If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve probably already taken a leap of faith to start a business, launch a podcast, or stand on a stage to give a keynote address. But fear of failure can often get in the way of our success. So how do you face your fears and find the courage to take the risks that will help you get to the next level of your business and success?
Let’s be honest. Fear is a part of being human, and some fear is even healthy. “Fear is our survival response,” says Northwestern Medicine Clinical Psychologist Zachary Sikora, PsyD, in this article. “Fear is a natural and biological condition that we all experience. It’s important that we experience fear because it keeps us safe.”
It’s also a BIG part of being an entrepreneur. As Pat says in this episode of Ask Pat: “Failure is a very necessary thing to go through as an entrepreneur. You have to go through failures. If you ask any successful entrepreneur out there if they've ever failed, they'll say, ‘Absolutely!' And the fact that it was actually required for them to get to where they're at now. That's how you know. And here's a quote that . . . has changed how I feel about fear and why it's important to think about it in this way, to embrace the fear like you said. And that is, ‘I would much rather live a life full of ‘oh wells' than a life full of ‘what if's.'”
While some fear is healthy and keeps us safe, when it’s out of control it can determine all of our choices in life, and the result will be a small, unfulfilling existence.
- Instead of taking that leap to start a business, a fearful person may cling to an unfulfilling 9-5 job just to have a sense of safety.
- Instead of writing a book they’ve always wanted to write, a fearful person will sit on the sidelines, and seethe with envy when a colleague writes a best-seller.
- Instead of pursuing speaking gigs, a fearful person will keep doing the same old things, clinging to comfort, while failing to share their expertise and gifts with the world.
The Many Faces of Fear
Fear comes in many different forms for an entrepreneur. These include:
- Fear of failure: For entrepreneurs, this fear is not unfounded. Studies from the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that about 75 percent of ventures fail within ten years. So fear of failure is baked into the life of an entrepreneur, and many go through many different false starts before finding success.
- Fear of not being good enough: Many of us suffer from “imposter syndrome,” fearing that we don’t have what it really takes to be successful. We fear that at some point others will find out we’re not up to the task. This feeling manifests in many ways, including perfectionism, workaholism, self-sabotage, and underachievement.
- Fear of financial insecurity: This is a big fear that often keeps us tied to jobs we don’t like. The term “golden handcuffs” describes a scenario where someone stays in a secure, well-paying job for the convenience and comfort, rather than embarking on a journey toward a passion, like starting a business. The current pandemic and the economic instability caused by it have made this fear even worse. And lack of any safety net—like not having the privilege of generational wealth, for instance—can justify this fear of financial insecurity.
- Fear of disappointing family and friends: You might have people and employees counting on your income, which makes it even more difficult to take any risks. If you fail, it will affect more than just you. So fear keeps you paralyzed. Or, you may seek the approval of others, like parents or a spouse, which keeps you from taking any risks.
- Fear of the unknown: There are many things out of our control, like a pandemic, an economic downturn, or an illness. None of us knows what will happen in the future. What happens if you start a business, and then a pandemic happens? Or what happens if you get sick? This fear of the unknown can prevent us from making any moves that will lead to success and fulfillment.
What to Do When Fear Holds You Back
Use fear to motivate you
So what do you do if you realize you’re resisting taking that leap, taking a risk to start a business, write a book, hire a team, or move forward with that great idea you have for a new product?
In Stephen Pressfield’s book The War of Art he writes, “‘Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. . . . The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
So instead of letting fear paralyze you, instead lean into it. Use it to inform you of what you need to do next.
Stare fear in the face
The great Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Some people have also attributed this dictum to Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing that scares you every day.”
Learning to face your fears is like training for a marathon. You need to strengthen those muscles and discover that facing your fears will not destroy you. Instead, each time you face your fears you will feel stronger and more confident.
Shut down the voices in your head
In this AskPat episode, Pat talks about the voices in our head that say we’re not good enough, or that we shouldn’t do something. He says, “Those voices in your head, they can really get at you. Really what it's about is not learning how to get rid of them because they're always going to be there, but it's about learning what that voice means, and also how to control that voice, and how to sort of react from it.”
If you’re facing something you’re afraid of, Pat says, ask yourself, “‘What's the worst thing that can happen?’ When you really get realistic with that question, oftentimes the worst thing that can happen isn't so bad.”
You should also surround yourself with amazing, like-minded people, Pat says. “You are the sum of the five people you hang out with the most or you converse with the most. If they are all negative and unsupportive, you yourself will be negative and you will not support your own efforts. You will constantly have these negative thoughts and then not take any action or go back to where you're comfortable.”
W. Clement Stone, a businessman and philanthropist, said, “Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.”
It’s so easy to get stuck in a fearful mindset. But just taking one small step toward facing your fear will help you get unstuck. This article talks about how just taking a step toward commitment will help you take action. “If you want to take action, which will eliminate fear, the only thing you need to do is make a commitment. Why? Commitment means an action is taking place and your brain is focusing on something else besides the fear.”
So the first step is committing to do something. Then write down all of the other action steps you need to take to do the things you’re afraid of. If you want to speak on stage but are terrified, you could start by doing research, or signing up for some public speaking classes, or talking to other people who are public speakers to get their advice. Take it one step at a time, but start taking those steps!
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