Wrestling the Fear Monkey

Learn the secret power of fear.

When you launch a business you get to face your fears. If it’s your first company, if it’s your 14th business, you will have to cope with fear. Even if you don’t face your fears, they’ll sneak in while you’re sleeping, while you’re driving down the street.

Sometimes they come in simple and familiar forms – that little thought that screams in the back of the mind: “What on earth made me believe I could DO THIS!” Other times the fear slowly seeps in while you’re not paying attention, a peculiar feeling of dread that begins about an hour before you wake. It’s not quite a nightmare, just a dull-gray sense of dread.

Usually the fear subsides in the exhilaration and thrill of new-business activity. During the day – as you cram 20 hours of effort into 10 hours of work – fear doesn’t have much of a chance to squeeze its way into your frenzied brain. But in those quiet moments of down time – while you’re waiting through a long light on your way to Staples, you can feel the fear return, a nervous, painful tingling feeling in your arms and chest.

One of the odd things about this natural experience is that it seems so absolutely personal. When you’re in the middle of an entrepreneurial fear-grip, it’s hard to imagine anyone else has ever felt this way. It’s not really panic. It’s not quite self doubt. It takes a form of interior monolog, much like this: “My goodness, I can’t believe how fast I went through my seed capital. It was supposed to last 8 months. It only lasted three. What am I going to do?”

Those thoughts go into the brain and set up home. Those thoughts can become your dominant thoughts for weeks. Then it becomes even more specific: “How am I going to pay the rent? I don’t know if I can make the next payroll.”

Most of us think we can avoid these nasty crunches when we launch a company. Or else we wouldn’t launch the company. We have momentary doubts. But generally we think we will do ok. It’s the same feeling you have when you get in your car to go shopping. You’re reasonably sure you won’t get into an awful car crash on the way.

But all entrepreneurs run out of money. Or at least all of the entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. I read an article in “Inc.” magazine during my first year in business. The article claimed that all launch entrepreneurs run out of money, and that you can’t learn how to run a business until you go bust and start getting very, very creative. That was one dreary article. I read it at a time when my bank account was just about completely depleted.

The article was deadly accurate. And fear soon became a very close friend. But the fear was not a useless, debilitating emotion. Fear motivates. As my fears deepened, I found I was more fearful of failing than I was of cold-calling the next potential client. I became more fearful of disappointing family members who depended on me than I was fearful about calling a client who was late on a critical payment. As uncomfortable as it may be, fear becomes a fierce clarifier. It can help you straighten out your priorities before you go bust.

I can’t imagine succeeding in a business without the power of fear. Without the pure energy of sustained terror, why on earth would you stay up nights struggling to come up with solutions? When you’re relaxed, you don’t turn yourself inside out to become more effective. You don’t grow.

When you’re worried to death over your business, it’s small solace to recognize that your fears can guide to toward success. Mostly you just want to find some friendly shore, some relief. But fear does indeed guide and motivate. Bless those nasty feelings that grip you by the throat. They push you toward forward toward success.

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