• Emily

Facing Fears: Why I'm Not Going to Grad School

Those who achieve their wildest dreams do so not without fear, but in spite of it.I’ve come to realize within the last few months that many of my decisions in life have been based in fear. Which got me thinking-- what if I had no fears or hesitations, what would I do?

It’s funny because I didn’t know that I was playing small this whole time. Maintaining status where I’m comfortable and consequently shutting myself off to the greatest of possibilities. Sure I’ve been challenged and have grown but I haven’t really given myself the opportunity to erupt into my greatest potential.

School is something I’ve always enjoyed--I love to learn and I’m really good at taking tests. It’s been a constant in my life for over 20 years and is something that I’ve used both as a tool for growth and as a way to limit myself. Think of it as an anchor keeping me grounded and safe, but also stuck in a small area amidst an infinite ocean of possibilities. And don’t get me wrong, I am by no means anti-education. I truly commend any individual who is so dedicated to their area of study that they devote years, if not their entire life, to learning more about it. I think it’s beautiful.

I on the other hand have never found myself so devoted to a particular topic that I’m willing to stake my future and tens of thousands of dollars on it. And maybe one day I’ll feel more confident in that decision, but at this point in time I realize that my choice to pursue grad school was not based in unwavering excitement about the education, but rather in a fear of failing in my line of work as a health and wellness coach without the extra education.

See, along with this realization I also came to know that I am a freaking scaredy pants. I live in a constant state of fear, worry, and doubt. Of course I’m also cheerful, excited, and determined to succeed but I have this lingering anxiety with me most of the time. Luckily through a lot of self-work, lifestyle changes, building healthy relationships and learning how to prioritize self-care, I’ve been able to lessen the grip anxiety has on my life.

But alas, here I am realizing that though I have great big dreams for my future, I’ve been playing small. Swimming in lakes when what I want is the infinite opportunities only presented in the ocean. All because I’m terrified of failing. But thing is… so is everybody else.

It’s not fearlessness that allows people to take big risks, bet on themselves, and forge their own path; it’s the ability to do it all in spite of fear. And so I’ve made the commitment to myself that fear will no longer dictate the decisions (or lack thereof) that I make. No more!

How I came to the final decision to forego graduate school

Earlier this year I enrolled in Marie Forleo's B School, an online business school for entrepreneurs. And part of that curriculum was identifying our unique strengths. We did so by asking some of the people closest to us what they thought our strengths were, and by using the Clifton’s StrengthsFinder test. According to the test mine are: communication, command, connection, ideation, and strategy. None of these were particularly surprising to me or my family. What really sunk in for me through these exercises was that I wasn’t moving towards sharpening these innate strengths, but rather cultivating new ones that I believe I should have.

Just because I love nutrition and I love teaching people how to eat in a way to fuel their bodies and minds, doesn’t mean it’s what I love most, nor does it mean I should get a Master’s degree in it. In fact, when I look to the people in the wellness field that inspire me the most they are those who have forged their own unique paths. And guess what--they don’t have advanced degrees! What they do have is a clear embodiment of their greatest strengths--something we all need if we’re going to fulfill our true potential--and a whole lot of cajones.

After really allowing my understanding of my strengths to sink in, I began looking at my interests. What did I truly enjoy doing? I’d say at my core I am a people person--I love meeting new people, sharing ideas, storytelling, building relationships, teaching and helping others, experiencing new cultures, having conversations, and brainstorming ways to make our collective society a better place.

And there it was, clear as day. I’m not (at least not right now) meant to be waist deep in scientific research, analyzing data, creating detailed nutrition plans for patients. I want to be making new connections, attending events, cultivating community, building something I believe in, sharing my story, and helping people make changes in all aspects of their lives, not just with nutrition.

And on top of my newfound internalization of my greatest strengths and interests, I also carved out a pretty freaking awesome opportunity to work for someone I’ve looked up to for years. So here I am, feeling a bit more tapped in to my uniqueness, more confident I can actually achieve my wildest dreams by following my own path, and presented with (well, not exactly presented because I went out and created) an opportunity to get my hands dirty with someone whose mission, style, and business(es) I not only agree with, but am totally inspired by. So what do I do? I forego my Master's degree and quit my day job of course! The two most simultaneously terrifying and exciting decisions I’ve ever made.

I decided I’d rather bet on myself and see what growth and potential I can create for on my own. I decided to get rid of the notion of what I should do and replace it with what I want to do. I decided that fear will remain with me no matter what direction I go, so I might as well go towards what truly fires me up. I decided that I need to stop hiding behind a “need” for more education and start highlighting the knowledge and expertise I already have. I decided that life is short and now is the time to finally say no to more formal education and traditional jobs and yes to the limitless opportunities and risks that life has to offer.

If you’re feeling stuck, unfulfilled or unsure what your next step is, take inventory of your biggest decisions in life thus far. Have they been fueled by fear or by love and excitement? Get honest with yourself and remember that we ALL live in fear, but those who achieve their wildest dreams do so in spite of it. So go out there and make friends with fear, take risks, bet on yourself, and get out of your comfort zone so you can make space for all those beautifully wild dreams of yours!

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