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During a recent fireside chat with the Metro Atlanta Chamber (hosted by my friend John Yates), I was asked whether there was some magic pill that I take that helps me get up and keep fighting the entrepreneurial good fight every day.
My answer: Yes, it’s called fear. I drink it every morning.
There’s something really powerful about the idea of fear within the entrepreneurial experience. Entrepreneurship is, at its heart, an incredibly scary thing; individuals are laying everything on the line to pursue an idea, dream or passion. Often, new business founders are putting themselves at an incredible risk — not mention their investors, leadership team and friends.
I don’t view fear as a roadblock. No matter the form it takes, fear provides the push I need to succeed. If you feel overwhelmed by fear in your professional life, read on to see how I flipped the script and turned fear into one of my greatest allies.
1. Identifying the sources.
Fear, as a psychological response, keeps people safe. It triggers their “fight or flight” response as a way of coping with dangerous situations.
While you’re probably not fighting for your life at work, the impulse of fear helps people avoid pitfalls.
One of the most important steps toward turning fear from an enemy into an ally is identifying the sources of anxiety.
If a new idea is freaking you out, take time to analyze and figure out why. Is it too risky or are you simply feeling the pressure as you contemplate shaking up the status quo? Are you afraid because you haven’t yet analyzed a problem from every angle or are you simply experiencing the fear that arises before taking the plunge with a new project?
Identifying and compartmentalizing the sources of your fear is an essential tactic for evaluating your decisions. Getting out of your comfort zone is healthy and encouraged. But throwing your business plan and projections off a cliff because you haven’t vetted every outcome is not.
2. Finding motivation.
I grew up in a household as one of seven kids. I was a true middle child, with three kids on either side me in the birth order. The stereotypical middle child insecurities are still alive and well in me. My siblings are well-educated and successful. The fear of being overshadowed by siblings in the eyes of my successful entrepreneur parents drove me to be competitive and start my first business.
Even if I was just mowing grass or repaving driveways, that success was mine: It was something that no one else could claim or take from me. It was my answer to the fear of being overshadowed. Ultimately, it was that insecurity that lighted the fire that would become my entrepreneurial passion.
Today, insecurity is just as powerful a motivator as it was when I was young and members of my family all gathered around the dinner table recounting stories about our day. As humbled and thankful as I am for the success I’ve had, fear still lurks behind every action — the worries about not being good enough, of being beaten to the punch.
3. Embracing the challenge.
Regardless of whether you are running an established business or just launching a startup, Never let yourself become complacent. Your business can be overtaken by competitors practically overnight. Fear is a healthy, essential way to avoid complacency and challenge yourself to excel and succeed — if you learn to embrace and harness those feelings.
What I’ve found over the years is that fear manifests itself in different ways. Call it whatever you like — a drive, ambition, passion, the fire. But what it boils down to is fear — of losing, letting yourself down, disappointing your loved ones, forfeiting what you’ve built.
Once you recognize that it’s all just a game of semantics and that fear and drive are two ways to say the same thing, you can embrace fear for what it truly is.
Recognizing the potential power of fear as a motivator is the key to understanding it as an ally for your business and goals. You can’t just ignore it or pretend you’re invincible and untouchable. Rather, let in the fear. Embrace it. Allow it to keep you honest and constantly driving forward. As Entrepreneur’s Amy Cosper put it, “Don’t let it hold you back from greatness.”
Fear can be the spark that drives you to greatness if you let it.
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