How a Career Transition Taught Me Confidence

03/23/2015 12:47 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

2015-03-21-1426967436-3485913-Woman_chalkartVersion2.jpg
Photo by Jesse R. Regalado

I stood on the edge of a cliff, gazed at the clear sky, inhaled the piercing cold air and leapt. That was a recurring image -- my leap of faith -- leaving behind a successful career as an executive in philanthropy after two decades to start right from the beginning. I longed to start fresh, to test new ideas, to shake out of a stifling numbness. It's been nearly two years since I made that metaphorical leap and I have come out on the other side intact and deeply satisfied with my decision. Was the process difficult? Yes. Did it involve giving up certain things? Yes -- and not just on my part but my family as well. Standing on the edge of that cliff with my emotions swirling and pulling at me, I knew my life was about to change in a significant way.

There's a quote by Jasper Johns on a wall of the Exploratorium in San Francisco: "When something is new to us, we treat it as an experience. We feel our senses are awake and clear. We are alive." Yes, that was what I was longing for -- to feel my senses tingle, expectant and clear-eyed once more.

Looking back at my trepidations -- Where's my safety net? Will I land safely? What's my next act? - I know better than to ask these questions because they were premature, naive and a bit conceited. As if the universe will somehow rearrange itself to accommodate me and serve the answers to these questions on a platter. The safety net could not have appeared until I took the leap. Courage was summoned. Plumbing the depths of my inner life I realized that I was slowly weaving my own safety net; I gained more clarity of purpose, nurtured creative ventures, tested my capabilities, made new connections, discovered my writing 'voice' -- my confidence grew.

In the Philippines where I grew up, traveling by boat was routine as hopping on a bus in Los Angeles. I remember the excitement of arrival as the boat headed towards the pier, a crowd of people slowly becoming larger, faces upturned, arms waving, leaning in anticipation. The wood pilings creaked gently as the ferryboat came to a stop, gray sea gulls flew in loud and welcoming circles, while the taste of salty air stuck to my lips. With my bags in tow, I balanced my way down the steep ramp, jostling against sweaty porters rushing to unload luggage to make room for new passengers waiting impatiently to board for the next leg of their journey. 'Fresh off the boat' is often used as a derogatory term to describe new arrivals who spoke a strange language, who bring even stranger customs -- looked down with suspicion. Even immigrants mockingly call each other F.O.B.s. For me the expression, 'fresh off the boat' conjures up the excitement of arrivals, a sense of anticipation, the next leg of a journey, a new chapter, relief and the safety of feet set firmly on the ground. A person arriving fresh off the boat or off the plane or over the border is a bearer of possibilities. Whether it was taking that symbolic leap off the cliff or feeling the excitement of arrival, my career transition set me on a journey of new possibilities.

It's not all rosy though. This journey taught me how to embrace fear. There's no way around it and no avoidance tactic will make it completely disappear. Fear -- of the unknown, of failure, of judgment, of being disconnected -- is part of being alive. The key is to learn how to minimize fear's paralyzing effect. Arianna Huffington wrote a book on how to become more fearless and I've often returned to her advice -- "when fear grips you, oftentimes it's your inner critic, turn down its volume, ignore it."

Taking a minimalist approach, I extract what is essential and make deliberate choices on where and how I apply myself. I take mindful walks along quiet lanes. I focus on stretching and flexing my creative muscles -- keeping them fluid and nimble. I'm ever expanding the middle ground, finding the balance -- not too hot, not too cold, but just right. There are more quiet days than hectic ones, extended periods of introspection, writing, blogging, tending a garden, nurturing a deep appreciation for the ordinary. I've become better at embracing life's contradictions; accepting counterpoints, the peaks with the lows and the quiet in-between. My career transition gave me a precious gift of renewal. As my life moves on a more even keel, my confidence grows.