Top fears preventing people from living their dream

Fear. It’s a powerful thing.

always do what you are afraid to doIn some ways, fear is a good thing – it keeps us safe and prevents us from doing things that might harm us. It’s fear that keeps us from venturing into dangerous places and from doing things we’re not prepared for. A healthy dose of fear is a wonderful thing to have.

On the other hand, fear can prevent us from doing things that would be great for us – if we could only figure out a way to face and overcome those fears.

I’ve been thinking about fear a lot lately – about how it’s affected my life and about what kinds of things I’m afraid of. I’ve heard so many people say, “You’re so brave to ride a bike from Alaska to Argentina” and yet I don’t think I am. I think I simply acknowledged my fears and went anyway.

Way back many years ago when my husband first brought up the idea of quitting our jobs and taking off on bicycles with our children, I thought he was nuts. I was convinced the man was stark, raving crazy for thinking we could ride bikes thousands of miles with children. I mean – that’s not exactly what parents do!

But as time marched on and he kept talking about it, I realized that what was holding me back was fear. Fear of failure.

At the time, I had convinced myself there was no way I could ride a heavily loaded bike all day and keep all four of us fed and healthy and set up the tent every evening and take it down every morning. There was no way I could do all that and still be Mom to my precious sons.

You’ve been there, right? You know you can’t do something so you don’t even try? That’s exactly where I was.

too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fearsThen one day, I had my EUREKA moment. I realized that if I didn’t try, I would fail for sure. If I loaded up my bike and took that first pedal stroke I figured I had a 50/50 chance of success, but not trying at all meant a 100% chance of failure. When I looked at it that way, it didn’t make sense to not give it a go.

In my mind, I had convinced myself it was better to fail by not even trying than to face the humiliation and agony of defeat when we gave up down the road. I would rather deal with regrets later in life than the (very real) possibility that I wouldn’t be able to do what I set out to do.

But by doing that, I didn’t give myself the chance to experience the exhilaration of success.

Can someone tell me how that makes any sense?

A few days later we headed to the store to buy bikes and the rest, as they say, is history. We spent a whole year cycling around the USA and Mexico, then another three years cycling from Alaska to Argentina. Those four years I’ve spent on my bicycle with my family have been some of the best years of my life.

And they never would have happened if I hadn’t faced my fear and climbed on that bike.

What fears do you have? What is it that’s holding you back from living the life of your dreams?

I’ve come up with a list of what I consider to be the top fears preventing people from living their dream. Maybe by identifying what it is that’s holding you back, you’ll be more able to stare it down and live your dream anyway.

Fear of running out of money or not having enough time

It’s the whole time time versus moneyversus money conundrum. If we have the time, we don’t have the money. If we have the money, we don’t have the time. If we take the time now, how will it affect the money in the future? Truth be told, this fear is nearly always just an excuse – a smokescreen, if you will – to hide the true reason. If you truly want to live your dream, you’ll find a way to get the money and time.

Fear of reactions of others

reactions of othersNobody wants to be ridiculed or scorned. Human nature dictates that we want others to like us and support what we’re doing. That desire is so strong, in fact, that there are times when we’ll deny ourselves true happiness and fulfillment in order to make them happy. Does that make sense? Surround yourself with people who support your dreams and move away from those who don’t.

Fear of the unknown

the unknownFear of the unknown is the scariest of them all and is, in my opinion, the most common thing that holds people back. What’s out there? If I pursue my passion and follow my dream, then what? Will it be fabulous or dreadful? Will I meet kind generous people or thieves, rapists, and murderers? Will I like it? Will it be good for me? There are a million different questions and all the answers are unknown. It’s scary. The only thing you can do is head out and cross the bridges when you get there.

Fear of being inadequate or unprepared

unpreparedOK, so you don’t have enough knowledge or experience to live your big dream yet. Notice that word YET? Get moving. Take baby steps to get that experience or knowledge. There is not a single person on this planet who set out to do some big thing without taking many, many thousands of baby steps to get where he felt capable of doing it. Sir Edmund Hilary climbed many smaller peaks before summiting Everest; Amelia Earhart flew hundreds of short jaunts before taking off to fly around the world. You can learn what you need to know, but you won’t learn it sitting in your rocker.

Fear of future career implications

This Way To Your FutureThis one really belongs up above in the “unknown” category, but it’s such a huge unknown I decided to put it on its own. Can I realistically take time away from my career and then go back? Will it work? What if it doesn’t? It’s scary not knowing how it’ll turn out. Will pursuing my passion negatively affect some other aspect of my ‘planned & structured’ life? Will I have enough money for retirement? Will I miss out on a work related opportunity? What if? If you truly want to live your dream, then do it and deal with the consequences. Maybe you’ll change to the point where you don’t want to reenter your previous career path anyway? Once you know you CAN pursue your passion, you can do anything – even if it means heading down a different career path.

Fear of achieving your dream

dream ave & believe stThis one sounds bizarre, but I think many people use it as a real excuse for not pursuing their dream. Lisa Wood, blogger at New Life on the Road, said, “It sounds weird but people usually talk about “Big Dreams” that they are going to do one day, yet when that one day comes around and their dreams come true, then what?” If you live your dream, then what do you have left to dream of? I can attest to the difficulty of this one. When we finally reached our goal of Ushuaia after three years of cycling, I felt totally lost and disoriented. I likened it to drifting on a sea of options. But really, is that a good reason to not even start?

Fear of failure

alt control deleteWe all like to believe we could achieve our dream, and sometimes it’s better to hold on to that belief rather than facing the possibility of learning otherwise. As long as it’s just a dream it is still there and attainable – someday. If you do it and fail, or it’s not at all what you thought it would be, you’ve lost the positive possibility. You’ll never know if you can do it until you try.

Fear of not knowing how to make it happen

don't know howMany people have forgotten how to dream or weren’t raised with people who encouraged it. My friend Jennifer Miller recently spent a couple months exploring the US with a dear friend of hers and their (combined) eleven kids. Her friend believed that “dreams” were nebulous things you pined for, but never really happened unless you were “lucky.” In addition to needing to believe your dream can actually happen, you need to have the boots-on-the-ground knowledge of how to attack a dream, break it down into bite-sized chunks and make it real. That’s hard stuff for a lot of people. Fortunately, there are people out there (like us!) who will happily help you make your dream a reality. It’s easier than you might think.

Fear of how it will turn out and if it will be good for all involved

don't fear the futureAfter being afraid of failure, this was my second biggest fear – would it be good for my kids and would they enjoy it? Was I taking away other important “normal” experiences that my kids needed for proper development? It didn’t take long for me to realize this fear was ridiculous. What kind of message did I want to send to my children anyway? To take risks and live life to the fullest or to cower away in a closet in order to be “safe”?

Fear of medical concerns

scarydoctorThis is a biggie. We all fear that major medical situation that we know might arise. It might happen, but more likely it won’t. Is it worth tabling your dreams because of fear of disease or a major accident that may happen along the way? Accidents can and do happen at home as well.

Fear of kids’ schooling/socialization

socialize kidsIf I take my kids out of school, will I be sacrificing their chances at attending university and future opportunities? Remember that millions of families homeschool their children and the kids turn out just fine. Many opt to go to college; many opt for other career paths. You are not handicapping your children by teaching them to reach for the stars.

Fear of just plain ol’ not liking it

don't like itAfter the countless hours/days/weeks/months/years planning and preparing to live your dream, what if it’s not everything you thought it would be? Trust me, it probably won’t be. Living your dream won’t be all rainbows, unicorns, and puppy dog tails. You’ll go through some of the hardest times you’ve ever faced, but will also experience the best of the best. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it, but why not head out the door and find out rather than speculating?

Researchers have found that:

  • about 40% of the things we worry about never happen
  • 30% are in the past and can’t be helped
  • 12% involve the affairs of others that are not even our business
  • 10% percent relate to sickness, real or imagined.
  • That means only 8% percent of the things we worry about are even likely to happen!

Worry is just interest paid on trouble before it comes due. And in most cases it never comes due. When you worry, there’s a 92% percent chance you’re paying interest on a debt that’s not even yours!

Fear. We can allow it to stop us from living life fully or we can choose to embrace it and live anyway. What’s your choice?


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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41 Responses to Top fears preventing people from living their dream

  1. Clark Vandeventer January 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    I think you just about covered it! The fear of succeeding is definitely true. As long as you can hold your dream out there in the future you can have hope. But what if you achieve your dream and don’t find the fulfillment you hoped for?

    I think the answer is to just put one foot in front of the other. Or in your case just keep pedaling. The miles traveled are part of your story. Even if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for you’re a bit further along in the journey.

    That’s why even though I’m not the same person I used to be, I like to stay on good terms with that guy. He got me here!

    Great post!

    • Nancy January 14, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

      @Clark Vandeventer,
      What I find interesting is that we’re all so different and have such different fears. Things that I find terrifying don’t faze others in the least, and things I’m good with others find outrageous.

      • Clark Vandeventer January 16, 2012 at 12:24 am #

        @Nancy, here we are looking for that risk/reward meter again. Blazing down a ski slope, no problem. Water sports really mess with my mind though I’m just not at home in the water. I’ve done white water rafting and my great fear is being thrown from the raft.

        • Nancy January 16, 2012 at 10:11 am #

          @Clark Vandeventer,
          …and I’d be terrified blasting down the ski slope. I used to work as a life guard and have always felt at home in the water…

  2. Laurence January 14, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    I was told how brave I must be when I quit my job to travel the world. That worried me as to the state of society rather than anything about my personal bravery levels…

  3. Dayna January 14, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    I loved all those statistics! I feel like Kurt and I have traded positions – he used to be the worrier back home, and I’ve taken over on the road! This was really inspiring and encouraging, as I tend to worry about the most ridiculous things. We head to Bulgaria today and I was scrambling to write down exact Cyrillic letters for each town we will pass too AND the timetable just to make sure we don’t miss a stop… when I could probably just ask someone on the train! It is also funny to me that the situations or countries I worry the most about… usually end up being my favorites. Thanks Nancy!

    • Nancy January 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

      Amazing how those things we once worried about appear ridiculous in hindsight. How could we maybe move that forward a bit??

  4. Bret @ Green Global Travel January 14, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    My first guest post for another blog (our friends at yTravel Blog) was called “FEAR LESS: Why Travel & Adventure Are The Greatest Gifts We Can Give Our Children,” so I can really relate to this post. I think a lot of people in my generation were raised to be fearful, but I have great hopes that my daughter’s generation will grow up a bit more bold and brave. Introducing them to travel and getting them outside of their comfort zones early definitely helps…

    • Nancy January 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      @Bret @ Green Global Travel,
      I do think my generation was raised to be fearful. I’m hoping my sons will be surrounded by people who realize the folly of that!

  5. Artur Sowinski January 14, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    NO UNICORNS?!?!?!?!

    awwwwww 🙁

    Seriously tho, im gearing towards a life change as well, im scared shitless but every time i conquer my fear it turns out how silly i was letting it rule my life.

    Im not there yet, and i plan on more stationary life change, to buy some small rural land in spain and go with cob/strawbale house there to start selfsufficient-ish homestead while learning to become healer (masseur probably) 🙂

    Good luck to your quest, and thanks for kind words of encouragement 🙂

    • Nancy January 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

      @Artur Sowinski,
      I love your dream! That sounds awesome for sure.

      I have to laugh at the idea that I wasn’t worried about riding my bike in Peru, Bolivia, or Argentina, but the idea of coming back to live in Idaho scared the pants off me! We all have certain things that are within our comfort zone, and I’ve discovered that my comfort zone lay in other countries. Living in the USA is a huge challenge for me! I’m loving it, but it feels so foreign.

  6. Andrew January 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Yes on a lot of those for me. What is kind of interesting is that the fears can and often do come back. I overcome the unknown to step out of my old life and rebuild a life in Germany 4 years ago. Yet, now as I yearn with my new wife to create a life where we can travel together more, I find the fears that really didn’t hit me then actually do now. The irony is that I am probably better equipped to deal with all the things I worry about now with her as my partner than I was dealing with the unknown coming to Germany then.

    • Nancy January 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

      Yup 🙂

      It was WAY harder for me to return to live in the USA than it was to do a lot of the things I’ve done. Give me a bike and the world and I’m in my zone. Give me a house in the USA and I have no clue what to do. How does one get the water and electricity turned on again?

  7. Justin January 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    That is some list! I think everyone can probably relate to all of them at some point, but honestly, I am lucky enough to have moved passed them. It happens if you let it. I figure I am lucky enough to be able to try and do what I want, can’t waste that opportunity being afraid.

    Great Post Nancy!

    • Nancy January 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      That is so true that you can move beyond the fears if you allow yourself to. I think a lot of us hold on to the fear for some reason.

  8. Ginger January 16, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    That fear of being unprepared gets me… Like how much preparation or baby steps can you do to tackle a challenge like yours? I’m doing my first long-distance multi-day ride this spring and I feel like I can’t prepare adequately unless I basically replicate that ride. At what point in your planning did you decide “ok, I’ve prepared and I can ride xxxx miles in 3 years!”

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    • Nancy January 16, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      I don’t think you will ever feel prepared at the beginning. You just take a bunch of small tours where you can bail easily if something goes wrong and learn everything you can from each tour. Over time, you start to realize that you’ve experienced a whole lot of what can possibly happen on tour and you’ve dealt with it all. If you can deal with all that, then you can deal with what else comes your way.

      You’re so right that the only way to make sure you are prepared for it all is to actually do it – which makes absolutely no sense. Trust in your abilities to deal with whatever comes up and go. Be aware that you’ll constantly be changing your plan as new situations and conditions arise, but that’s all part of the experience.

    • mccarthynm February 20, 2012 at 2:13 am #

      @Ginger, I can totally relate to that – I just couldn’t see how, when I was exhausted after a 30 mile day ride, I would ever do double that for 15 days in a row – and then I fell off my bike quite badly 10 weeks before we left so the training plan went right out the window! But in the end it was really simple, I just kept pedalling, slow and steady, and got off and pushed now and then – whatever I could manage, and guess what? Tiny steps do indeed an epic journey make. Helped along by chocolate, ibuprofen and an understanding partner 🙂

      • Nancy February 20, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

        @mccarthynm, I love that – tiny steps do, indeed, an epic journey make. That’s so very true. You don’t think you can do it when you start out but take it one step at a time and it all works out.

  9. Heidi January 16, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    I love the stats at the end, too. A friend of mine calls these worries “free stress”. There’s plenty of real stuff to worry about day by day that you can actually do something about. Why take on the free stress of worrying about what’s outside of your control or stuff that is really the worry of others? The biggest worry about our impending travels that keeps cropping up in me is whether it will be good for my kids (i.e. am I being selfish?). This, too, is free stress. I will never know how they “would have been” if we hadn’t done it, so why worry about it? Would I have the same worry about NOT traveling? Would I be able to control that either? The answers are yes and no, so I figure the two options cross each other out, algebra style, and I’m back to an even equation. Free choice. I choose travel.

    • Nancy January 16, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

      Love the idea of free stress! Like we need more stress around…

  10. Eric @ Trans-Americas Journey January 21, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Great post. The ONLY fear should be getting to a point in life and regretting not having done something.

  11. Ruby January 22, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    I almost didn’t click on your blog because I thought it would be more kid-focused, and so something I couldn’t relate to. I’m so glad I did! You covered so many things that are universally challenging and thoughts that everyone has… and added some great questions for perspective. Thank you!

    • Nancy January 22, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

      Thank you Ruby! Thanks for taking the chance and coming over and thanks for the kind words! I think the idea of living your dream applies to kids of all ages.

  12. Alexa Meisler February 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    “not trying at all meant a 100% chance of failure.”

    This definitely what people need to keep in mind. These fears just hinders us from becoming who we really are. Thank you for a beautifully written piece.

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      @Alexa Meisler, I was amazed when I stopped to think about it that way! Somehow, that thought had never entered into my mind before.

  13. ren September 27, 2012 at 5:19 am #

    All the points are practical. Now im going after reading your article. Umm Im going for cycling trip from mumbai 1 week. Interstate. How do i say that every word is useful. Love from Mumbai.

  14. hamdh October 28, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    this is amazing. very informative, puts alot into meaning & perspective. i have a serious fear of a certain people. my mom’s marriage to a man from a certain culture was full of pain & sorror. growing up with such peoples confirmed my fears- they are nasty in character. but now i wanna get married and these folk are the only ones i can marry coz i’m living in their midst. do i ignore my legitimate fears & go on and marry a man from there, when i clearly know its gonna be a disaster? HELL NO!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 28, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      @hamdh, You’re in a tough spot to be sure, but you’re right – hold on to what you know and be strong.

  15. Marcus June 1, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    I realise I am commenting here way after the post was published, but wanted to add something that struck me in reading all of this:-

    Talking about fears in an open fashion is amazing.

    I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how my partner holds me back from the goals that I have set myself. It was only after six months or so of thinking this way that I started to realise that he had nothing to do with what was holding me back. I was simply afraid and, as we often avoid talking about our own fears, was looking for anything to blame other than my own fragile little psyche.

    I have a fear of failure and a fear of what I am going to leave behind as I move forward. Almost all of the imagined obstacles that I come across boil down to these two things.

    Keep talking about fears openly, and maybe we can change the culture of hidng our fears by blaming other things.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel June 16, 2013 at 1:23 pm #


      == looking for anything to blame other than my own fragile little psyche==

      Wow. That’s a very powerful way of thinking about it. We do need to break this culture of fear that we live wiith. That much I know.

  16. Dixie June 16, 2013 at 11:19 am #


    I loved your post mainly because I realized that these fears have always been around. I dont mean to argue in anyway, but I wrote this to ask whether or not this concept of pursuing your dreams is for everyone. I was born in New York, but at three, I was sent to Ghana to stay there for eight years with my brother because my mother feared having a babysitter in America take care of us. Unfortunately for her, she had more of a nightmare once she left us ‘home’. The only careers that are adequate in African culture are in the medical field. Ive always wanted to be a fashion designer. but was told that it was a dead end due to the fact that it was impossible for immigrants to pursue these big dreams just because we could not afford to. My mom sews fulltime, but she still expresses that she would be disappointed if i pursued it. i used to spend hours sketching designs, but because of the negative reactions i received from adults in my culture, i barely am that enthusiastic about that. now that im 22, this passion i felt was long dead is reawakening because i started volunteering for the arts council, sewing for friends, and recently decided to learn more of designing under a dressmaker who recently started making samples for highend designers. In Addition, i am facing academic dismissal from the university i attend, and the idea of dropping out and going to a fashon shool in london is more attractive. I know the cpnsequences of not succeeding in the fashion industry, and i use the fact that i am from a different culture to justify that i cannot even get my foot in the door. My question is , can you apply this concept of pursuing your dreams to everyone? Even immigrants whose goals are to find a stable high paying job just to climb up the social ladder?

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel June 16, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      @Dixie, My personal feeling is that it doesn’t matter where you come from – it’s matter of being determined and persistent and not giving up. Many dreamers have gone against their parents – if it’s that important to you, then you just do it. Good luck – you’ve a long, hard battle ahead of you, but it will be the most rewarding battle you’ve ever fought.

      • Dixie July 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

        @Nancy Sathre-Vogel,

        Thank you so much…

        I have just made a huge decisionjust last week and thought of you. I will definitely go ahead and pursue my dreams. Thank you again!

  17. Ken Schmaltz September 16, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    I’ve learned that for me, fear is an irrational feeling created entirely in my head. It has no relation to an awareness of actual imminent harm or danger. When I let fear be my rope mate, we’re going to fall and neither of us will have remembered to put in some protection.

  18. biswack March 5, 2016 at 1:20 am #

    hi there

    i have been wanting to start an errand business in south africa with my wife but there is the fear of what if it doesnt work out. i would have to leave my job but my wife is working. what if i dont get enough clients to make ends meet, what if it all just falls apart….but in all of that i have this energy that its going to work out but fear keeps coming to my mind. its a scary thought but i always find myself thinking about my business plan.

  19. Wendy September 18, 2016 at 10:55 am #

    I love this article. It’s so true.

    I have been following my passion and working full time as a musician for almost 8 years. It’s amazing how many people are “concerned” for me when I tell them that.

    These people spend their entire life doing what they don’t want to do because the television told them to.


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