Annette, for example, was an office manager. When she called me for counseling, her voice was small and clipped. What she'd always wanted, she told me, was to start a flower-arranging business for weddings. For almost two years, she'd had the information she needed to begin but hadn't done a single thing with it. By the time we spoke, she was avoiding her home office entirely.
I asked Annette to imagine herself in the office doorway, about to get to work. Immediately, she reported feeling "scared to death."
"Scared of?" I said.
She paused. "Hmm. You know, I thought it would be fear of failure, but what's coming up is different." Annette went on to describe an emotional legacy from her childhood, when she learned to be seen and not heard. If she put herself forward without being asked, she was met with such fury that she quickly trained herself never to do it. So starting a new business felt like trying to get away with something.
After her fear subsided a bit, I asked Annette to tell me the worst thing that could happen if she went ahead with her project anyway. "Well, I'm not sure," she said. "I've never thought that far ahead."
I suggested she imagine that her business was up and running, and that she delivered a floral arrangement to a client who was angry and disappointed, shouting, "Who do you think you are? You don't deserve to be a florist!"
Annette seemed to shrink and reported that her chest and shoulders felt wrapped up like a mummy. I encouraged her to keep her attention on that tightness, to regard it with as much tenderness as possible.
"It's starting to release," she told me after a few moments, "but now I feel humiliated, as though I'm being punished for the whole world to see."
"Keep feeling that, too," I said, knowing she'd struck gold. It was Annette's unwillingness to come face-to-face with this humiliation that had led to her professional paralysis. All she needed to do was stay present to the feeling, without fighting it or trying to figure it out. In about two or three minutes, the emotion subsided. This left her a little stunned.
"Wow, that wasn't as bad as I thought," she said. It almost never is, I told her. Then I asked her, from this place of relaxation and acceptance, how she would respond to the angry client.
"I guess..." She paused. "I guess I could just apologize and see if there's a way to fix the problem."
This simple recognition, that there was life after her worst-case scenario, marked the beginning of Annette's transformation. She started going to trade shows and making cold calls. Today, while she still needs her day job, she arranges flowers for about two weddings a month. What's even more important is that she feels like a success, which provides her with the energy and motivation to persist.