This post was originally published on Medium.com.
Fear is a very powerful emotion. It can stop you from doing so many incredible things that have the potential to make your life better. Things like starting a business that gives you the freedom to live life exactly the way you want to, or give back to the world in a bigger way and feel more purpose.
You have this amazing idea, but the fear of failure and having to deal with a potential setback or feeling embarrassed in front of your friends and family is paralyzing to the point that you just do nothing. You stay stuck, and that dream stays dormant in your head instead of you actually giving it the chance to come to life.
This same fear has stopped me, many times, from putting myself out there and making bigger leaps in both my personal and professional life. But becoming a new business owner has forced me to face these fears — head on.
I’ve worked in corporate America for the last fifteen or so years, and only recently started my own business on the side. I remember going to a personal development retreat back in 2013, when I was trying to figure out my next career move, and writing the words “life coach?” in my journal as a potential option. I had listed out the pros and cons of having that type of job as well as many others, trying to understand if there was something I’d like doing more than what I was currently spending my time on.
I remember leaving the retreat feeling so energized, but then just going back to life as normal, because I had this belief that I couldn’t be an entrepreneur — and actually be successful. I also worried about what my friends might think if I announced to them I wanted to become a life coach. I thought they’d think I was throwing away a perfectly good career to go do something crazy. Because that’s what we’re conditioned to think: That if we don’t have the “normal” job, the white picket fence and the two kids and mortgage, then there’s something wrong with us.
Life moved on, and I forgot about it. It wasn’t until seven years later that I finally realized, you know what, why can’t I do this now? Why can’t I have a good job AND be an entrepreneur? What was actually stopping me, besides this silly fear of what others may think of me, or of potential failure? So I trained to become a life coach and started working with clients one-on-one.
And while I admit I’m no master yet, I have learned a few things about facing your fears as a new business owner. And I’d like to share them with you.
But before I begin, I want to share a concept that will help you understand where these fears come from––and why they’re so damn strong––and hard to get rid of.
There are two main categories of fear that most of us experience, and they’re tied to our innate survival mechanism.
A long time ago, it was vital to be accepted as part of a community in order to survive. People who weren’t accepted didn’t have access to as many resources and could easily die without the support and protection of others.
And another category of fear comes from our brain’s limbic system, or the region of the brain that controls our “fight, flight or freeze” effect and categorizes information as either “safe” or “not safe.” When we think about failing in our business, our brain can easily go to the absolute worst-case scenario where we lose our house, go into bankruptcy, lose our partners and friends…instead of just being slightly more rational about it.
It’s because we’re wired to try to keep ourselves safe, at all costs. And doing something as risky as putting your money (or reputation) on the line throws up a lot of red flags in our internal environment, even if we’re not in that much real danger.
That being said, what can you actually do about these fears so they don’t stop you from moving forward on building your business?
Fear of Being Judged by Others
As I mentioned before, the fear of being judged by others comes from our deep desire to “fit in” so that we continue to stay part of a community.
The good news is we’re now living in the twenty-first century and most likely we don’t really “need” our community as much as when we were hunter-gatherers, where it was literally a matter of life and death. Of course, we still value connection and want our friends and family’s approval.
What can you do to get over your fear of judgement?
1) Realize that people will judge you. They already do.
As you’re reading this article and possibly looking at other parts of my website, you’re judging me. It’s okay, I do it too! Again, it’s part of the way we’re wired. Humans are capable of judging other people’s characters in just .01 seconds. Don’t let the potential judgement stop you from pursuing your dreams. Because when you’re sitting in your rocking chair when you’re eighty, you won’t even remember what they said, but you will remember how it stopped you from doing what you really wanted to do.
Even if you get some criticism along the way (trust me, you will!), it doesn’t really need to mean that much. It’s when you start to take on what people say or get defensive that you’re giving away your power. And most likely, if people are saying stuff about you, then what you’re doing is actually making an impact. So, learn to be ok with it. If someone is criticizing you, it usually says more about their self-esteem than it does about you.
And for the people in your life who aren’t business owners:
It’s also possible that whatever you’re doing as an entrepreneur is messing with their own identity and sense of self because you’re leaving the little box society put you in and they question it because it makes them uncomfortable since they’re still trapped in that box.
And finally, don’t take criticism from non-business owners. They have NO IDEA what you’re going through, so they have no right to criticize.
2) Realize that most people don’t have time to worry about you, or what you’re doing.
Think about it: How many times do you analyze what your friend said about their new business or what they’re doing that is new in their life?
Or do you just acknowledge (or ignore) whatever they’re posting about on social media? And even in conversation, do you really care about all the details of what they’re up to? Or is it more that you just want them to be happy, in whatever they’re doing.
Most of us are so caught up in our own lives that we don’t have time to think about judging others. Think about this the next time you’re afraid to bring up your new endeavor.
3) It’s all in your head.
There’s lots of fears we face as new business owners — from imposter syndrome (or feeling like you’re a fraud, even with the right training) to being afraid of being visible. Many new (and even seasoned) business owners feel like they don’t have enough experience in what they do.
But as observers, we don’t really look at them that way. If they show up, and do the thing, and do it decently enough, we think they’re confident and established. And that’s enough. Show up, do the thing, and build your confidence over time. Just remember to breathe through it, and take it one small step at a time.
And on being visible: I’ve worked with women who think they’re “too old” to or “not pretty enough” to be on camera talking about their business. And you know what, before they told me these things, I thought they were beautiful, and I really enjoyed the content they shared.
So, stop making it all about you. Your people need you. Make it your aim to share your knowledge and teach them something that helps them. This will give your poor ego a break and channel that energy into something more productive.
Fear of Failure
So, what about the fear of failure? Knowing what I already told you, what can you actually do about it?
1) Go take a hard look at your worst-case scenario.
One way of facing your fear is just to do it head-on. Think about the worst thing that could possibly happen if you were to start a business and it failed.
Now ask yourself this: Can I live with that outcome, or work through it? If you can, then keep moving forward.
2) See what’s underneath it.
As a life coach, I’m trained to go deeper than what’s visible on the surface level. Take a look at WHY you’re feeling this. Is there something this fear is trying to tell you? Maybe it’s trying to protect you or keep you safe. And that’s okay; in fact, it’s completely natural.
But realize that starting a business and failing at it isn’t going to kill you. Yes, you may have to face some uncomfortable emotions or deal with some drama, but that’s it. Or you lose some money, but money has this funny way of coming back to you.
So, understand the underlying reason you’re feeling this fear, and try to make space in your life for things that bring you comfort and a feeling of security. Take a bubble bath, snuggle with your partner or be in nature on days when you stretch yourself. Or try my short meditation.
And speaking of security: If you think that having a “proper job” gives you financial security, think again. Maybe it did a long time ago, but take it from someone who’s been laid off multiple times after working their butt off — that “security” isn’t real.
3) Reframe failure in your business.
Have you ever heard of a successful business owner who never failed? I haven’t. Or if you did, are they really telling the whole story?
It’s inevitable that you will fail in small ways in your business. That’s the nature of the game. So, get used to it. And turn it into an opportunity for learning and growth.
For example, did my first couple social posts bring lots of views or engagement? No, it was more like crickets. Or was my first try at creating an online course a smashing success? Absolutely not.
But I learned from both of these experiences, and have adjusted what I do to make it better.
Learn to look at your failures as opportunities to learn and pivot so that the next time, you succeed.
To sum it all up:
Feeling fear when you do something new like starting a business is inevitable. But the way you handle it determines your success. Remind yourself it’s a natural emotion and try one of the tips I outlined above.