“What’s your anxiety right now on a scale from 1-10?” I asked him.
“I’d give it a six...” Jason replied nervously.
We had arrived at the part of the job search that makes everyone uneasy: networking. And Jason was especially unexcited about being there.
Jason (real client, fake name) is a remarkable individual. He graduated from college 5 years ago and got a job as a data analyst (he’s a total data whiz). He’s also an outdoor adventurer who has backpacked across Patagonia and regularly organizes hiking treks for friends, eagerly exploring the most remote and challenging destinations. And to those who know him, he’s one of the most kind, thoughtful, and articulate people on this planet.
But the thought of networking made Jason’s skin crawl. Because like many people (myself included), Jason has struggled with anxiety and self confidence.
And so when he started dreaming of transitioning to a job that aligns with his deepest love - the outdoors - Jason felt overwhelmed. Inadequate. Terrified.
Jason did what many of us do. He followed his fear into the never-ending rabbit hole of “but...”
I might not be qualified...
I don’t have any formal experience…
I don’t know anyone...
Who would I even reach out to?
What if no one responds??
What if someone does respond???
What if I do something wrong and ruin my chances????
Each fear he debunked was met with a new, louder one. The voice of self doubt begged him to just give up and avoid all the discomfort.
So I helped Jason make a simple yet radical shift in mindset.
Jason needed to quit in order to succeed.
If Jason continued to think of anything less than landing his dream job as a failure, overwhelm and paralysis would persist.
What if his new goal was just to try?
By turning away from “achieving X” as his end goal, and reframing his goal as doing one thing each day in the direction of his dream, Jason welcomed a new source of energy and confidence.
He knew it might not work out. He knew he might learn that he actually was under-qualified and in need of more formal training. He knew he might hear “no,” after “no,” after “no.”
But as long as he really tried, he would succeed at being faithful to his dreams and the kind of person he wants to be.
And then he sent one email that changed his life.
Jason had decided that a wilderness therapy organization was his sweet spot; there, he could use his knowledge of leading groups in the outdoors, and serve kids who suffered from emotional challenges similar to those he had experienced himself while growing up.
He researched organizations in his community doing this kind of work, found the name of the founder of his top choice, opened up an email, and started typing.
In his email, he shared his background (“I am a data analyst, but more importantly I’m a deeply passionate outdoorsman.”).
He told Maeve where his passion originated (“As someone who experienced severe anxiety as an adolescent, I know how nature can be an instrumental vehicle for building self-esteem and overcoming emotional challenges.”).
And he asked for 20 minutes of her time to learn about volunteer or full-time opportunities to support her work. [See the guide Jason used here].
Then, with trepidation, he clicked send.
It's human to want immediate gratification.
This was the moment I asked Jason, “So on a scale of 1-10, how anxious are you right now?” and he replied that he was at a “6”.
It was a scary moment for him, because he had finally put himself out there. He had stated his desire out loud, put time into crafting a thoughtful letter, and risked a total smackdown from the universe.
Over the next few days, Jason felt - but pushed through - deep dread. He sent three more emails to similar organizations, keeping up with his commitment to do one thing each day, and recognizing that he couldn’t count on any one person to respond.
Then his phone rang.
It was Maeve.
And contrary to everything Jason had feared, Maeve told Jason she thought he would be a great fit to go through their training program for new guides.
If he made it through, he’d have a job waiting for him on the other side.
I know it sounds sensationalized, but I’m serious when I say this changed Jason’s life.
I hesitate to share Jason’s story because it is in some ways extraordinary; rarely does the first organization we reach out to get back to us within days and make us a job offer. Most job seekers encounter a lot of rejection and learning on their way to results.
But at the same time, every single job seeker I work with has this exact experience in common.
Somehow, they summon the courage to take the first step, and then another. They decide to try. They find an organization that inspires them. They send an email to one person who says ‘yes’. They have one conversation that unlocks new confidence and self-belief. They get a break -- an opportunity that paves the way for new experiences, skills, relationships, empowerment, and future possibilities.
I celebrate this moment for my clients more than any other, because the snowball effect is real.
Suddenly, not-so-suddenly, the entire trajectory of a life has changed.
Of course, this isn’t easy.
We live in a world where social media celebrates success stories without detailing the inherent struggle behind them, and it is easy to feel like if we’re not achieving some grand milestone, we are actively failing.
I know Jason is going to tell his friends, family, and network about his new job (he should!). He may even snap a photo of himself heading out on his first group hike, and post it on Instagram with #livingthedream as the caption.
But what Jason is unlikely to share is the weighty experience of self-doubt, anxiety, and struggle he endured along his way, and that #quittingthedream was the real secret to his success.
So I’m sharing it -- in hopes that we all can stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to do it all in one day.
Instead, what we need is simply to head off in the right direction, step by step, and trust that those steps might just add up to something great.