As a creativity consultant, the number one obstacle that entrepreneurs tell me they struggle with is fear. They're afraid of failure. They're afraid of success. They're afraid to market themselves. They’re afraid of not having a steady paycheck. They're afraid people won't like them or their product. The parade of fears marches on, each one distinct, yet all dancing to the beat of the same drummer.
It’s important to remember that fear is not the enemy. Fear can actually be your friend. It keeps you safe. It kept your ancestors from being eaten by wild animals. We’re hardwired for fear, because it is necessary for survival. You might wish that you never felt afraid, but that would be disastrous. The real enemy isn’t fear. It is misplaced fear that has the potential to cause damage.
Unless your small business revolves around hunting bears, it’s unlikely that you’re in any danger of being eaten alive while you work. In reality, not only will the things you’re afraid of probably not kill you, most of them aren’t even likely to cause unrecoverable damage to any aspect of your life. What is the worst thing that will happen if you go to a networking event and someone gives you the cold shoulder? How is it going to impact your life if someone responds to one of your newsletters with a less than kind email? Yes, those things don’t feel good, but unless you internalize them, they don’t having any lasting effect. Neither of those things will kill you. They won’t ruin your business. Not only will they not ruin your business, if you’re open to learning from experiences like these, they can actually make you better at what you do.
You don’t need to get rid of fear entirely, you just need to put it in its place. The fastest way to do that is by taking action. Even a tiny micro-step counts as a step. You can cover a lot of distance by taking small steps, as long as you take them consistently, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to act. Make it sooner. The longer you put off doing the things that scare you, the longer fear has to fester and grow.
Even Richard Branson is Afraid
The myth of the fearless entrepreneur is just that; you are far from alone in your business-related fears. Many, if not most, successful entrepreneurs speak openly about the things that terrified them when they first started out, as well as the things that still keep them up at night. Richard Branson, for example, is afraid of public speaking He faces that fear again and again, and he conquers it so successfully that you’d never know, if not for the fact that he’s so open about it.
Paralysis is the top tier of a pyramid built on a foundation of fear. Avoidance of fear eventually leads to a complete inability to act. When you force yourself to move through uncomfortable situations, rather than avoiding them, the infrastructure starts to crumble. Remove avoidance as an option, and fear will never have the chance to take over your life and keep you from accomplishing your goals.
7 Steps You Can Take Today
1. Play Out the Worst Case Scenarios – When you refuse to think about your fears, they grow in the dark recesses of your subconscious. Instead of letting them hang out there, drag them into the light of day. Illuminated by reality, they’ll be far less intimidating. Allow yourself to think about the worst-case scenarios; don’t be vague. If the worst did happen, what would you do next? How likely is it that the worst case scenarios will ever come true? Don’t be afraid of your imagination.
2. Break it Down – The big picture can be overwhelming, which can lead to fear. Whenever you’re facing a large task, outline everything that needs to be done, then break down every task into the smallest possible steps. You’ll find that nearly everything you need to do can be broken down into fifteen-minute increments. Set a timer and get it done then cross it off the list and move on. If there’s anything on your to-do list that you can’t get done today, it you haven’t broken the tasks down far enough.
3. Distance Yourself – This is a slightly different version of fake it till you make it. If you’re facing something that makes you quake in your boots, distance yourself from the situation by pretending to be someone else; borrow their self-confidence. It sounds silly, but it works. You might be terrified to make a phone call to someone important. Maybe it’s because because you feel like a nobody, and they’ll wonder why you’re wasting their time. So pretend to be someone you admire. Be Mark Zuckerberg. Would he be afraid to make the call? How would the person you’re calling respond if you were Mark Zuckerberg. Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll probably be able makes these calls without assuming an alternate persona because it’s something you know you can do. This exercise will do wonders for your perspective.
4. Start With the Slightly Scary – Let’s say that networking and marketing are the prime fear targets you want to eradicate. Going to a local networking event and talking with dozens of other business people might not be the best starting point. You could start with email marketing, instead . You might be afraid of email marketing, too, but it’s a lot less intimidating to think that maybe you’ll get a nasty email from someone than it is to imagine being rebuffed in a face to face setting.
5. Create a Support System – One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is that you’re on your own. One of the worst things about being an entrepreneur is that you’re… well, on your own. Hopefully you’ve already got the support of friends and family members, but unless some of them are also small business owners, it’s not enough. The people you’re closest to are invaluable, but there’s no replacement for being able to talk to other people who share your experience. Sometimes the simple act of commiserating can ease your anxiety, and if you’re talking to someone with more experience than you, they might have some great ideas to help you move through it.
6. Embrace Failure – Failure is inevitable. Keep in mind that one failure, or even a string of failures, doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. If you view it as a personal shortcoming and throw in the towel the first time one of your ideas bombs, you’ll never get anywhere. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong; it’s part of the learning process. Each time something doesn’t work, you’ve gathered more information to help you figure out what will.
7. Have a Backup Plan – Planning is critical, but if all you’ve got to work with is Plan A, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in a sticky situation. You’re less likely to panic when things go wrong if you’ve anticipated the possibility from the beginning. When you’ve got Plan B, and maybe even Plan C, you won’t go into a tailspin when things don’t work out the way you’d hoped.
Persistent and Consistent Action
In order to become a successful entrepreneur, you’re going to have to do things that scare you. Welcome these experiences as opportunities to grow. One thing that all of the above strategies have in common is that they all require a degree of consistency. Be persistent. Don’t try something once and decide that it didn’t work. In order to form new ways of responding to fear, you need practice. Do them over and over again, and they will become so ingrained that they’ll become second nature. By consistently facing your fears, you’ll break the fear avoidance cycle that can cause paralysis. What can you do today to move towards fearlessness?
Mani Schwartz is a writer and the owner of Dominate: Creativity Consulting. She specializes in helping artists and entrepreneurs overcome fear, organize their creative projects into small, actionable steps and achieve the delicate balance of turning their art into a business and their business into an art.