Four years ago today, I was working in the NHS as an accountant. I was happy, stimulated and felt I was adding value in the world but something was niggling at me. I didn’t feel that the constraints in which we worked allowed me to add quite enough value and every year, when I came to review my goals for the year ahead and assess my bucket list for stuff I could tick off, I noted that the plan to “Quit it all, join a bootcamp and retrain as a programmer” was still there and still resonated strongly.

So influenced heavily by Tim Ferris and his TED talk on Fear Setting, I sat down and drew up my list of fears and mitigations. It was a remarkable activity that unstuck me and changed my life.

I’ve just stumbled upon that fear setting list again and thought it might be worth sharing now from the vantage of hindsight.

Just to set the scene, five days after writing this fear setting document, I was waiting the result of my in-person application to Makers (coding bootcamp). One month later I handed in my notice with the NHS and in July I started my new life, learning to be a coder.

Stoic Fear Setting

What if I Quit the NHS and joined Makers Academy

Define the fears

  • I’m useless at programming
  • I can’t get a job in the industry at the end
  • I’ll have no income
  • I can’t spend in the same carefree way
  • I’ll never earn what I earn now
  • I’ll have to get up early
  • My first job will have crazy hours


  • Do preparatory study
  • Work hard on the pre-course
  • Save 3 months money before I start
  • Live on less during the course, make my 3 months saving last 6 months
  • attend the networking sessions
  • Get a side job - small income streams
  • Do NHS project work (part time)
  • Go to bed earlier


  • Go back to the NHS
  • Ask ex-boss for project work
  • Set up dog walking business

What might some of the benefits be?

  • Rewarding, creative work
  • Flexible working pattern
  • Work from home
  • Have a dog
  • Continue working through retirement
  • Supports side hustles eg xxx

What would be the result of inaction?

6 months

  • Still working at Barts. Same old same old.

1 year

  • Probably looking for another NHS job. Same old same old.

3 years

  • Still in NHS wondering if I’m capable of doing anything different. No flexibility of work life and no dog.

So what happened in the last 4 years?

I had an absolutely fantastic time at the bootcamp, met some great people, learned so much and really enjoyed the shift in focus. It was mentally demanding and at times I really wasn’t sure if I was smart enough but I loved the challenge anyway.

After graduating from Makers I had a tough time securing work. I did loads of tech tests and had a few interviews. I was very selective about the companies I applied for, I really needed to believe in the work they were doing. Those companies in turn, were selective too and I began to feel the affect of my age as I got rejected from many of the more hipster startups I applied to.

I did despair at bit at times, my savings pot was dwindling and Imposter Syndrome was showing its face again.

Luckily after 3 months I was offered a job in a small team in a fantastic building and I snapped their hand off. My starting salary was about 40% of my previous salary but I was learning and creating stuff that had some permanence.

Cutting to the chase, four years after that initial decision to quit, I am six months into my second developer role. I’m working from home (as is almost everyone at the moment but this will outlast the pandemic), I have a dog and I’m earning a salary that is nudging at my pre-quitting levels.

So it seems almost all my benefits have materialised and maybe the rest will in time - I’m only 50 so it’s too early to determine the impact on my retirement.

Fear Setting is something I will come back to when I feel stuck in life, when I have a sense that I might be putting something off due to fear. I’ll ask myself what that reticence is costing me and make a decision from a position of pessimism. If you want to know more about Fear Setting, I strongly recommend giving Tim’s TED talk a watch or you can read more on his blog.