Five ways to find the courage to change your life

Are you ready to make a change? How to take the first step and turn your dreams into a reality
By Flannery Dean
Woman with a basket of apples in a field Getty Images

You’ve got dreams, hopes and desires. You want to open a flower shop, a bakery, maybe a pet clothing store (for pugs only). There are so many things you want to do with your life. But you’ve also got a mortgage to pay, a roof that needs fixing, and a cat that needs expensive dental work.

What’s a cash-strapped dreamer to do when her desires bump up against certain harsh realities? Make some hard choices.

“Albert Camus once said that our lives are the lump sum of all our choices,” offers Margie Warrell, CEO of Global Courage a woman's leadership company, and author of Find Your Courage. She continues, offering five tips for figuring out what needs changing in your life, and how to muster up the courage to take that very necessary leap of faith:

1. You’re miserable: it’s a sign things need to change
For Jennifer, 38, the choice to quit a well-paying corporate gig as an HR manager in Toronto to up the stakes and buy a farm on the East Coast with her husband seemed like the logical cure to her chronic case of urban misery. The Halifax native admits she hates city living, particularly riding public transit, and felt “trapped” and out of her “element” in the corporate world.

“I’ve been miserable,” she admits. “I don’t want to stay here in a bad job and become more and more miserable.”


“Pay attention to your moods and emotions,” says Australian-based Warrell. “If you find yourself regularly feeling frustrated, resentful, irritable, bored or even sad, it's a sure sign that you need to attend to something in your life.”

And don’t be afraid to listen to your gut. “Tune in to your intuition and be truly honest about what it is that is weighing you down,” advises Warrell. That may mean recognizing that a relationship isn’t working, or that your career, though financially rewarding, just isn’t right for you.

2. Understand what’s really holding you back

Once you’ve identified the change that needs to be made, face the real obstacle to change: fear.

“All change, even change for the better, is uncomfortable because it requires leaving behind the familiar and predictable and stepping into the unknown,” she says.

What’s frightening you most about making a change? Is it fear of losing a comfortable lifestyle and of struggling financially? Or are you afraid to fail? Maybe it’s both.

But rather than let fear paralyze you, allow it to energize you, says Warrell. “Fear holds enormous energy. By tapping into that energy we can use it as a force that compels us into courageous action — not in the absence of fear, but in its presence.”

Jennifer says making a change “takes courage” and faith in one’s self. She’s not afraid of the change, “because it feels so absolutely like the right thing to do.” That’s not to say she’s not nervous. But she’s not letting it get in the way of what she wants, “Truthfully, I think I can do it.”

3. Build your ‘courage muscles’
If you don’t have Jennifer’s confidence (yet) don’t sweat it. You can build assurance by taking part in manageable feats of daring, says Warrell, who likens these small acts to exercises that build “your courage muscles.”

Trimming the fear and working your courage muscles can be achieved by trying new things, activities, and experiences — anything that gets you out of your comfort zone. She encourages you to seek out the company of people who ask more of you, or challenge yourself to take on a new skill.

The point is to make challenging yourself — physically, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually — a habit.

4. Connect your heart with your head
Give your dreams weight by making them connect with your ideas about life. “If you are going to stick with a resolution that requires changing a long-held habit of thought or action, it has to go beyond superficial desires and connect with your deepest values,” says Warrell. “When you have a deeper sense of purpose, it compels you to dig deep when the going gets tough and stay the course – no matter what hurdles you have to jump.”

For Jennifer becoming a farmer, though it fulfills her love of nature and open spaces, also suits her ideas about ethical living and eating.

“My husband is a licensed chef and we want to get involved in our food chain and provide healthy products to people. I really wish everyone would go out and buy a small farm and start feeding themselves again. It would be better for us, for the animals and the environment.”

5. Conjure your inner senior citizen
In moments of doubt, project yourself into the future — 50 years into the future.

“Imagine you are looking back on your life,” says Warrell. “Given your current trajectory, what are you most likely to look back upon with regret?” If you’re miserable in your job, you’re just going to become more miserable, and even worse — apathetic. “You will just become more numb to life,” says Warrell.

Jennifer seconds that emotion, “Life is too short to be miserable.”

And if thinking of how your inner octogenarian would see your choices doesn’t act as a prod to change, Warrell says take inspiration from someone who never considered certain harsh realities a barrier to achieving her dreams, “To quote Helen Keller, ‘life is a daring adventure or nothing. ’”  

Have you ever made a life-changing decision for the best?


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