What’s Keeping You From Your Great Work?

What’s Keeping You From Your Great Work?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Cara Stein of 17,000 Days

What’s keeping you from your great work?

You’ve read the stories: the artists, the writers, the musicians, the visionaries—quitting their jobs to follow their dreams and actually making it.

You want that life, so much you can taste it. It’s not that you don’t know how. So why aren’t you living it? What do those people have that you don’t?

Personally, I always assumed it was an exemption from the rules of reality. Those people had been sprinkled with some kind of magical “special dust” at birth, and everything they touched turned to gold. I, on the other hand, was just a regular person, so it couldn’t happen for me. I’d better stay in my cubicle, keep my head down, and be grateful I didn’t have it worse.

But somehow, I just couldn’t rest. I felt like I was wasting my life, marking time, watching it all slip away. The thought of waking up in 10 years, still doing the same thing, made me want to scream. Ten years, hell—even the thought of waking up Monday required a lot of mental sedation.

I found that I could get through my life just fine if I shut off my brain and coasted during the boring parts. Unfortunately, the boring parts were almost everything I did. If I kept coasting and fast-forwarding, exactly where was I trying to get? The end?

The thought terrified me. When was I going to do the actual living part?

A wake-up call

Then one day, something terrible happened at the university where I worked. One of the biology professors went into a Friday afternoon faculty meeting and started shooting her colleagues. Three people died, and more would have if the gun hadn’t jammed.

It was a total shock, and the university community staggered through the rest of the semester in a confused, wounded daze.

Nobody knew what to do… except the remaining biology professors. They organized memorials and support groups, comforted and leaned on each other, and got back into the classrooms and the research labs. They couldn’t stand to have this tragedy keep them from their important work.

These profs could easily have sued the university for mental anguish and never had to work again. But they really wanted to get back to doing what they loved, so that’s what they did.

In my beige, zoned-out existence, I could barely comprehend it. But I knew I had to make my life like that.

These professors weren’t non-conformists, revolutionaries, or miracle people. On the contrary, they had tenure and a pension plan. Yet they had created a life they wouldn’t change, even after facing down death.

If they could do it, maybe I could, too. So I started trying. After a lot of false starts and a ton of hard work (not to mention invaluable guidance from Jonathan!), I quit my job last summer. I’m as ordinary as they come, but I’m following my dream.

What it really takes

What I’ve learned is that living your dream life has nothing to do with specialness. It’s not even a matter of hard work—you need that, but it’s not enough.

The biggest thing standing between most people and their dreams is themselves.

We know the official reasons why we can’t do something. It’s dangerous, we don’t have enough money, we don’t know how, we’re too busy, it’s too hard, we’re tired, we have to take care of the kids/wife/dog/hamster.

But the truth is, we’re afraid of our dreams. We cling to these excuses because we know that, as long as we have them, we’re off the hook. We can keep things as they are: known and safe. We don’t have to risk making fools of ourselves or failing.

The only problem is, when we do the mental calculation and decide our dreams are too risky, we never figure in the cost of staying put. The cost of spending 20 years marking time, doing things you don’t care about. The cost of all the aspirin required to ease your daily boredom headache. The cost of all the hours and days when you shut off your brain and press fast-forward.

If you truly want to follow your dream, the key is recognizing your fear. Name it, face it, pin it down. Then overcome it and do what you want to do. Your life is waiting.

My special gift to Illuminated Mind readers

I know how hard it is to overcome your fears and go after your dreams. Jonathan has helped me with mine, more than I can ever express, so I’d like to give something back to him, and to you. (In case you couldn’t tell, Jonathan is my hero and I’d follow him anywhere!)

That’s why I’ve put together a resource kit just for you. Check it out: Fear-Kicking Dream-Following Kit

Here’s what’s inside:

  1. “What’s Stopping You?” This guide includes how to figure out what’s holding you back, how to get clear on what you want, how to know whether you should take a risk or listen to your fears (they are right some of the time!), and what to do to make your efforts more likely to succeed.
  2. A workbook designed to help you nail down your fears so you can get moving toward your dreams.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to check out the Fear-Kicking Dream-Following Kit

About the Author: Cara writes at 17000 Days, a blog about remembering that life is short and making your best days a common occurrence. She’s a big believer in self-reinvention and building your ideal life for yourself. Her latest adventure is Beyond Fear, a workshop on overcoming your fears.


photo courtesy of jeevan jose



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