Fear and the Entrepreneur

By January 31, 2016 September 1st, 2017 Blog

I-have-accepted-fear-quoteAn entrepreneur’s relationship with fear is the leading indicator of whether or not he/she will be successful.

Entreprenuers do not get choose whether or not to have fear. They only get to choose what they do with it. I’ve witnessed this first hand with my own fears as an entreprenuer and working with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years. I’ve learned that fear is a near permanent condition. I’ve learned that no feeling replaces fear other than action. I’ve learned that bravery is not a feeling, it’s a behavior. I’ve learned that fear can be healthy fuel.

I’ve had a tenous relationship with fear my entire life. After turning 40, I sought some professional counseling due to a series of issues. My therapist asked me this: “What was your predominant emotion as a child?” My answer: fear. Although she was helpful in reconciling this childhood fear, I realized that fear is just part of my being. I’ve learned to embrace it … most of the time.

From 2011 to early 2014, I was involved with Klowd.com as a co-founder and CMO. I worked thousands of hours with the founder and CEO Ken Holsinger as well as with my fellow co-founder, our CTO Casey McMullen. Working in a tech start-up was one of the most intense, gratifying and terrifying experiences of my life. I learned many, many things from Ken but mostly I learned from watching how he handled fear. In his words, “You have to make fear your friend”. And he did … leading Klowd to a successful acquisition.

Fear often prevents entrepreneurs and other leaders from opting-in to modern business (5 of these fears are shared here on the root + river blog). But when they have a healthy relationship with fear, entrepreneurs will have a distinct competitive advantage as well as much happier, more balanced lives.

Here are four examples on how being friends with fear is an advantage:

  • Impulse vs Initiative: A negative relationship with fear makes an entreprenuer prone to impulse. This can be “shiny object syndrome” for new tactics, too quickly scrapping a strategy, listening to the “you should …” voices of friends and family. A healthy relationship with fear helps an entrepreneur learn the power of initiative: taking action on the right things. This creates momentum and a sense of control over the things that are actually controllable.
  • Intuition vs Paranoia: If you have a healthy relationship with fear, your intuition will be a finely tuned instrument for decision making, relationship building and setting priorities. If fear owns you, then your primal instincts will often manifest as paranoia. This creates a doom loop of over-reacting, jumping at shadows and carrying around a cloud of desperation.
  • Truth vs BS: A healthy relationship with fear allows an entrepreneur to simply tell the truth; to embrace vulnerability and transparency. In fact, expressing your fears shrinks them down and allows for reinforcements. Rather than prop up an image or try to put a shine on everything, they will speak the truth to employees, customers, investors, etc.
  • Message vs Slogan: The healthy entrepreneur always has a message to share. They speak their message in the face of fear. In fact, expressing the message helps alleviate fear. The entrepreneur with an unhealthy relationship with fear is always worried about offending someone or saying just the right thing to get the deal, or waving the magic wand of a slogan.

Most days, I still wake up terrified. But I’ve learned to re-channel this terror to remind me to keep going, to listen to my heart, to speak truth, to love people, to act on what I can control. Even if sometimes all I can control is to rest, heal and return to fight on.

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