Last updated: Jul 10, 2008

Here is what I wish someone would have told me when I was trying to reinvent myself as an entrepreneur and life coach: Fear is not a warning sign, telling you to run in the opposite direction. Fear doesnt hold you back from hunting for a new job, starting a new business, or making some other big life change. Fear is actually a useful guide for what comes next, helping you close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Here, four ways you can make big-change anxiety work for you.


Connect to your inner resources
Think of the qualities of heart, mind, and soul that you can use to make your dream a reality. Persistence? Networking ability? Analytic focus? When you find yourself getting scared, think about how your inner resources can help you achieve your goals. When I was 30 years old, my husband, Will, and I started a book-publishing company using our credit card to pay our first printing bill. He dragged me into it kicking and screaming, which didnt do wonders for our relationship. But we survived, thanks in part to my recognizing that Im actually really good at finding people to partner with. My first act as a publisher was to team up with an experienced marketer. Eventually, we built one of the fastest-growing publishing companies in America. If you have trouble recognizing your talents, think about the characteristics that friends, colleagues, and others appreciate about you—or ask them now.

Leverage your past
How can you use what youve already done to get you where you want to go? Focus on the step you can take thats at your fingertips, rather than the one thats a mile away. A client of mine jump-started a holistic-health business by using contacts from her previous human-resources job. When I decided to leave my job as a book editor and become a life coach, my first clients were people who wanted writing coaches. When a friend was looking to start a furniture-design business, she used what shed learned from 25 years in the corporate world to avoid basic business mistakes.

Use your six degrees of separation
No matter who you are or what you do, you have connections to people who can help launch your dream. (And, remember, they say we are all only six people away from everyone.) So start working them now. Reach out to everybody you know and ask if they can offer any contacts. Then call these people, pick their brains, and ask for help tapping connections unknown to you. You can do this online, too, with networking sites like www.linkedin.com or www.xing.com.

Look before you leap
The key is to take calculated, not crazy, risks. Ask yourself what you can do to lower the stakes—that way youll create a cushion for any possible fall. Will and I both had journalism experience and already experimented with putting out a book that had done well before estab­lishing our publishing venture. We also kept our day jobs, so we could pay off the start-up costs (little by little) even if we didnt sell anything. What homework do you need to do to minimize your risk: Get more knowledge? Learn a new skill? Whatever it is, reaching your goal depends on it.