel like there’s no way to pick oneself up and create something new (a hopeless and weak feeling).

There’s the fear that you’ll be called selfish for going after what you desire, and perhaps someone will even consciously try to induce guilt in you by reminding you of all the people who suffer in the world, and who do you think you are to do what you want, when so many people are suffering?

Then there’s the fear of success, which would bring with it a complete confrontation and refutation of one’s own inner Victim story, and most of us have held onto stories that we are incapable, doomed to fail, unable, limited, unworthy or undeserving for so long, that we don’t even realize that we operate from that place. The inner Victim is just one of many possible identity systems to adopt. We confuse that identity system with who we actually “are.”

(P.S. That’s the truth behind why success feels so uncomfortable, why we have trouble receiving praise or recognition. The identity system of Victim is so practiced that people’s assertions that we did a seriously kick-ass job on something push up against our own, internalized conception who who we “are.”)

What to Do About it

You step into the “shaky tenderness” that is part of the early stages of courage.

You take a deep breath.

You acknowledge the truth: that you might fail, that people might criticize or belittle, that there are people who are suffering in the world and that you are privileged by comparison, and that you won’t have that old identity to cling to if you’re successful, and that this would be temporarily disorienting.

You breathe. All true. All possible.

Then, you step forward, anyway. You declare it. You say it. When people ask you, “So, what do you do?” you say, “I’m a ____________ who is building ______________.”

You do that because it’s a bigger “failure” to not step into the truest expression of who you actually are, and because you know that not stepping into that would be the bigger regret.

You do that because people who criticize or belittle do it from their own limited, fearful worldview. Maybe seeing you create life on your own terms will inspire them to stop spreading negativity, and start looking to expand their own options, and by extension the options of others.

You do that because the world has never been changed solely on the backs of those who had less privilege. The world’s revolutions have always involved those who had access to privilege and who wanted to use that privilege to create something better in the world–more equality, more access, more for everyone. In other words: a great way to see the world change is to do your personal work, and use the expanded capacity for courage, compassion, and tolerance that comes from that, to create world change.

The world’s revolutions have always started, in fact, with the backbone of courage: what I call a “revolution from within.” The revolution from within is always one that has a ripple effect, outward.

You step forward and declare what you want, and then you create it on your own terms, because your success at being your fullest expression of yourself is actually a gift to the world. It becomes the vehicle for someone else’s life to change, too.

Courage is an evolutionary imperative. It’s risking the fear within yourself, and working with it and through it, that brings the benefit to you and to everyone else who has the honor of witnessing it. You never know when, just by being yourself, you’ll be someone else’s gift.

Bearing Witness

Waking up every day feeling like you’re settling is a crime, when you consider how many people truly don’t have any other option. Chances are very good that for anyone with access to an internet connection, you do have options.

The questions are: What are you doing with the options? Are you using them? Or telling yourself the lie that you don’t have them?

What do you truly want to do with your life? When you look back, what do you want to say your life stood for? Compromise and complacency, because taking advantage of the truth of your power was too scary? Or something bigger?

There’s something really special to me, a woman who thought for years that whatever she wanted to do with her life, she’d have to “be realistic” about her options and fit them into some pre-tread mold, to not only find ways to do what she desires, but to also help other people do the same.

A decade ago, I wasn’t serving anyone when I was mired in depression and anxiety, telling myself the same stories about what I “had to” do or what I “couldn’t” create for myself.

We do good when we live our lives on our own terms. It’s hard, and it requires courage, but this is how we create a more expansive world. It starts with one person, willing to take a courageous risk. It expands, from there.

An interview with Marianne Elliott

The Courageous Living Program? Totally updated.

Updating the Courageous Living Program has been a labor of love project for the past six months, as I’ve gone through everything in the program from content to chapter arrangement, and examined all of the places where I wanted to make updates. I’ve re-written chapters, added chapters, and changed around exercise questions (including re-ordering some of the concepts in a way that closely models the process I take one-on-one coaching clients through).

Even better news? Everyone who has purchased the program gets access to the update, free (check your inbox associated with your PayPal/financial transactions; the download link might be waiting for you). I’ve already announced that I’ve added interviews with Superhero Andrea Scher, Paul Jarvis, and Andrea Owen.



Meet Marianne Elliott
As two women who want you to stop seeing courage as something you either have, or don’t have, this interview is all about re-framing one’s experience of fear. The fact that fear exists? That’s actually okay–and Marianne is going to share some of her personal story of how that has emerged.

If you’ve been doing the, “I’ll start a new workshop / book / practice / coach / therapist / plan to change my life” dance for far too long, it’s time to settle into something deeper–really taking an honest inquiry into the self.

When you choose to meet your fear with love, you start the truest revolution from within.


What’s your commitment: to overwhelm, or the desire for change?

Truth-bomb: every single time that I start something new, it’s overwhelming.

Every. Single. Time. It doesn’t matter whether or not I’ve created several courses or programs. It doesn’t matter whether or not I’ve read a gazillion books about formulating the just-right training program for upping my running mileage or preparing for a triathlon. It doesn’t matter whether I’ve attended thousands of hours of coaching as a client.

When I am creating a new course, or planning a new training season, or when my coach challenges me to step into a new way of responding to a chronic life challenge, I think things like:

  • How am I going to make time for this?
  • I hate feeling this stressed-out.
  • Should I have started this? Maybe now wasn’t the right time.

I’m leading with that simple admission, because there’s no secret to be had, no bones about it–when starting something new, we have to make space for the new thing, learn about the new thing, and we will wonder whether or not the investment of our time and energy is worth it, when it comes to learning about the new thing.

Any time we’re embarking on something new, fear arises–and sometimes, “overwhelm” is the code-name for “fear.”

What Successful People Do

Let’s say that we’re defining “success” in this case as following through on those things that are important to you. There’s a difference between those who are successful with making things happen, and those who find that it’s another year and they still haven’t quite found themselves where they want to go:

Successful people actively and consciously decide to learn how to work with overwhelm.


Because they’re more committed to their desires to make changes, than they are to the overwhelm.

I’m thinking of an intensive online course I took awhile ago. There were audios to listen to, new worksheets to download each week, calls to attend, homework to complete between sessions. I’d been excited when signing up for the course, but hadn’t really thought about the actual time commitment that would be involved (uh, mistake #1).

In short, I was completely overwhelmed. Each week, the work was piling up and I was feeling frustrated with myself–and the inner critic voices were piping up to remind me of how “stupid” I felt because I “wasn’t getting it.”

And then, in week four of the course, after having barely put time into the materials each week and after having been skating by, I said: ENOUGH.

I cleared my calendar and found an entire four-hour block of time. Then I sat down during that four-hour block and went through every single one of the audios and homework sheets, and re-did anything that I’d done half-assed.


Overwhelm wasn’t “happening to” me. I was creating the overwhelm, spinning in it through a series of my own choices. I was the one who kept not making time for the assignments. I was the one who kept half-assing them when I frantically tried to complete them before our weekly call.

ENOUGH. I was turning that ship around.

A Funny Thing About ENOUGH

A funny thing happens when we declare “ENOUGH” in our lives: things change, and the mental shift of saying ENOUGH can bring immediate relief.

When you say “ENOUGH,” you shift out of external circumstances for your overwhelm. In this particular course, I was even blaming the medium through which the instructor was giving out materials for some of my overwhelm–I was having trouble finding where things were located, purely due to my own choices. I hadn’t made the choice to actually spend some time really getting familiar with how the course module worked. Of course I didn’t know where things were located–I was popping into the course module for only a few minutes at most, and getting upset when things weren’t immediately right under my nose!

When you say “ENOUGH,” you shift out of blaming other people. You stop blaming your mother, or your 2nd grade teacher who told you you’d never amount to anything, or the person leading the workshop who isn’t doing it the way you think she should. You start walking into every single interaction understanding that while you may feel a normal, human response to the unkindness of others, that’s a response. Your ongoing reaction–the series of choices you make thereafter–are wholly up to you.

When you say “ENOUGH,” you move into more pro-active, solution-based thinking. You’ll decide to find that four-hour chunk of time to get yourself organized, or you’ll hire someone who is great at organization to step in and help you. Pro-active, solution-based thinking leaves no room for whining about how there’s no time or money. Instead, that kind of thinking finds the time, finds the money…and, more than anything, shifts into thinking of time and money spent as investments, not losses.


You Got Options

We so often step into overwhelm when we choose to take on the belief system that we don’t have options. When I was skating by in the online course that I was taking, my head was riddled with thoughts that limited my options, mostly thinking about lack of time.

Translation: I wanted all the benefits the course had to offer, but I was telling myself the limiting story of not having time.

Of course, how much time did it actually take me to get back on track? One four-hour block, and then more conscious scheduling, going forward.

It’s possible someone’s thinking, “But I don’t have that four-hour block. Truly, I don’t! Or I make the time for the four-hour block, and then something else comes up!”

Okay. Deep breath. Lots of love. Here goes:

My friend, if it is important enough to you, because you see clearly that to make any other choice would be settling for a life that is less than you deserve, you will create the time you need.

My friend, if it is important enough to you, because you see clearly that to make any other choice would be settling for a life that is less than you deserve, you will be ruthless about protecting the time that you do reserve for your deepest self-care or ambitions, and in those places and spaces where a completely unavoidable emergency (not a self-justified “emergency,” but an honest-to-cheese emergency) really does hijack that time, you’ll be ruthless about finding another time and space.


These words aren’t an attack. They are truth.

There’s always some way to find your path to what it is that you want, in the way that you want it, while honoring your values. To embark on that is to act with courage, because the decisions are tough and the opportunities to sell out on what you truly desire are many.

But if you really want to find your way there, you will find your way there. Be more committed to your desires, than to the belief systems and behaviors that prop up your overwhelm.

You won’t just thank yourself, for making this choice. We’ll all thank you. A world full of people who are committed to living lives of their own conscious design is exactly what we need.

Registration opening soon: Breathing Space, 2014