For some reason, I have discovered that "fear" plays a role in the decision-making processes of our life decisions, more or less so for different people.
"I better do well on my report card." Fear of parental disapproval.
"I have to receive good marks from university." Fear of academic rejection.
"I have to get a good paying job to pay back my student loans." Fear of the bank.
"I have to pay the mortgage, so I have to keep my job." Fear of the bank.
"I have to listen and do what my supervisor is asking me too." Fear of the bad recommendation letter.
"If I pursue my true passion, I fear losing my current job." Fear of the unknown.
I hope that people reading this are beyond these fears. To some extent, we all possess these fears. It is alright to have these feelings. However, sometimes, that fear may stifle your ability to grow as an intellectual and as a person. You may be too scared to face your dreams and end up just thinking about that potential life.
When I had just finished my Master's defense, my advisor told me some wise words. "You have to think outside the box. Try to think on your own. Form your own hypothesis and defend your own thoughts. Try not to think a certain way because your professors tell you that is so." Those words stayed with me, which helped me pursue a successful PhD. I thought out of the box. I approached my scientific problem with state-of-the-art solutions. I defended myself in committee meetings, even if one of my members did not agree with me. It was during my PhD that I realized that a PhD was not just a piece of paper someone gave you because you had finished training in a field. It was not a declaration to say you were smarter than the next student. It was the part of my life when I realized I was my own thinker, and I can defend myself, my research approach and data. I had no more "fear."
The world was at my fingertips and I could basically pursue any intellectual idea that I wanted. We should not be afraid of disapproval or judgements from society. Having said this, you also need to have tact and negotiating skills, or you may alienate everyone who comes in contact with you. For example, you need to know how to "agree to disagree" and this is very tricky if it is your own supervisor. However, if you show respect and the ability to defend your research ideas, you should still have an outstanding recommendation letter. Also, I am not promoting quitting your job with no back-up plan. We all still have to pay the bills. (See Career Transitions.)
Perhaps we replace "fear" with "responsibility."
I know it sounds cliche, but you are responsible for being the best you can be, to make this world a better place, (do I hear MJ?) to pursue your passion. In short, dream your dream with no fear of disapproval, integrate it into your current life, and eventually, your dreams will become reality.
Because life, is short.