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How To Choose Freedom Over Fear

Lissa Rankin's picture

Freedom from Fear

I spent most of my life being afraid—afraid of failure, afraid of success, afraid of what people might think, afraid of change, but also afraid of horror movies, rollercoasters, big cities, dark alleys, travel, and the boogey man. My mind could invent worst-case scenarios like Hollywood’s best screenwriter, and I’d watch those movies in my mind in such vivid detail that they felt real—and paralyzed me.

My fear led me to stay in medical school, even though every part of my being was longing to be a writer and an artist instead. My fear fueled me through 12 years of medical education and kept me in a full time OB/GYN job which I hated for eight years because, although I felt called to be a healer, I didn’t sign up to work in a broken managed care system that forced me to see 40 patients/day and failed to allow me the freedom to listen to someone’s heart beyond what my stethoscope could hear.

I was miserable, but I was also terrified that if I left my job, I would lose everything—my home, my boat, my vacation house, my retirement fund, my social status, my purpose, the support of the people I love—everything. My fear overpowered my intuition, my desires, and my yearning to be free and happy.

And then my Perfect Storm blew through my life.

I gave birth to my daughter, my dog died, my healthy young brother wound up in liver failure as a side effect of a common antibiotic, and my beloved father died from a brain tumor—all within two weeks.  As horrible as it was, I know the Universe planned it this way because it took a storm of this magnitude to shake me out of my nail-biting complacency and wake me up. 

Having witnessed my father—who went from diagnosis to death in a short three months—die without an ounce of fear, I was inspired to change my life.  I asked myself, “If I knew I had only three months to live, would I be living like I’m living now?”

The answer was a resounding, “HELL NO.”

This realization made me hit my wall. I had had it up to here with Fear. I marched right over to Fear and told him to go to hell. Fear looked me in the eye, and we stood there for quite some time, each daring the other to make a move. Fear told me I was crazy to even consider what I was considering, that I’d lose everything I had worked so hard to achieve, that I’d regret making such a bold step, that I should just be grateful for what I have and stop wanting so much.

Fear threw daggers at me, and when I failed to turn and run, Fear got vicious and started spewing evil nothings at me, telling me I would never amount to anything, that I didn’t deserve the life I desired, that I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, young enough, [fill in the blank] enough to have my big dreams come true.

But, inspired by my fearless father, I saw Fear for who he was—a pathetic, slimy, figment of my lizard brain who I created to protect me, but who was actually holding me back.  For years, I had believed Fear, thinking that Fear would keep me safe, but in truth, Fear had locked me in a dungeon where the love couldn’t get in and my dreams couldn’t possibly come true.

The bolder I got, the more wicked and panicked Fear became.  Fear started making up all kinds of lies to rein me back in. And Fear was a crafty little devil. Fear attacked me when I was sleeping and vulnerable, lashing out at me in dreams.  Fear possessed the people I love and came at me in the voices of my mother, my best friend, and my colleagues.  Fear didn’t back down. So I learned to see Fear for what he was—a powerless ghost who couldn’t actually hurt me unless I gave him life by believing in him and letting him suck out my power.

I learned to make Fear my friend.

I called him The Gremlin. I imagined him something like Shrek—big and ogre-like and seemingly scary, but ultimately a big softie. And whenever I noticed The Gremlin—in my mind, in my dreams, in the voices of those I love—I chided him and said, “Pipe down, Gremlin!” I’d pat him on the head and feed him peanuts.

The Gremlin didn’t like this one bit. But after a while, The Gremlin realized I was serious, and I had inserted earplugs. The Gremlin was still prattling on, but I wasn’t listening anymore. By taking back my own power, rather than handing it over to The Gremlin, I was able to feel the Fear—and do it anyway.

So I quit my job, sold my home, and liquidated my retirement account in order to buy my freedom (I had to pay $120,000 for the privilege of quitting my job). With the support of my precious husband—who wasn’t bringing in any income—I moved with my family to the country, where I planned to pay the bills by painting and writing books. I pursued this life for two years before discovering that you can quit your job, but you can’t quit your calling, and I was called to be here on this earth to help people heal, even if I wasn’t in a hospital anymore.

During this time, The Gremlin got ballsy. With the money running out, The Gremlin shape-shifted into recruiters seducing me with fancy six figure offers to work at Kaiser and go back to seeing 40 patients/day in a job that didn’t resonate with my authentic self (which I call my Inner Pilot Light). The Gremlin showed up as publishers rejecting the book I had spent two years writing. The Gremlin tempted me like a snake in the Garden of Eden, whispering to me during dark nights of the soul that I wasn’t a good enough writer or a talented enough artist, that I should just suck it up and crawl back to the life I left. The Gremlin kept possessing the people I love, who called me crazy.

But I kept right on patting The Gremlin on the head and feeding him peanuts. I posted Gandhi’s words on my wall, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet”—“anyone” was The Gremlin. And I just kept right on sending The Gremlin to time out.

This time in my life culminated when my literary agent, who loved my book and affectionately called it “Eat, Pray, Vagina,” told me that all 30 publishing houses had rejected my book, not because they didn’t love it, but because they didn’t know how to sell it. It didn’t conform to any of the boxes they knew, and so they wouldn’t publish it. In complete surrender and tearful release, I wound up taking the pages of my manuscript, burning them, and throwing the ashes into the ocean. And while I threw out my manuscript, I decided to throw out The Gremlin too.

Soon afterwards, I started OwningPink.com, which began as a simple blog about how I had lost my mojo (which I defined as “MOre JOy”) and how I was committed to getting it back. OwningPink.com quickly grew into a community of others who had lost their mojo, as well as healers who were helping people get it back, and suddenly, I wound up leading a movement of women committed to owning their feminine power and living authentically so they can heal, connect, and thrive.

Book deals, public speaking, art gallery representation, and corporate spokesperson gigs soon followed. 

Shut your piehole, Gremlin!

Now, I can honestly say that if I found out I had only three months to live, I would keep right on doing exactly what I’m doing, because I’m living my dream, a dream I couldn’t have even imagined back when I was living in fear. These days, I spend a lot of time thumbing my nose at The Gremlin (who, unfortunately, knows how to swim and didn’t stay in that ocean long). I tell The Gremlin, “Told ya so.” But The Gremlin is a relentless SOB. Even now, he shows up like the sneaky little bugger that he is, and I have to yell, “Shut your piehole, Gremlin!”

It’s a song and dance I suspect will never end. Some days I’m stronger than others.  But most of the time, I can keep The Gremlin at bay, even as he chatters away about how, if I blink, I could lose it all. It’s a process, and I have to be ever mindful about it. But it’s SO worth the effort, because ever since I chose to live in love instead of in fear, the Universe has rolled out the red carpet for me. I am no longer imprisoned by The Gremlin. I am free. And I promise that, if you can send your Gremlin to time out, you’ll be granted the same blessings.

Are you ready to take the leap? Can you send The Gremlin to time out, and if you did, what would you do differently in your life? Will you accept my invitation to live in love and freedom, instead of in fear?

Sticking my tongue out at The Gremlin,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.



Jeanne "Jaytee" Berry's picture

Yes, I Would (and maybe I actually will!)

If I could send The Gremlin into time out along with its insipid buddy, Nostalgic Attachment... I would:

--sell the house I'm living in (childhood home inherited five years ago)
--finally get rid of my unsold, off-the-market former home in a so-so neighborhood that's draining my finances
--sell everything else that was left to me that doesn't serve MY life ("but, gosh, it was my parents', how could I let that go?" sniffs Nostalgic Attachment)
--pack up the cats, the horse, and whatever's left over that's important to me
--move to Nashville, find a place to live, then
--walk into every club in town with guitar in hand and tell them I'd love to have them pay me to sing for them, and keep going until I found one that said "OK, sure"
--do the same with every record company until I found one that wanted to sign me.


victoria silva's picture


Thank you so much for your blog post... it is refreshing to read feelings from an authentic woman who is trying to live her truth... her way... and being honest about the issues and fears you face as a woman.

You give all women courage and faith to pursue our dreams...and shed or at least tame the blanket of fear we live with each day... and sometimes each moment.

Thank you
Victoria Silva

Ronna's picture

Preach it, woman!

Such a hard story, Lissa and simultaneously one that so many of us know - in our own way.

I have known fear to be so insipid and simultaneously so overwhelming. And yet, in hindsight, the strength to overcome has often been just a sliver of thought or movement or hope...And more times than not, the support and encouragement of another.

That's what you offer - again and again. Thank you.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Bless you Tina

I'm so happy to have you here among us and so committed to seeing you- rather than do or die- THRIVE! You can do it, love.

tina's picture

Thank you and bless you for

Thank you and bless you for reading my post and commenting. I will continue to trudge (as defined in AA's Big Book) because, contrary to what most people think, it means "to move forward with purpose". I also immensely loved your "No TV" article as I know TV has become a huge diversion (addiction) for other substances, activities, etc. for me and that article is how I became interested in you and found this fear article.

Thanks again and bless you and your family. Love and hugs, tina.

tina's picture

I was sooo amazed and honored

I was sooo amazed and honored to find your article. I just became aware of Care2 this week and it is so pertinent to my struggles. I will attempt to keep this brief, but I also was a healer (an RN) and cannot seem to help but continue to be a healer even though I don't think that's what I want. I have always been a fear-based person and having been in and out of AA since 1984 (yes, I'm definitely an alcoholic and addict) I know all the sayings for fear (false evidence appearing real, f... everything and run, face everything and recover) I intimately related to you through your wisdom apparent in your heartfelt article.

I have been in extremely poor health the last few years (11 bilateral foot fractures among other issues), lost my mother two months ago (whom had suffered with organic brain syndrome, possibly Alzheimer's the last 30 years) and really have begun to re-embrace a lot of the theories you expound. You're right, it truly does take a "perfect storm" of things. Because during this time a lot of personal tragedies with family members have occurred of which I will not divulge, but only further drove me to "do or die". I have had 3 suicide attempts and I have finally realized I do want to live. Your article(s) further confirm that.

Thank you again and please continue with your life-altering posts and articles.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Is fear genetic?

Dear Alex,
What a great point. I think so often we assume we inherit our fear from our parents, as if their psyche's get passed down in our DNA or we're socialized to feel the way our parents do.

Yes, my family is incredibly loving. But they were (and still are) still incredibly fearful at times. I was raised to prioritize- first and foremost- stability. I can't tell you how many times my father drilled into my head that I should have disability insurance. And no wonder, by the time he was my age, my own physician father was disabled, and he was forcibly retired prematurely. Because he had disability insurance, my family was able to continue to be financially secure.

So yes, family played into my fear, not for any fault of their own, but just by being who they are and valuing what they value. I don't blame them for this, but just because I was raised with love doesn't mean I wasn't also raised with fear. My mother still lives largely in fear- fear that a storm will hit her house, fear of being alone, fear of getting demented one day, fear of running out of money, fear that I will run out of money, fear of having her house broken into. None of these fears are founded on anything real, and yet, they still affect her daily life.

I have since learned to take more risky leaps of faith, which has required facing down my fears. I honestly don't feel the fear like I used to. And because it has less of a grip on me, I feel like I can do pretty much anything.

These days, I'm pretty dang fearless. But it's taken me five years of fear-bashing to get to this point. It didn't happen overnight. But WOW! It's so liberating!

And thank you for your sweet words, Alex.

alex's picture

thank you

I was surprised to learn you had been struggling with as much fear as you had, but appreciative of your honesty and transparency, particularly because physicians, more often than not, do not go out of their way to share their human struggles. Your willingness to share your humanity with owning pink community members touched me.

By extension, I appreciate the opportunity your words allow me to look at my own gremlins, and the ways these little horrors keep me paralyzed and in "my place."

I was a bit surprised that the "gremlins versus Lissa" battles were as intense as they had been for you because you come from a loving and supportive home.

Am interested in your take on how this vicious gremlin battle takes root. I believed that the gremlin assaults stemmed from early experience in family life. Yet after reading what you have shared about your childhood, I am not so sure the blame should be pinned on parents--perhaps the origins of malignant fear is much more complicated, and I would be interested in your thoughts about this, especially because you are an empathic and successful MD, plus you are successful in areas outside of medicine. More importantly, your family is kind, grounded, compassionate, and loving.

My parents had high expectations of me, and while I was a wanted and loved child, I did feel that their love (especially my father's) was somewhat conditional on my achievement in academics, money earned in career, and social approval from family (especially aunts, uncles, cousins), colleagues and friends.

Am inspired by your honesty, and your clear depiction of what it feels like to battle emotional paralysis and career uncertainty. Your generosity of spirit, and your authenticity and bravery in fighting and managing your own gremlins helps me feel less alone and scared.

I love your heart centered blog posts, Lissa. Your words are as powerful as any medication you could prescribe, and I am happy you are emphasizing this aspect of your gifts as a healer. I know it is time consuming to write the thoughtful posts that you do, and I just wanted you to know that your efforts, and the sincere way in which you share your heart and your soul, is much appreciated.


Julie's picture

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Thank you for your honesty, Lissa. Your story is inspiring and reminds me that fear is often "False Evidence Appearing Real." Although it does feel very, very real at times. Thanks for the reminder that we can move forward through the fear and though we will never be fully rid of it, we can keep it in its proper perspective and not let it paralyze us or keep us stuck.

Erin's picture

Working on this now. Big time.

My life has been consumed by fear since July. It has SUCKED. It's like every old pattern developed from past hurts and betrayals decided to trigger at the same time. I finally did what you did... said OMFG ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and I've been slowly climbing my way out. It hasn't been easy or particularly pleasant, but I keep reminding myself to take one small step at a time: meditate, go for a walk outside, sit in the grass, read a book about something that interests me, or repeat positive statements in my head/out loud. And most importantly? Remind myself that this is the illusion. Each time I remember that is like a direct hit to the fear. Anyway, wish me luck... I know my Gremlin hasn't quite been banished yet.

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