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Reader must take a few risks to get the most out of life

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Dear Harlan: I need help motivating myself to find a new job. I'm a college graduate with a degree in English but in the past couple years have changed my field of interest to graphic design.

I have a comfortable job that doesn't pay much and has no upward mobility. I still live with my parents. Lately they have been growing worried that I'm not making a future for myself, especially since I am approaching 30.

I'm a hard worker, but I'm finding it extremely difficult to motivate myself to find a new job. I don't like change, and I am afraid I won't succeed.

—Not Quite Motivated

Dear Not Quite Motivated: Do me a favor — e-mail me the name and number or your employer. I want to get you fired. That's what you need — to invoke fear. Fear is the single most powerful motivating factor. It motivates us to take risks, or to stay in our comfort zone.

Start the New Year by participating in a personal risk-taking experiment. Here's what you do: Isolate THREE things outside your comfort zone that scare you. Things you want to do but can't.

For you, one is finding a new job. Write down the risks and a one-sentence plan of action for each. Then list three potential obstacles for each risk. Before taking the risk, look to those around you who can help you overcome the obstacles — professionals, a therapist, career coach, friends, etc. Then, take the risk.

If it doesn't go as planned, great! Take it again until you get where you want to go. If you can anticipate the obstacles, grow from each outcome and plan for the future, then change won't be so hard to handle. Success is guaranteed. Life will become an adventure, not a struggle. Please, send in your results.

Dear Harlan: I'm 24, and the woman I had planned my life with just left me. She said she needs to find herself. She has five months of college left then she might go to grad school.

I want her back, but it seems like all I do is push her away. I messed up — I didn't show her how much I love her. She doesn't want to see anyone right now. I'm lost without her. I'm done with school, and I have a full-time job. She was the next step; I was going to propose to her for her graduation. I feel like I have failed her and failed in life in general.

—Lost Man

Dear Lost Man: I wish I could tell you where she will "find herself." Then you could already be dating the self she finds. If that self fell in love with you, she'd have no choice but to listen to herself. The only problem — she can only find herself.

No one failed anyone; this is about two people in different times of life. She wants a few more months of irresponsibility (something she hasn't had in years) and options for the future (no limits where to attend grad school). You want to buy a ring — big difference.

Grab a cup of coffee with her; tell her how you'll express yourself differently in the future. Thank her for being so loving through the years. Then encourage her to find herself.

Give it the rest of the winter. If you're not back together with her, you and yourself will have it together enough to move forward — with or without her.

Write Harlan at harlan@helpmeharlan.com or visit online: www.helpmeharlan.com. All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614.

© Harlan Cohen 2004 Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.