Is Fear Making You Cling To What No Longer Serves You?

Every year, for the past five years, I have opened my annual letter from the American Board of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, reminding me that it’s time to recertify. In order to keep my board certification active, I have to pony up a boatload of money, read 100 journal articles, and take an all day open-book exam that proves that I’m up to date on all the important research of the year. Whenever this letter arrives, I invariably flash back to that fateful day in Dallas in 2001 when I, along with hundreds of other OB/GYNs from all over the country, submitted to being verbally grilled by grizzled senior physicians trying to make us all feel like idiots.

In order to qualify for this exam, I had to record all the details of every patient I saw in the hospital the prior year – every delivery, every surgery, every hospital admission – along with hundreds of patients I had seen in the office. During the oral exam, my examiners – there were three of them – could call upon me to spout off memorized blah blah about how you stage ovarian cancer or the mechanism of action of methotrexate or the chemical structure of any drug I had prescribed or the branches of any artery in the body. Half the questions they would ask would pertain to the hundreds-of-pages document I had compiled about all my patients. The other half could be made up sh*t about anything my examiners felt like asking me.

While staving off waves of nausea, I answered my questions. When the exam was completed, I promptly ran to the bathroom and vomited. When my husband asked me how I did, I burst into tears and told him I failed and would soon be applying for a job at Ann Taylor, a threat I had been making while I studied for my exam. He handed me a gift-wrapped box. It was a dress from Ann Taylor, with an application on top of it.

I cried some more.

It was the single most stressful event of my entire life, more so than losing my father, more so than giving birth by C-section, more so than getting divorced, more so than losing my dog.  When the letter arrived announcing that I had actually passed my oral board, I puked again.

A Big Decision

But this year, when the letter arrived yesterday, I opened it, examined it, and realized I don’t want to keep my OB/GYN board certification anymore.

Just writing that makes my hands shake. The Gremlins in my head are going ballistic. But my Inner Pilot Light is speaking up this year. Here’s how the conversation is going.

The Gremlin: Of course you have to keep your OB/GYN board certification. What if your career as an author/speaker/blogger goes completely bust? This business is so fickle, everyone could turn on you, and then how would you pay the bills? That certification is a good back up plan. You should keep it.

Inner Pilot Light: But Lissa, you’re never going to do a Pap smear again, and you know it. You sold your speculums. You sold you autoclave. Your white coat is gathering dust in the closet. You’re on the right career path now, full steam ahead, skyrocketing to your dreams. Don’t look back, darling.

The Gremlin: You don’t know that. Anything could happen. Never say never. If you let your certification go and then you come on hard times and decide to practice medicine again, you’ll have to go back to Dallas and take your oral boards again. Don’t be a fool. Pay the money. Take the yearly test. Do it just in case…

Inner Pilot Light: Just in case of what, Gremlin? Don’t listen, Lissa. “Just in case” is simply the voice of fear masquerading as protection.

The Gremlin: But what will people think? It sounds so good to call yourself a “board-certified OB/GYN.” Don’t you want the status?

Inner Pilot Light: Now you’re just grasping, Gremlin. Lissa doesn’t need some status symbol to prove to herself that she’s valuable, right Lissa? She has me, and I tell her she’s valuable all the time…

The Gremlin: But you worked so hard for it! You paid so much money to earn it! You gave up fourteen years of your life to study for it!  You sacrificed your marriages, your health, your sanity, and your LIFE to earn that piece of paper, goddammit! Keep the freakin’ board certification, Lissa. I beg of you! Do it in case Oprah calls. Do it so you can say “board-certified” on your book covers. Make up some reason if you want but, for the love of God, don’t let your board certification go!

Inner Pilot Light: Now settle down, Gremlin. Plug your ears, Lissa. The Gremlin is just scared. And I’m not. Go ahead and let it go, sweetheart. You’re safe. All is on track. You don’t need that piece of paper anymore. Thank it. It got you far. Honor it. You worked hard for it. Kiss it, for all the lessons it offered you. Now burn it. It’s time to let go and move on. Remember, the caterpillar dissolves completely before becoming a butterfly…It’s time to fly, darling. Let it go. To be what you must, you must give up what you are.

Nobody Was Neutral

When I announced on Facebook and Twitter that I was thinking of letting my board certification lapse, there was a mass outcry of polarizing opinions. Some, including many of my oldest friends, were fully in the “What the f*ck are you thinking?” camp. Many of those people watched me suffer so hard to earn that board certification. Others cheered me on for being willing to release what no longer serves me. What surprised me most was how passionately people felt about this. I got emails from people begging me to go back to clinical practice. I got other emails telling me I was such an inspiration and they were finally going to let their [bar membership/ board certification/ licensure/ teaching certificate/ insert whatever you’re keeping up “just in case”] expire. Nobody seemed neutral. At all. And it’s MY board certification we’re talking about. Why does everyone care so much whether I’m a board certified OB/GYN or not?

It’s All Projection!

That’s when I remembered that IT’S ALL PROJECTION. They don’t really care whether I’m board certified or not. But if I’m willing to let go what no longer serves me, if I’m willing to stop forking over a boatload of money and forcing myself to endure the grueling yearly chore of reading 100 journal articles and sitting for an all day open-book recertification exam when I know that the only reason I’m doing it is because I’m AFRAID to let it go, then they’ll have to face up to the fact that many of them are holding onto things they’re long overdue to release because they’re afraid too…

We do this all the time, you know. We are all mirrors for each other, reflecting back our own fears, our own desires, and what we celebrate or dislike about ourselves. What we “think” about other people is almost always clouded by how we see ourselves in their behavior.

I’m Letting It Go

I’ve decided to listen to my Inner Pilot Light on this one. I know that if I let it go, I will never go back to practicing as an OB/GYN, because I will never again submit to collecting a year’s worth of cases and getting grilled by three examiners in Dallas again. But I am not willing to let my fear make my decisions anymore.

Gremlin, I hear you. I really do. I know you think you’re protecting me, but I’m safe. The bills are getting paid. I don’t want to practice medicine anymore. I love my career and have faith that I’m on the right path and my Inner Pilot Light won’t steer me wrong. I have faith that the Universe has a plan for me and it’s all being revealed in Divine timing. I have faith that I won’t ever have to go back to a job that sucked the life out of me just in order to put food on the table. I have faith…

What About You?

Are you clinging to something that no longer serves you because you’re afraid to let it go?  Or are you brave enough to release it when it’s time to move on? Tell us what you think.



Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities and, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.



Norma V.
Norma Villarreal5 years ago

After decades in the field of education, following my inner guide was frightening when I knew it was time to retire and take on another path. You never know unless you follow your heart and soul...

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons5 years ago

Not exactly fear. More like just sticking with the old comfortable routine. The devil you know vs. the devil you dont know.

heather g.
heather g5 years ago

Reading this article made me reflect on how fortunate you are to have such a supportive partner.

Ana R.
Sunshine R5 years ago

I think it is dangerous to use the phrase "It's just a projection" to mean something like it's all a dream and nothing means anything. It IS just a projection but it is a projection that you are forced to witness, made by your karma or the seeds you planted in the past through actions of your body speech and mind. That makes it very real. But we CAN control our future projections by being aware of how we are in the present. It is a projection but it is very real.

Marianne Barto
Marianne B5 years ago

I liked the comment about the job sucking the life out of you. I believe too many of us feel that way in our jobs, but in this economy, when you're just grateful to work and get a paycheck to live...the alternative is not viable.

irene fernandez
irene Fernandez5 years ago

A few years ago I left HR and swore off office work but went back because of the money, now I am back here having left my office job and just wanting to do what speaks to me, but my gremlin too uses my parents voices and that slows me down. I know I need to do what brings me joy but still am blocked into how to go about it.
Thank you for putting this back on the table for me to confront

Gloria H.
Gloria H5 years ago

I paid off my college loan and that is the only debt I owed to a career (librarian/teacher)that was unsatisfying. My parents had a fit, and I see the ones that stuck it out now have pensions/$. I have had to live on little money, had part time jobs from hell, good part time jobs, but I have never regreted for my choice because I chose freedom to be myself.

Joe R.
Joe R5 years ago

Sounds like you made the right decision for yourself and your patients. I'm so lucky that my doctor loves what she is doing. Good luck to you.

mary beth f.
mary beth f5 years ago

Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave instructions for the battle.
The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”
Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.”
Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”
Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”
In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. Pema Chodron: POCKET PEMA
CHODRON , p. 72

R K.
K K5 years ago

I did what you did (in a different profession) 10 years ago due to not wanting (and not being able to comfortably financially) to keep up with the endless and expensive CEU training and state transfer fees that would allow me to complete other (expensive) classes that would allow me to take another state exam and transfer my license. I was no longer very interested in the profession, anyway. However, since that time, I have found it difficult to secure well paid employment and am having to work three part time jobs...having the license would have made my life much easier in terms of work options. You never know until you make that choice. It certainly has not helped me.