The ONE Critical Thing Holding You Back From Happiness …

Most people are too afraid to invest, quit their jobs, travel the world, launch a business or do something awesome. Here's why fear is holding you back.

Fear is whispering.too afraid to invest, travel or take a risk

It’s in your ear. And it’s getting louder.

“You can’t quit your job,” the fear whispers. “You’ll never find another one.”

“Don’t invest,” it says. “You’re not smart enough.”

“You shouldn’t travel,” it insists. “The world is dangerous and lonely.”

Hogwash. Baloney. Pfooey.

Fear is wrong. But the vast majority of people keep falling prey to its siren song.

How do I know? Because Afford Anything readers email me with their fears.

Of course, they don’t phrase the email with the words, “I’m afraid.” Fear works best when it’s cloaked as a more palatable emotion. It disguises itself as “reason” or “prudence.”

Here’s an email I got recently:

“My parents are so against (quitting my job & traveling) and say I wont get a job that pays well when I come back!”

Here’s another:

“How do you explain that gap on your resume?”

And a final one:

“As a single woman, is it really safe?”

These are common questions, but they’re focused on the wrong thing. These questions are preoccupied with negative “what if’s.”

  • What if I can’t get a job?
  • What if I run out of money?
  • What if I’m gunned down in a dark alley and no one ever finds my body?

No one ever asks me about positive “what if’s.”

  • What if I discover a new opportunity that catapults my career and income?
  • What if I meet the person I end up marrying?
  • What if I transform into a stronger, savvier person who is more equipped to take on the world?

Most people search for roadblocks.

Here’s a line from another email I received, this one from a reader who is thinking about buying a rental property:

“Do you have any tenant horror stories?”

I get this question at least once a week, and it blows my mind. Why does everyone ask that? No one has EVER asked:

  • Did a tenant ever inspire amazing change in your life?
  • Are you more kick-ass at business, money and life in general as a result of lessons you learned from landlording?
  • Have you deepened relationships with brilliant people as a result of your rental investing?

(The answer to all of those questions is yes.)

Unfortunately, no one is asking those questions. No one is thinking about the possibilities, the opportunities, the infinite potential.

Instead, everyone is too caught up on the what-if’s:

  • What if the tenant doesn’t pay rent?
  • What if the tenant punches the drywall with a sledgehammer?
  • What if the tenant throws meth-fueled orgies?

(None of the above has ever happened to me.)

You are what you think, and your mental space is limited. Fill it with the myriad of reasons why you’re at the best point in human history to embark on a new adventure (whether that’s travel, career change, or a new business or investment).

We live in a world filled with cheap air travel, ubiquitous Internet, effective vaccinations and relative global peace. We have a job market that’s more flexible, entrepreneurial and skills-based than any point in world history. We benefit from long lifespans, a strong global currency and the widespread use of English around the globe.

What more do you want?!

If that’s not enough for you, nothing is. Nothing but your own inhibitions is stopping you.

True Story: Entrepreneurial Risk

Dietrich Mateschitz wasn’t the type of guy you’d expect to run a major global brand. In fact, it took him 10 years to finish college.

But in 1987, during a trip to Thailand, he noticed a popular Thai energy drink and thought to himself: “Hmm, a little rebranding could help that sell in Europe.” He formed a partnership with a couple of Thai locals and began promoting the energy drink in his home country, Austria.

The name of the drink? Originally, it was called Krating Daeng. He rebranded it into “Red Bull.” The rest is history.

And it all started with a flight to Thailand, a mind open to possibility, and a willingness to try something radical.

True Story: Ditch Your Desk Job

My friend Amy (name changed) worked at a boring desk job in Denver. She commuted 30 minutes each way in hellacious traffic, earned $20 per hour, and dreamed of escape.

She and a friend agreed to quit their jobs together and backpack through South America. They set a deadline and quietly began making plans.

One month before their escape date, her friend backed out. Amy was alone.

She could have continued working at her boring desk job. After all, it paid the bills. It offered health insurance. “I could build some savings,” she thought, “and pay for grad school.”


Amy quit her job and ran off to the Himalayas without any particular notion of where she might go next. While she was there, she met a good-looking French dude. They hit it off right away, and spent the next few years exploring Tibet, Vietnam and Australia together. They married in the Caribbean two years later, and continue to live on a gorgeous tropical island today.

True Story: Rental Property Magic

“This will never work,” my partner Will said.

We were scrutinizing the numbers on our very first rental property, and each new number was scarier and scarier. The property taxes were outrageous. The water bill was egregious. And the house was in such disrepair that the rental income was consummately low.

We were taking a massive risk, and we knew it. Buying your first home is always nerve-wracking, but in our case, that “home” was a 101-year-old fixer-upper in a crime-ridden area, and we were attempting to “add value” by renovating it into a beautiful space.

If everything went according to plan, this project would be insanely profitable. But in the meantime, we were scared sh**less.

We could have talked ourselves out of it. We almost did.

But like a climber clinging to a rock, we channeled fear into a re-commitment. Every worry was an impetus to work harder.

Today, this one rental property alone brings us $15,000 in net passive income. We’ve celebrated by buying several others.


To close, I’d like to share a line from the most honest, self-aware email I’ve seen in months:

“I have been reading for years and need to take action.”

THANK YOU! Hell yes!

You are what you think. Ruthlessly cultivate the thoughts in your brain.

Focus on possibilities.

Nothing is stopping you — other than yourself.

Thanks to Flickr / Sam Jolly for the photo.


  1. says

    WOW! Total serendipity for you to have this post (plus another recent one by another great blogger too).
    Fear is the underlining emotion in a lot of things in our lives, and I don’t know we can effectively get rid of it and get on with living!

    Trust me, I hear it all the time about the endeavors that I am/want to partake in, and you know what, I decided about a year or so ago, that I would do whatever I possibly could to achieve my goals: good, bad and ugly (not unethical though).

    You are correct that most everyone drones on and on ad nauseum about the bad things that can happen: “Oh, what if your business endeavors fail, you won’t be employable in the ‘real’ world again.” “If you fail, you might end up living in your car/shelter, etc.”

    Paula, you are wise beyond your years, and what I really appreciate the most about is your ‘can do’ attitude, and that you also acknowledge that regardless of the age or place that a person is in their life, they CAN change and do bigger and better things with their live(s).

    Thank you for such thought provoking, and perfectly timed posts (at least for me).

  2. says

    I find myself standing at the crossroads of life…and sadly… I’ve been staring at the ground. Thanks for coming along and slapping me across the face and telling me to ‘get a move on’

  3. says

    Fear is a powerful de-motivator. It grabs a hold of you and drags you down into this well, deeper and deeper. And then other people play into your biggest fears and feed it.

    It’s taken me a long time to realize it’s OK to take chances and say yes to opportunities but it has definitely paid off.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. says

    Very inspiring post! It is so true that most people look at what could go wrong instead at looking at what could go right. I agree that those who find roadblocks are just looking for excuses to hide their fear!

  5. says

    Planning is really important, but there comes a stage where you have to realize that you are only STILL planning, because its actually fear holding you back. Some great, real-life inspirational examples. Thanks.

    • says

      @moneystepper — Ah, yes: good old Analysis Paralysis. People get a psychological reward from “planning” and “dreaming” and “talking,” but never actually make a move. It’s as common as it is tragic. If only they understood that the psychological reward that comes from actually acting on their plans catapults them into a new league …

  6. says

    I’ve had a little experience with rental properties. My former husband had three little duplexes and four rental houses when we married. He would simply take money from the first person to show up wanting a place to live. That didn’t always work out so well. I signed up for a weekend property management seminar and took over the job of finding renters. I’ve never had a bad renter since that day.

    Today you can join local associations for landlords and get lots of good information for a small fee to join. The association I belonged to for a time sent copies of legal rental agreements, described the advantages and disadvantages in leases and month-to-month rentals (at least in this state it’s much quicker and easier to unload a bad renter if it’s month-to-month), gave me names of places that would give me credit reports and criminal history reports, talked about legalities, shared information about good plumbers, electricians, commercial insurance brokers, etc. The organization had get-togethers for members where I could have met others with experience and answers to questions. Now you can do all that and more online, free or for nominal fees.

    I learned tips like looking at the potential renter’s car – inside and out – to see what kind of housekeeper they would be. I also learned to check with a previous landlord, as well as the current one, for a more honest report. After all, if they are lousy renters, the current landlord may tell you anything just to get rid of them.

    My attitude was that I had been a good renter when I was younger, so I knew there were other good renters out there and I wouldn’t settle for less. I never had to.

    Three or so years ago the heirs of the house across the street from us decided to rent it out until property values came back up. Two of them are real estate agents, so they should have known what they were doing. We met the man who said he was planning to rent it and could tell right away he would not be a desirable renter. I called one of the owners and talked with him about what this man was like (he was already a neighbor in another house). The owner dismissed my misgivings and said his sister, also a real estate agent, was taking care of it and she knew what she was doing. Well, the third time the police hauled the new renter off to jail I took plenty of pictures of the eight police cars and of the renter in cuffs being led to one of them. I emailed the pictures to the owner. Finally, that was the end of the renter and there is a restraining order against him so he can’t come near the place.

    It all comes down to using common sense and learning about what you’re doing as a landlord. What other job can you do without learning how to do it right? There are good renters and bad ones. You simply learn how to tell the difference and don’t settle for the bummers.

  7. says

    It’s only too apt that this post was right next to YNAB’s recent one in my RSS reader. Their topic: “ishouldbut” isn’t a word. And as much as I’d like to be able to say neither of them applies to me, they both do at times. So the only thing to do is be aware of it and try to stop and reframe when it happens.

  8. says

    It’s been pretty well proven that humans will always seek to avoid pain above seeking to increase pleasure. It’s hardwired in our heads and I think only a few people ever manage to escape that prison. Really glad that I managed to overcome that way of thinking around the age of 20. However, I look around my workplace and know that most of them are mentally trapped and no amount of cajoling or inspiration will ever free them from fear of the unknown or trying new things. Unfortunately, their standard idea of “living dangerously” is erroneously sad (e.g., take a trip to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun). I know that they’ll never visit Equator, or Romania, or Thailand, or anywhere else that a hundred white people they know personally have already been. I know they waste money into the office lottery pool every week but are terrified at the idea of picking up a book on investing and having to learn something. No amount of discussion or coercion will ever change this. Me? Give me something new and watch me dive right in with both feet and try and figure it out.

  9. says

    Another great post Paula!

    Just a point about quitting your desk job. I assume people are quite competent and actually don’t mind their job. Instead you can do your desk job pretty much anywhere in the world these days. So go ahead take off and live the life of a nomad.

  10. says

    A great point…Upon any endeavor, naysayers will consistently ask “What if all these negative things happen?”

    Not many pose the complementing question, “What are all the possibilities of great things happening?”

    The key I guess would be to assign some type of probability to each, and be as objective as possible!


  11. says

    It’s so true, thinking about what could go wrong will probably increase your chances of bringing that about, while dreaming of what could go really really well can only get you closer to those dreams. Great post.

  12. says

    Another great post. You’re right. FEAR is what holds most of us back. FEAR is used against us both internally and externally.

    I have already overcome the external, I never believe anything I hear from the government or mainstream media anymore. They never tell the whole truth (if they even bother to tell any part of the truth at all)!

    Now, I only have to overcome my own internal fears. What will happen if I can’t learn the language? What will happen if I run out of money? What will happen if I can’t find a job?

    At this point, I’m teetering on the edge. It won’t take much more to push me over. To hell with my fears, I’ll just HAVE to deal with whatever happens, things here are just TOO bad to put up with them anymore!

    That tipping point is getting closer every day.

  13. says

    I liked this article a lot because I am looking to pull the trigger on early retirement and running the numbers says it is a close call. I was spinning in my head because I was so afraid. I decided I needed to get ALL my fears out on paper. And my wonderful boyfriend and I spent this last weekend also listing out all the wonderful amazing possiblities, and all the skills I can bring to the table to deal with the risks (real and perceived). It was so very reassuring. I have a long track record of getting what I set my mind to. This won’t be any different.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *