Image by David Mark from Pixabay

5 Fears That Are Holding You Back From Pursuing Your Dreams

And some simple strategies to overcome them

Kathryn Wells
Feb 25, 2020 · 9 min read

If you have a big dream then you likely also have one or two big fears that sit alongside it.

You know the ones. The kind that paralyzes you and fills your head with all the reasons why your dream is unattainable.

Your fears whisper to you that you’re too old or too young.

That you’re over or under-qualified.

That you’re not smart enough.

Whatever tales your fear spins you will be carefully crafted to fit the story of how you view yourself.

And while the story itself will be unique to you, the themes that drive your fear will likely fall under one of the following five categories.

1) Fear of uncertainty

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost

From the moment you were born, society had a particular life mapped out for you.

You would go to school, then to university. You would graduate and get a job. You would meet someone special, fall in love and get married. You would raise children together. You would retire, spend some time with your grandchildren and then die.

You were given a textbook on how to live your life.

But as appealing as this may have once sounded, there is a voice that whispers inside of you that you want more.

You want to take a different path but there isn’t a textbook for that one.

You yearn for both adventure AND safety.

And you’re not alone in feeling that way — I think most of us do.

But given a choice between the two, most of us choose safety.

The uncertainty of the adventurous path scares us and so we opt for the certain, the familiar.

I’m a great example of this.

Ever since I was 18, I’ve had a dream to go and volunteer in Africa. I’m now 36 so you can tell that seizing the day is not my strong suit.

A few weeks ago I finally found the courage to pay my deposit and secure a two-month internship for next year.

It’s taken me as long as it has because I fear uncertainty. Every time I went to step forward my brain would flood with thoughts of the following:

  • If I quit my job to go and do this then what the heck do I do after that?
  • What if I can’t find another job?
  • What if I run out of money and end up homeless and having to forage around in the wilderness for food, eating berries and mushrooms that may or may not kill me?
  • What if my mother is right and I’m raped and murdered the minute I get over there?

Most of us are creatures of comfort, we don’t do so well when we can’t see what’s coming around the next bend.

But uncertainty doesn’t have to derail you. There’s a simple strategy that you can use to move you into a more positive frame of mind.

Focus on your goal, not on your feelings.

When you focus on your feelings what you’re giving attention to is your fears and your fears can cripple you.

Instead, when you find yourself attaching to your feelings shift your attention to your goal. By doing this you’re focusing on something that is fixed, rather than something that is transient.

For example, when I put my attention on Africa, something I know is happening, I take my attention off my feelings which are constantly changing.

You’ll find that focusing on your feelings panics you whereas focusing on your goal, grounds you.

2) Fear of the unknown

“We do not fear the unknown. We fear what we think we know about the unknown.” — Teal Swan

You may think the fear of uncertainty and the unknown are the same thing but they’re not.

Fearing uncertainty is about not knowing how things will turn out.

Fearing the unknown is about not knowing what things will look like.

Fear of the unknown is a fear of anything that lies outside your comfort zone.

Take me as an example.

Right now, I live in a nice house, in a nice area, with a hot shower, and a fridge that is full of the kinds of healthy foods I like to eat.

There are no snakes, no spiders, no creatures of any kind that can kill me and while we’re on the subject of being killed, it’s fairly unlikely in my neighborhood.

I feel comfortable because my days are made up of a bunch of knowns.

But when I think about Africa, it scares me. Life over there will be a series of unknowns.

I’ll be living in basic accommodation in an area that looks very different to the one I currently live in. I’ll eat when I’m told it’s time to eat and I’ll eat the food that’s given to me.

There will be snakes and spiders and all sorts of predators that could kill me.

I’ll look different to most of the people who live there and for once I’ll be in the minority not the majority.

You’ll have your own Africa.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to take an art class but they hold it at night and right now it’s winter and you’d rather just curl up in front of Netflix.

Or your job leaves you feeling completely numb inside but hey, at least you know what you’re doing and who needs fulfillment anyway?

Perhaps it’s a relationship that you’re wanting to leave but you live with your partner and you have no idea where you’ll live or what life on the other side of a decade-long relationship is going to look like.

The unknown makes us nervous and that’s okay. It’s normal to feel that way.

But if we’re not careful it can keep us stuck because the thought of leaving our comfort zone makes us feel so unsafe.

So how can we overcome it and move forward?

Replace your fear of the unknown with curiosity.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s the best thing that can happen if I do this?
  • What’s the worst thing that can happen if I do this?
  • What will happen if I do nothing?

When you feel fearful you can become paralyzed but when you’re curious you open yourself up to a world of possibilities.

3) Fear of what others might think

“The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.” — Osho

So you want to sign up for adult ballet classes or learn how to skydive or quit your job to travel the world or train for an ultra marathon but you don’t.

Why?

Because Uncle Bob thinks it’s a stupid idea.

Your mother's best friend tells you you’re crazy.

Your neighbor laughs at you.

And so what do you do?

You let that great idea, that soul-calling, that dream you have, shrivel up and die because someone else doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

I’ve always worried about what other people think of me. I was raised to be responsible and sensible and responsible and sensible people listen to other responsible and sensible people when they tell them all the many reasons why they’re nuts for wanting to do what they want to do.

Don’t be like me. Don’t wait almost two decades to do the things you want to do.

Worrying about what someone else thinks of what you’re doing is a waste of time.

Your time.

Your dreams are yours. They were given to you for a reason. You’re meant to live them.

A simple strategy to overcoming the fear of what other people think of you and your dreams is to remember that most people are simply projecting their own fears, the fears that stopped them from following their dreams, on to you.

Remind yourself that you know best when it comes to your own life and what’s right for you.

4) Fear that you’ll make a mistake

“The fear of making a decision is the result of fearing to make a mistake — the truth is, the fear of mistakes has a greater impact on you than making the mistakes.” — Bob Proctor

What if this is the wrong choice?

What if I’m on the wrong path?

What if I choose to go for this and it turns out to be a huge mistake?

If you’re someone who fears making a mistake then it’s likely that when you think about your dreams one, or all, of the above goes through your head.

While it may sound hard to believe, you’re not going to make a mistake.

You might take a glorious detour off the beaten path and you may even learn a ton of great lessons that you needed to learn to help you further down the line but you won’t have made a mistake.

Eventually, that detour will bring you out at the exact part of the path you’re meant to be on.

So in that sense, the wrong path ends up being the right path anyway.

When you’re worried about making a mistake a simple strategy is to change the language that you use and to reframe things.

Tell yourself that whatever happens you’re going on an adventure that’s going to help you grow as a person. You’re being courageous and taking the first step on the path towards your dreams and along the way, you’re likely to have to stop and pull up a seat in the classroom of life but that’s okay.

Every piece of knowledge you gather about yourself and the world is helping you get one step closer to what it is you’re wanting to achieve.

There are no mistakes, only lessons.

5) You’re just plain scared…and that’s okay!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela

Here’s the thing — it’s normal to feel scared.

Whether it be in the newspaper, on the T.V. or on social media, you’re bombarded day in and day out by images that seek to show you that this world is a scary place to live in.

The sole purpose of all this fear-mongering is to reinforce the belief that the safest thing you can do is never to venture outside of your comfort zone.

Yes, you live in a world that is scary sometimes.

But you also live in a beautiful one. A world where good things happen every day — you just aren’t shown those in an equal ratio to the scary ones.

You don’t see the thousands of planes that land safely.

You don’t see the millions of random acts of kindness.

You don’t see all the happy faces of people that didn’t get mugged on the street.

The good will always outweigh the bad — you must hold on to that.

You don’t have to pretend that your big dreams don’t scare you or that stepping out into the unfamiliar doesn’t panic you. Your fear and your dreams can co-exist, you just need to make sure fear’s the passenger and not the driver.

When you’re scared to move towards your dream a simple strategy is to think about why you want to do what it is you want to do and who would be negatively impacted if you didn’t pursue this dream.

What impact is it that you’re wanting to have?

Whose life would be poorer for you not going after this dream?

Focusing on your why and the positive impact achieving your dream might have on others, can help you override the part of your brain that is stuck in fear mode.

It’s normal to feel fearful when you have a big dream but don’t let that fear hold you back from pursuing it.

Recognize which of the above fears is a particular trigger for you right now and arm yourself with a strategy.

You can’t get rid of your fear altogether but you can plan for it.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Sign up for Top Stories

By Live Your Life On Purpose

A newsletter that delivers Live Your Life On Purpose's most popular stories to your inbox once a month.  Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Kathryn Wells

Written by

Lover of peanut butter, chocolate and the written word. Figuring life out one puzzle piece at a time.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Kathryn Wells

Written by

Lover of peanut butter, chocolate and the written word. Figuring life out one puzzle piece at a time.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store