You’ve probably heard that as people get older, they tend to take fewer risks because they’re afraid of trying new things. Many of us fear the unknown, because the unknown is often scary.

This applies more so to women than men. According to Sim Wei Ping, a life coach at Executive Coach International, many women have problems chasing their dreams because of the way they were raised.

“Perceptions of society, family and peers play a big part in people keeping their dreams locked up for years,” she explains. “Many women play key roles in their families and workplaces, and have difficulty expressing themselves outside of these roles. Or they may think their dreams are not financially viable.”

But don’t think it’s all about the money, or that you should postpone what you long for till the rest of your life is in perfect order. “Having a life change is really about having an internal shift in your thinking and emotional state,” Wei Ping says. It’s also about facing change with gusto and stepping out of your comfort zone. The following four women share how they did it.

Avalyn Jo-Yin Lim, 39, Strategy and Product Director

4 Amazing Stories Of Women Who Conquered Their Fears (2)
The strategy and product director, and mum-of-three, used to be so scared of heights she’d get weak from just standing on a stool.

“If anyone had told me two years ago that I’d soon be voluntarily scaling walls and flinging myself off a plane with a grin plastered on my face, I would have said that this person doesn’t know me at all.

I’d always been afraid of heights. On long flights of stairs, I’d grip the railings firmly or clutch someone else’s hand. In fact, I’d get weak in the knees just standing on a stool.

I think that somewhere deep inside, I wanted to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

But I didn’t quite realise what I was made of. When classmates from my Executive Masters of Business Administration course in Beijing invited me to climb the ruined section of the Great Wall of China at Jian Kou in 2012, my first response was, ‘I don’t even like standing on chairs, so I’m not climbing a wall!’

But the pressure to ‘bond and have fun’ was too strong to resist, and I eventually caved in. I think that somewhere deep inside, I wanted to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

I had trepidations up to the day itself, and they were all proven true. My heart sank as I looked out at the area we were going to climb, and I wondered if I was being stupid or crazy, or both. The flat pathways were strewn with loose stones and in heavy disrepair, sometimes with sheer drops on either side with nothing to hold on. Worse still, we were supposed to clamber over near-vertical walls. To top things off, I was loaded down with a backpack weighing 8 kg for our overnight camping needs.

Terrified at times – we were some 450 m above sea level at some points – I kept telling myself to keep looking at where I was going, and that I could ask for help if I needed it. After five exhausting hours, I finally got to the top. The astounding views were one thing, but what changed forever was the view I had of myself. I felt truly alive at that moment, and overcoming my fear of heights was truly perspective-changing.

On that note, I instantly said yes when the group wanted to go skydiving in France the following year. Before I knew it, I was on an airplane 4,000 m above the Bordeaux area, strapped to my instructor who was jumping tandem with me. Waiting for my turn to jump was so nerve-wracking that I kept thinking I’d made the wrong decision. I comforted myself by recalling that my grandfather was a World War II parachutist with the Malaysian army. I also told myself, ‘This is in my blood!’

The astounding views were one thing, but what changed forever was the view I had of myself.

My mantra paid off! Once I’d jumped, I instantly felt free with the French countryside spread out below me. On an adrenaline high, I couldn’t stop smiling after we had landed.

Now, as I look back on my experiences, I realise that I’ve come a long way from being the fearful, overly- anxious woman I was two years ago. Thanks to my newfound courage, I’ve since gone on the world’s fastest roller coaster in Abu Dhabi. It’s important to take on risks and push oneself. I want to encourage my three children not to be too fearful as they grow up and take adventures in their stride – just the way I have.”

Fiona Foo, 44, Founder of Hope Dog Rescue

4 Amazing Stories Of Women Who Conquered Their Fears (3)
Fiona, founder of Hope Dog Rescue, used to be terrified of dogs.

“I wanted to take away the pain and suffering of the poor dogs I saw.”

“When I first told my parents that I was leaving my preschool teacher job to open Hope Dog Rescue in 2011, they were speechless with horror. To most people, my 23-year career, which included starting Asia’s first inclusive education preschool (where children with special needs can learn beside regular developing kids), was respectable, while saving dogs wasn’t.

I first started volunteering with various animal welfare groups eight years ago, and quickly came to see how much abuse, ignorance and selfishness there was out there. I wanted to change all that, and take away the pain and suffering of the poor dogs I saw.

I decided to start my own dog rescue organisation, as that meant I’d be the decision-maker for each rescue. Not having to wait for approval is crucial when it comes to rescue work – every minute of delay can cost an animal its precious life.

Striking out on my own was scary. It took me a few months to decide on this life-changing path, and yes, I did worry about not having a fixed income. Fortunately, I am no stranger to overcoming anxieties. Believe it or not, I grew up with a great dread of dogs, thanks to my mother who told me that they were dirty creatures who’d bite me. It took a friend leaving a miniature schnauzer at my house 10 years ago, telling me to get over my fear, for my uneasiness to turn into love. Even today, my Popsicle, now a dog model for TV and print advertisements, serves as my inspiration in my rescue work.

I do feel emotionally drained at times, but I enjoy every minute of what I do.

Fortunately, four years ago, I was so passionate about animals that I got myself certified as an animal communicator and dog trainer, and trained as a Reiki practitioner for humans and animals. Together with doing early childhood education consulting work, these form my main sources of income.

After Hope Dog Rescue was created, my life took a 180-degree turn. From being a salaried worker who could buy whatever I liked and travel wherever I pleased, I now find myself worrying endlessly about paying vet and boarding bills for my rescued canines.

Some people wondered why I needed to quit my job, but rescuing dogs is really a full-time effort. I get calls to save animals round the clock. My most recent rescue was a hit-and-run case, which ended at 4 am. We get more than 100 emails daily, and someone has to check up on the dogs that have already been rescued and fostered out. What’s more, as head of the volunteers, the entire responsibility of rescue work falls on my shoulders because I strongly believe it’s important to lead by example.

Moving from a lifestyle where my work day ended at 2.30 pm to giving up my social life and privacy is an exhausting, thankless job. I do feel emotionally drained at times, but I enjoy every minute of what I do. To date, I’ve rescued over 500 dogs, and every smile and lick from them makes all my hard work and worrying worthwhile. I wouldn’t change my life for anything in the world, and nothing could ever make me stop what I’m doing now.”

Rachel Chung, 37, Founder of Women Against Violence

4 Amazing Stories Of Women Who Conquered Their Fears (4)
Rachel survived an abusive marriage and founded Women Against Violence, a social enterprise to help sufferers of domestic abuse.

“When I got to know my husband in 1998 at 19, I was convinced I had met Mr Nice. I was delighted when he proposed, and was also eager to start a family because the relationship with my own family was strained.

But seven months after we had gotten hitched and I’d conceived, my husband lost his managerial job. His attitude towards me changed drastically, more so after he sought the advice of a fortune teller about his job situation; he said that my birth date was incompatible with his, and implied that I had cursed his career.

“He tormented me for eight years.”

And because I had gained 23 kg bearing our first daughter, he also said I’d ‘cheated’ him because he thought he had married a slim air stewardess, not a ‘fat cow’. He started drinking – and that was when the shoving and slapping began. He used our two girls as emotional blackmail to make me forgive him after every episode of abuse.

He tormented me for eight years, and I even suffered through two slipped disks in 2003 because I wanted to stick to my wedding vows. I was filled with guilt at the thought of leaving my daughters fatherless.

I hoped that my husband would go back to his old self once he found another job. But he never landed one as a manager again, and instead became a junior chef.

All this while, I worked to support the family; and while my marketing career went smoothly enough, I always felt drained. I maintained a façade at work and never wore sleeveless tops because of the constant bruising on my arms and shoulders.

Looking back, I realised that I had let my husband control me. My parents, who didn’t like him, said ‘I told you so’ and ‘just leave him’, but never offered any concrete help. There was no one to turn to but my grandmother. So when she passed away in 2005, I felt all alone.

That was my wake-up call. I started preparing an ‘escape kit’ so that my daughters and I could leave. But it was harder to leave than I thought. Finally, one night in 2006, my eight-year-old elder daughter, Germaine, walked in on an argument and was flung against the wall. That same night, I took my daughters and left my husband forever.

“I have come to see that life is really what you make of it.”

While I instantly felt liberated and free, it was hard to build a new life. I had to look for a place to stay and send my older daughter for counselling. And the younger one, Geanyne, at three, missed her father terribly.

But my girls settled down quite easily and they were not ostracised by their friends. I also came to realise that my husband was never going to change and made an effort to love myself more. I went for workshops on emotional healing and started journalling.

I am now making up for lost time; I am engaged in building my social enterprise, as well as producing a documentary film on abused women. I’ve also received a scholarship from NTUC to do a journalism degree. I have come to see that life is really what you make of it, and have been inspired to turn my painful experiences into positive lessons that can help others. I hope that both my daughters will learn from everything I have been through, and never think that they have to change themselves in order to please someone else.”

Annabel Middleton, 39, Copy Editor

4 Amazing Stories Of Women Who Conquered Their Fears
Annabel was afraid of taking risks, until she took the plunge and moved to Canada

“On any given off day, friends Skyping in from Singapore will catch me pottering around the kitchen or preparing for a skiing, hiking or cycling trip with my husband. But while my life may sound like quite a dream come true, getting to this point was anything but dreamy.

After all, picking up your entire life and moving it to a new country where you didn’t know a single soul is a terrifying decision. But for me, the alternative was worse.

“The risk of not taking a risk was a ‘risk’ I couldn’t take on.”

I’d always wanted to live overseas, and while I studied in the US during my university years, I had to come home because of my mother’s poor health.

For 10 years, I enjoyed the city lifestyle Singapore had to offer and was even involved with the Singapore Lyric Opera on top of my full-time job and active church work. But it was a big struggle for my gregarious self to fit into Singapore society. I knew I had left my heart behind in North America; so when I left my job in 2006 at 32, I decided to seize the day and do something about my dreams.

By then, my mum’s health had improved. I was single and not tied down to a mortgage or job, so I asked myself, ‘If not now, then when?’ and thought of the worst thing that could possibly happen.

I came to the conclusion that if I failed, I’d just be back to square one, albeit with some lost time and money. But if I didn’t try, I would never know what was waiting out there for me. The risk of not taking a risk was a ‘risk’ I couldn’t take on.

So, armed with two suitcases and a three-week room rental at a guesthouse, I made the gutsiest move of my life seven years ago and arrived in what I had thought was a Toronto suburb. I’d given myself three weeks to find permanent accommodations and a job, while freelancing for my past Singaporean employers for extra cash.

But I realised I’d chosen the wrong location – I wasn’t in Toronto at all, but a completely different city! It took me 90 minutes to get into the city by public transport as I didn’t have a car. But as it turns out, my location didn’t impact my job hunt, as most of my income came from jobs commissioned by my Singapore contacts.

What’s more, thanks to my mistake, I found the man of my dreams a year later. Now my husband of three years, Wilfred had befriended me on Facebook by using the search filter “must be within 15 miles”. If I hadn’t chosen the wrong place to live in, I would never have found my true love.

“Taking the initiative to completely change my life the way I have has helped me to engage in life with two feet in.”

My lifestyle in Singapore used to be summed up in this well-known phrase, ‘Where got time!’ I used to be so stressed that I spent a lot of time (and money) at the spa. Today, I relish the breathing space that I have in Canada and the relationships I’ve built here, though one of my biggest regrets is not being able to watch my niece and nephews grow up. Taking the initiative to completely change my life the way I have has helped me to engage in life with two feet in. For instance, I don’t shy away or expect people to come to me, which helped me make more friends. I’ve become a little more fearless, because I now know that anything is possible, if you simply dare to try.”

For more real life stories, read “They Found My Baby’s Tiny Left Hand Inside My Womb”3 Mumpreneurs Share How Their Kids Inspired Their Business and “The Doctor Said I Had Maybe Five Months To Live”

Text: Madeline Lin / The Singapore Women’s Weekly 
Photos: Chia Yoon Nyen, Annabel Middleton