The Courage To Follow Your Dreams

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The problem with leaving your present set of circumstances in order to follow your dreams is that the outcome is up in the air. Following your dreams is a gamble, a risk, it’s trading certainty for uncertainty, and any time we trade certainty for uncertainty painful existential anxiety is born.

If you were absolutely sure that making the change would lead to the results you want you’d go ahead with that change with the same easy resolve as all of the other myriad behaviors that make up the routine of your day. When we can predict the outcome beforehand, when we’re so used to seeing cause and effect that the action is basically hardwired in our brains, we don’t feel any existential anxiety, we just act. But when existential anxiety arises we tend to freeze, we sense some nameless threat in the external environment and sort of shrink into ourselves in order to gain protection from this threat.

As we’ve written before existential anxiety is not your enemy, it’s your friend. It keeps you from enacting thoughtless behaviors that would pose a serious risk to your physical, mental, or emotional health. It’s your own personal alarm system. But the point of the alarm is to alert you to the threat, not to keep you cowering in the corner indefinitely. You can override the signal if you want to, you can use your reason and logic in order to decide that in your specific set of circumstances the reward of successfully following your dreams is worth the risk. You can make a list of exactly what the main risks are and take some precautionary measures to minimize them. You can decide that your self-actualization is your primary concern and that you’re willing to take on some existential anxiety to bring your self-actualization about. As Rollo May once put it, courage is not the absence of fear it’s moving forward in spite of it.

The first major component of summoning up the courage to follow your dreams is letting the above psychology sink in so that you can isolate the existential anxiety you’re feeling and trace it back to its source, which is of course the prospect of trading certainty for uncertainty. Change can be good or bad, wanted or unwanted, productive or destructive, but it’s always going to have existential anxiety as its precursor due to the uncertainty inherent in the changing circumstances.