What she did: Left a well-paid job so she could go back to school and follow her dream of becoming a writer and an English professor.
How she stayed strong: "I recalled other difficult things I've accomplished. When I was younger I moved to France for two years without knowing the language or anyone there. If I could do that, I could do many other things."
The payoff: "I quit postponing my goals. Despite my much leaner bank account, I'm much richer for having done this."
New York, New York
What she did: Took up horseback riding and stuck with it even though she often felt terrified.
How she stayed strong: "I let myself feel the fear and made myself keep moving forward, even when I felt anxious. Every time I went for my lesson I'd tell myself that falling off was a possibility, not a probability."
The payoff: "I had no idea taking up riding would change my life in such a big way. I'm much more confident. And my husband fell in love with horses too, which made our marriage stronger."
What she did: When she couldn't find a publisher for her book, Healing from a Grandmother's Heart, a collection of life lessons from her father's mother, she spent $10,000 of her own money to have it designed and printed.
How she stayed strong: "I decided that nothing was going to stand in the way of getting out my grandmother's important message."
The payoff: "The book has sold almost 3,000 copies, and people write me all the time to tell me how it has inspired them. That's the best gift of all."
Land O' Lakes, Florida
What she did: Scaled down her life—including giving up a full-time job—so she could spend more time with her husband and kids, even though she'd been raised to believe a woman should never rely solely on a man's income.
How she stayed strong: "I talked all the time to people who were supportive of my choice, not with people who didn't understand it."
The payoff: "I saw that I don't need other people to tell me what's right for me and my family."
What she did: Took her three kids for a trip to Northern Ireland, to areas once conflict-ridden and not usually visited by tourists.
How she stayed strong: "While I'd never take my kids to an unsafe spot, I chose a place where they could meet people with a history of overcoming adversity. I'm preparing them to be citizens of the world."
The payoff: "Travel like this gives me peace of mind about my kids' futures, that someday they'll help others based on what they learn now."