Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” You could say it’s been my life’s motto. It was evident when I moved clear across the country to attend college, not knowing a soul. But it’s most obvious that I live by this when I tell you what happened in my life between early 2010 and mid-2011.
In 2010, I was harshly introduced to the reality that my 9-year paralegal career was at the end of the line. I lost my job the day after I had to leave work at 9:30 am to pick up my sick toddler from daycare.
After that, I decided to do what scared me. I knew I had to stop letting others dictate my working life. I needed to go freelance. But I still had to pay the bills until my freelancing took off, so I took a day job as a legal secretary and freelanced at night.
Then, I did more of what scared me: I started looking for freelance work. I started out as a marketing copywriting generalist, so I went to networking events, another frightening proposition for an introvert like me.
I started getting some work writing email newsletters, web page copy, and ad copy. By the time my second child was born in May 2011, I was fully ready to do what scared me the most: leave a steady paycheck and freelance full-time.
Part of my readiness came from how much I hated my job. I won’t lie. Two weeks after that adorable little newborn was home from the hospital, and I was coherent enough to talk to clients, I let every single person I knew, both online and in person, know I was looking for freelance work.
Someone I used to work with in my technology journalism days had some white paper projects for me. By the time my maternity leave was up, I was making enough to quit the job I hated. I drove in two weeks before I was supposed to come back, picked up my belongings, and left my resignation letter and office keys.
I think that day in August 2011 was a true turning point for me. From there, I kept doing things that really scared me.
I ran a 5K obstacle race and worked my way up to half marathons. I took the train down to Manhattan, a city that terrified me but is now one of my favorite places to visit. And just this year, I took another huge leap: I moved to Texas from Massachusetts with my family.
What scares everybody, including me, is change. I was scared to leave the dubious security of a W-2 job. I was scared to put myself out there and network. I was downright terrified to leave Massachusetts, because it was the devil I knew. But in each case, doing what scared me has changed my life for the better.
I now have a successful career as a freelance writer. I specialize in case studies, white papers, and feature articles for business to business technology companies. I’ve placed in my age group when I run smaller half marathons. I love my new home in Texas and all of the people I’ve met. I’ve started CrossFit, and even though it’s terrifying sometimes, I heave barbells over my head and have so much fun doing it that I’ve entered a competition.
Life is scary. But if you don’t do what scares you, you’re stuck in the same place, literally and figuratively. I’m going to keep doing things that scare me, because the rewards always outweigh the risk.
This is the draft of a speech I gave at my Toastmasters chapter last month. It was a little different when I gave it, but yes, do what scares you.