When I took my first job after college, my goals and ambitions were pretty small. Words like executive, and CEO weren’t even in my wheelhouse. I just wanted to make enough money to be able to cover my part of the rent on the small apartment I shared with a couple of buddies and have enough left over for the weekend. A company called Life of Georgia had a position that met those needs. It was a job I hated and wasn’t very good at. Why they kept me on and moved me into a management trainee program is beyond me, but I’m grateful they did because it started a chain of events that changed the course of my life forever.
I worked at Life of Georgia for two years before I decided it was time to make a change. It was partly because I’d already made one huge change—I’d married the bright, talented young woman they hired to replace me when I moved into the management trainee program. I’d also decided to pursue my MBA and needed to have a job closer to mine and Loveanne’s apartment to make getting to Georgia State University after work easier. So I answered an ad for a business analyst at an insurance company called A.L. Williams that was about 10 minutes from our apartment. I was hired and the rest, as they say, was history. That company was later renamed Primerica, the place I spent the rest of my career.
But my story could’ve ended much differently. When I gave my notice at Life of Georgia, I was called into the office of my former boss, who was also a senior vice president of the company. His name was Gerald Padgett and he was not too impressed with my decision to go to work at A.L. Williams. Actually, his exact words were, “John, you’re a bright young man, but you’re making a dumb mistake.” I had a bright future with Life of Georgia, but, according to him, I was throwing it all away with a fly-by-night company that would probably barely last longer than the inspection sticker on my car. Here was this man who was much older than me with a lot more experience essentially telling me I was headed down a path to ruin. That is a lot for a 20-something-year-old newlywed to take in. If I’d called my new employer and told them I’d changed my mind and stayed on with the company I knew would be there for the long haul and would provide me with the income to support my wife and our future babies, no one would’ve blamed me.
Of course, I would’ve never been co-CEO of a major company. I would’ve never helped create one of the most successful IPOs in the history of the financial industry. And I would’ve never had a platform to motivate and inspire people all around the world. Basically, I wouldn’t have become the man I am today and I sure wouldn’t have been happy.
Change is an inevitable part of life. It’s part of growing and (ideally) getting better. And it’s almost never easy—even the really good changes, like marrying the love of your life or moving on to a better job. It’s human nature to wonder if you’re doing the right thing and to second guess yourself to a degree, especially when other people aren’t exactly supportive. If you aren’t equipped with the right tools to handle the situation, this stuff can derail your plans and cause you to miss out on great, life changing opportunities.
There isn’t a single thing in this whole life that is 100 percent certain other than death and taxes. Neither of those is too pleasant—nor is stagnating in place because you let fear, what-ifs and the negativity of others hold you back. You never know how making a big life change will turn out, but you’ll never find out if you don’t go for it. If you want to be successful and thrive, keep moving forward—even when you feel like you’re moving forward alone. It’s not going to be easy and it’ll definitely be a little scary. Do you think I left my secure job at Life of Georgia and moved on to A.L Williams without being scared out of my mind? I had no idea what I was getting into and it took me a few years to really grasp what it was all about. But it was absolutely worth it, and had I not made the change, I would’ve spent the rest of my life regretting it.
Make a pact to yourself the very minute you decide to make a life change that you will follow your heart and not the words of others just to please them. You will never be able to please all the people in your life and if you pass up opportunities or adventures trying to, you will live a life of regret. I’m not saying to write anyone off or be hateful to them for expressing their concerns. I’m just saying to let them have their say—and then do what you know is best for you.
Life moves on the smallest of decisions. So does destiny. Every change you make in your life, big or small, is creating your destiny. It’s shaping your story. Let your story be about the hero who was willing to make a change, even when it seemed crazy and he didn’t have much support and not about the guy who let fear stop him and lived a life of regret, wondering what his life could’ve been like.
John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-seller. Renowned for his insight and wisdom on leadership, personal development and success, John is a sought-after speaker and motivator. Read more on his blog, and follow John on Facebook and Twitter.