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

lissamatt0717 (2)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 your 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, which was interesting to notice.

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 Uni-verse 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


Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities – and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

  • Hope Swiatek

    Lissa, this is my philosophy about taking leaps. Whether you hit the ground running or fall flat on your bum, just by taking the leap you have moved yourself to a new place. Giving up your certification is also giving up an identity and your ego doesn’t like that one bit. Tell your shame gremlins to pipe down. You are good enough no matter what you choose to do. Best wishes to you on your journey. And keep leaping!

  • Leslie

    I totally relate to this! I have let fear override my heart. There is rare joy in my profession anymore & I’m ready to take the Leap & let it go. My hesitancy is where am I going? I truly applaud your courage & I Love what you’ve created – it’s such a great idea & I know, speaking from experience that you can heal yourself. It’s all an inside job. Bravo to you Lissa!!

    • Karen

      “It’s all an inside job.” ~. Love it!

  • Tinymoongirl

    Congratulations and thanks for the inspiration.

  • Sharon

    Lisa, I remember you from a town down south. You delivered my friends baby! She has a painting from you. I too left a career of 20 years. I just couldn’t do it anymore. My counterparts thought I was crazy. My balance told me I was right. It was a choppy road to say the least, but lessons were noted, and I created an entire new career with no experience in this field! I feel solid as I recreate a new chapter. We never stop learning. It’s okay to let it go, as it’s part of your history, and that never changes. Open a door for new credentials. Ones that make you happy. Growing is the journey, and the joy.

  • susan huff

    Sending love, light and a BUTT load of faith cause – YOU MAKE IT REAL!! thank you<3

  • Nona

    I too put my license as a Professional Engineer on inactive status. A little sad, a little relieved to close that chapter of my journey and see what’s next! Good luck to you.

  • Kim P

    For the first time in my life, my career path had flourished and I was financially stable and secure. In turn, my soul was calling to me that I was too exhausted, too spent, too unavailable to live the life I wanted to because I was spending every exhausting waking second stressed and working sun up to sun down. I similarly made the decision to leave while my own gremlins were SCREAMING at me with the “what if’s”. Money is tight now and I have to be more frugal than ever but ya know what……..I am grateful every single day that I made that decision and let the door hit me in the rear! Kudo’s to you!

  • Karen

    I just saw this inspirational quote today on FB ~ “I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse” — Philip Yancey <3

  • Right on! I left the “security” of the corporate marketing world 13 years ago, to pursue my heart’s desires of being a yoga teacher. I now practice as a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counsellor, speaker, and writer….and have never felt so secure in knowing I am living in alignment with my heart and soul. Yes, there are some financial stresses. Yet they pale in comparison to the stress I felt when I was doing the 9-5 thing in a big ole office building. I traded the corporate ladder for a yoga mat…and wow…the promotions have been ah-mazing!! Here’s to every one of us who is brave and follows our inner pilot light!! Shine on!

  • Jessica McOmish

    I feel you completely! I unwittingly find myself doing things that I think will protect me from feeling anxious … holding on to the past … and those things end up making me more anxious! best to let go and make more room for your future!

  • iamtransforming

    It’s called “closing the back door” in shamanic training that I took with Alberto Villoldo and Linda Fitch of The Four Winds. I did the same with my CA Interpreter Certification back in 2006. Thanks for being such an inspiration, great leader and teacher.

  • Linda

    Fifteen years ago, I met Thomas Moore at a book signing, I was just learning to listen to my inner voice that was leading me away from my parents and out on my own where I went to school…I mentioned it to him with tears welling up and he wrote “To Linda- Trust the deep life in you for guidance” in my book. I followed my heart and started my new life. Years later, I was clearing out my bookshelves and found it again. I didn’t end up reading “the soul of sex” but ripped his message out and taped it on my computer desk to remind me…Letting go is the most freeing thing one can do and the most scariest. Good for you for listening.

  • Maggie

    As someone who just left her job as a public school teacher in order make space for whatever the universe has in store next, I know that gremlin. I also know that my inner pilot light is singing sweet and shining full on, and that’s the voice I’m tuned into…..So super inspirational to know others are hearing the same song. Thanks

  • Karin

    Thank you Lissa for the courage you have to be who you really are and for being such an inspiration to all of us. A few years ago, and extremely exhausted (mentally & physically), I left the academic world of psychology. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision. I do not miss any of my old teachers, the degree I could had gotten or even the professional associations. None of them really represent my inner light and soul’s purpose. I have found the mentors I really wanted to have, the professional associations I really want to belong to and the professional titles I want to have. Much Love, Health and Wealth to you!

  • Christine

    Love this!! Did this too with my RN (not as gruling) but I’d get sick going to work on med surg~ ICU~ I felt I was on a factory belt~ working for the insurance companies, and drug companies. It was too much. Worked Hospice for a while. Like this. Didn’t have to listen to the constant bells in the hospital. Connected better with my patients and families. I let go of my real estate lisence too. Now I’m a Zumba instructor!! This is to me is giving the best health care!! It’s Joyful!! Good luck! Great article!! I have an Anethiesologist friend that gave up her MD to be a stay at home mom!!

  • Jenchristined

    Wow! Loved how you broke down the argument in your head. These are exactly the convo’s I have in my head daily. Thanks for sharing. So comforting and inspiring.

  • Karen Rowe

    Lissa your story is so familiar to me. I faced the same decision a few years ago as an Australian Registered Nurse & Midwife. After all the hard work to earn my certification my inner pilot was screamimg at me to get the hell out! I continued to ignore it rationalizing that I just needed to be tougher like the ‘others’ are etc. My husband was struggling seeing me come home most days so stressed, in tears & in need of major debriefing. He asked me the question-if you never had to go back to this job how would you feel? That’s when I felt so much clarity & light at the mere thought of it that it set the wheels of change in motion.

    I set up my own business & continued working in the hospital setting to fund my change of path. It wasn’t easy & I had some nights where I’d wake up in a state of panic saying to my husband ‘what have I done’…he was amazing-smiling at me & saying go put the kettle on & we’d sit up in bed til I was again reassured. After all, I had a mortgage & kids & this was like jumping off the edge of a cliff for me. I’d never done anything like this before & it seemed so out of character for me & the people that know me. I chose not to tell my work colleagues what line of business I was going into because in all honesty I knew in my heart they would not support me & would tell me all the reasons why I was making a mistake. I made this decision as a positive strategy to stop me from derailing-it was scary enough without the voices of doom from my colleagues.

    I like you, kept up my annual registration as a safety net & because I’d worked so freaking hard to earn it that I felt needed to. Eventually I was so comfortable & happy in my new role that the mere thought of going back to the hospital made me feel physically sick & I had to admit to myself that I wanted to let go, close that door & keep moving in the direction my heart wanted me to go in. BIG decision but one that made my finally breathe better & trust in my intuition.

    Every now & then I’ll see an ex-colleague & some feel quite justified in telling me I really should keep up my registration , especially after all that hard work etc….heard it so many times (thank god I never told them while I was working with them 8-10 hours a day!). Funny thing is, I knew that they themselves weren’t entirely happy, had never been in business & I could see they were scared themselves & some quite envious of my courage to take my life in my own hands. They never thought I had it in me & trust me I wasn’t sure either in the beginning.

    I did let my Registration lapse a couple of years ago & have been in my business for 5 years now & I LOVE what I do & know I’m on a much better path in every possible way. My stress levels & peace of mind are in check (most of the time-it is a continual challenge with many hurdles in business but I love that too). I’ve learnt to embrace the challenges of business & in a place now where each day I am grateful for making this brave decision & the support of the people that love me the most. When I look back to my nursing days & my inner turmoil it fills me with relief that I took charge of my destiny & had a crack at a better life which has paid off big time! I work hard but when you do what you love it often doesn’t feel like work & financially I’ve never been it a better position. I now have ex-colleagues who habe become loyal clients & congratulate me on my success & tell me that I have a great reputation on our community. That makes me feel very proud & seriously-if I can do it-ANYONE CAN!!! Much love to you Lissa x

  • Claudia

    Thank you for being so brave and bold – I have just let go of the shore of perceived safety, as I have been asking to. It’s both exhilarating and nerve-wracking, however getting those nerves into words dissolves them pretty much. You are a role model in the area of Living from the Heart – inspire us from the front…

  • Marianne

    29 years of being a “professional caretaker” to my husband and children, putting myself and my career (RN/health educator) on the backburner, a divorce and no prospects of being hired at the ripe old age of 54, really put the fear of being a “bag lady” in my heart and mind. Conventional “wisdom” told me I HAD to get my certifications, I HAD to work the system, I HAD to go anywhere the jobs were, even if those places sucked the life out of my soul. Once I quieted those voices both externally and internally, I knew I HAD to let go of my fears and live for ME for once in my life. On a leap of faith, I sold my home and used that money to embarked on a solo round-the world Walkabout, something I’ve dreamt of doing for 40 years. My soul needed to discover the world and her people; I was looking for who I was and MY place in the world, where I could feel I was living MY purpose, not just supporting others. But, I had no idea of my purpose and hoped the world would show me. My journey has taken me to surprising places emotionally, spiritually, and geographically. I have made new friends and choose to let go of old ones who were toxic and not serving my best interests. I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice and take care of me. And, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I have learned there is no place like home. Only my home is in my heart, no matter where in the world I am. I am still “on the road” and jobless, but I am now stronger than my fears and more finely tuned into my inner guide. 7 months later, I now know my path and purpose is not a conventional one; I am a “magnet” for abused women and children, they come to me with their secrets at every turn, giving voice to a pain that few want to listen to. I believe it is a reflection, in part, of my earliest career as a maternal/child nurse that sensitized me and followed me throughout the 5 countries I have lived in. In another part, it is my sister’s cry from the grave. She was abused for years and finally succumbed to suicide to escape the pain. I believe it is the world speaking to me through these women and I believe I must surrender to it. I still have no idea of the how and whys this will play out but I am following my heart on this one. Your words Lissa, help give me faith, courage to continue and remind me I can do it. Thank you.

  • Billie

    Thanks so much for this. As usual, I am reading what I need to be reading at the exact moment I need to! I currently have a job that I have been working towards for the last 15 years of my life. It is in line with my passion and it is something that most would consider a ‘dream come true’. the problem is the person I am working with is totally out of alignment with everything I believe in. I am surrounded with negativity, contradiction and narcissism on a daily basis. I am being made to feel that this is the only opportunity out there for me, therefore I cling to it out of fear. it also serves my ego like no other because I get a lot of attention and recognition. I am grateful for the opportunity because it has allowed me to travel the world and do what I love for a living, but it is not without a lot of compromise. My marriage is suffering incredibly. I literally cannot make any plans including being in my best friend’s wedding. I give up so much in my life because I fear I won’t find anything better and I can’t do anything else. your blog reminded me that as scary as it is to take risks, is it any scarier than the risks I am taking now? risking my happiness and sanity? no it is not! so thank you so much for the inspiration. my friends are going to think I am absolutely nutter butters for leaving this job but sometimes you have to go with your inner pilot.

  • Billie

    also, I’ve been thinking about getting bangs and you’ve inspired me to do that as well ; )

  • Ma Nithya Sarvasmarana

    You go girl! I love it! You have all our support here Lissa! Now that you have closed that door it is releasing all that what may have been holding you back and now you can explode into the NEW YOU!!!!! Fantastic! Thank you for sharing this allows the rest of us to find the courage to step into who we really are as well! Xxxxxxx

  • Sweta Chawla

    So so can relate to this one! A year ago I realized that I never wanted to be a pharmacist and just went to college as an escape . I took the leap and quit my 10 year stable job as a pharmacy professor. I created a 20 hour position at a pharmacy creating patient care programs while I started my own blog and did my inner work. Tomorrow I will really cut the cord and submit my letter of resignation and fully leap into my calling of making people’s worlds bigger! I’ve grown so much over the year that instead of bring terrified and distracting myself with migraines I am actually excited to step into the unknown and let go of my pharmacy identy hooray! Thank you Lissa for bent an example and TDL for staring my journey 🙂

  • Andrea

    wow, great post Lissa and everyone else. So amazing that we always get the messages when we need them. So true, I have been discussing in *my head* how I can (or cannot) let go of my nursing licence and I started with letting go of all the attachment to the old (furniture etc,) when the opportunity came up a month and a half ago, telling my kids that when I move out here, I am not moving anything that doesn’t fit into my car. Everyone looked at me (once again) as if I am crazy but too bad, I did it. And I know that my licence is next, I have no desire to do it again, even if it took me years to get up at 4 am every morning, being a single mom of 4 and yet, 3 yrs into embracing the spiritual path, I know things will go a different way soon, and I just let it.

  • Amanda

    I am a grad student torn between taking classes and choosing a career that is safe but doesn’t light my fire like other classes do. This gave me the courage I needed to follow the fire, stoke the flame, and choose what lights up my heart. Thank you Lissa!!

  • Ms. Evita

    This is so inspirational, Lissa. I, too, just made a decision to resign from my job as a pharmacy technician. It no longer serves me, and I have known that for a little over a year now. But the same “Grimlin” vs “Inner Pilot Light” came upon me, just like it did you! LOL My reasons were ghe same, as well. I am no longer happy. There is no room to advance, and as a college graduate (with a degree in another field), I feel I deserve so much more than the day-in-and-day-out stressful gig going no where fast! And I kept my job for similar reasons stemming from similar questions- “How will my student loans get paid?” “You know you can’t lapse on bill payments because once your credit score gets low, you’re doomed!” “What if you don’t find anything else, and end up having to go to another dead-end job?” “Were you really THAT unhappy to have to leave?” I had, and still have so many questions and doubts running through my head! But one thing is for sure. I am more than ready to press forward. For my sanity. My stress levels. And with the hope that because I faced this fear, something amazing will be rewarded unto me. And the truth is, I really do deserve better. And better is out there for me. In the meantime, I have an amazing support system that will help keep me afloat until the right career (maybe even my dream career- even though that looks dim) comes through for me. The good news is, at least now I’m free and in a position to go where ever, whenever the universe calls me to that amazing career that I will love and deserve. I enjoyed your article!! Peace and blessings to you, and the readers! ❤