By Anne A. Wilson
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
You’ve had this niggle, this splinter, this thing that’s been pinging you senseless. Something deep inside that wants to try a new profession, go back to school, move across the country, open a bakery, pick up a paint brush, ditch that tailored suit and start teaching yoga.
But what stops us from trying something new?
When I considered quitting a well-paying job in semiconductor manufacturing in favor of opening my own business in triathlon coaching, I harbored a rather long list.
- Fear. Of everything. Of change, of the unknown, of failure.
- Image. What will other people think? What about my reputation?
- Finances. Will my family end up on the street because of me?
Fortunately, I received some great advice from a coworker—a former Army Ranger—while deciding whether or not to leave my job.
“It might feel like you’re stepping off a cliff, but really, you’re just stepping off the curb.”
This man, for whom risk carried a completely different meaning, continued by adding, “Really, Anne? You’re worried about what again?”
A gentle reminder of my own military background.
Prior to working in semiconductors, I flew search and rescue for the navy in the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Our helicopter squadron specialized in high altitude technical mountain rescue—plucking stranded climbers from cliffs, retrieving injured hikers from the backcountry, finding skiers and snowboarders lost out of bounds.
We hovered oh-so-close to solid walls of granite, squeezed into landing zones with little room for error, took off in tricky weather, and skirted the razor’s edge of our performance parameters at high altitudes, where the air was thin and the aircraft power limited.
The risks were great, but the rewards greater.
I went back to my list. Fear, Image, Finances? In my former life, these wouldn’t have held much sway. I’m not saying I never felt fear, but it wasn’t necessarily a showstopper. Somehow, this had gotten away from me. For my coworker, the Army Ranger, these words were not, nor would they ever be, inhibitors in his vocabulary.
So I imagined his list. What might keep this former Special Forces soldier from doing what he wanted (even though, in the end, the following reasons would never stop him):
- Risk of death
- Risk of dismemberment
- Risk of capture and torture
- All of the above multiplied by a thousand if it could happen to one of his fellow soldiers
I realized double quick that I needed to take a fresh look at my own list.
Fear of failure. What were the consequences if I started my own business and it failed? Death? Dismemberment? Torture?
Okay, so I had no need to fear failure.
Fear of change? Of the unknown? Worried about what people might think? Finances? According to the Ranger’s list, my concerns would rank, uh, far lower.
Still, I found myself hesitating. Death and dismemberment be damned, I had one-year-old twins to think about! I couldn’t just throw away a stable pay check, health benefits, and all the rest, and traipse off into an unknown future.
But my job stability was exacting a heavy toll. Semiconductors held little interest for me and the job itself—the hours, the demands, the pressure—was eating away at my soul.
As I weighed my decision, I realized that something had joined me and my job at the dinner table. In fact, it had picked up a fork and started nibbling. Regret.
Regret is an ache that will follow you to your grave, something you’ll wish you had the ability to reach inside yourself and yank out, guts and all, and then spit on it for good measure.
The thing is, you can only rid yourself of regret if you take that bold first step. Even if what you attempt doesn’t work out the way you’d planned, you will have given regret no purchase. And when it seems like we don’t have control over much in this life, you actually do have power over this. It grants you a freedom, a lightness, that you can carry with you into any future endeavor.
So, go ahead. Step off the curb. Live life fully. No regrets.
Anne A. Wilson is the author of Hover and Clear to Lift. She was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in ocean engineering. She served nine years active duty as a navy helicopter pilot, including three years flying search and rescue, where she specialized in high-altitude technical mountain rescue. Following her military service, she worked for four years in the semiconductor industry. Currently, she and her husband own a triathlon coaching company, Camelback Coaching. Anne lives in Fountain Hills, AZ, with her husband and two sons. To learn more, visit www.anneawilson.com.
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