I’ve never had much patience for fear, especially in business. I find it paralyzing, inconvenient, and, most-of-all, annoying.
The way I see it, dealing with fear is a bit like dealing with a pothole. You can either navigate around it and risk a few bumps, or you can waste your time anxiously measuring the pothole, wondering why the pothole exists, and otherwise letting the pothole stop you from getting from Point A to Point B.
In this metaphor, the first response is clearly the more rational one. But as soon as you reframe the choice into a different context, you might be shocked at how many people fall into the second category.
Point in case: the entrepreneurial community.
The entrepreneurial community has an obsession with fear. You can’t flip through an issue of Forbes or Entrepreneur without seeing a headline (or six) that promises to explain how readers can overcome their fear and start a business. Every article makes the same assumption — that entrepreneurship is a frightening endeavor.
The sentiment makes sense on the surface. After all, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that roughly 75 percent of ventures flop within a decade. Failure is intimidating; no one wants to put money and passion into a project that will go belly-up in a few short years.
I can understand why aspiring entrepreneurs might be afraid. But while I can sympathize with that pain, I can’t agree that fear should have the power to prevent me — or anyone else — from pursuing a good idea.
You see, when smart people take fear personally, the consequences can be dire. Past psychological studies have demonstrated this — in 2016, researchers James Hayton and Gabriella Cacciotti published on the matter in the Journal of Business Venturing. As the two recapped of their findings:
When entrepreneurs worried about the potential of their idea or their personal ability to develop a successful venture, they tended to be affected more negatively and become less proactive. Numbers are crunched remorselessly, resulting in paralysis through analysis. Decision making is slowed down as all possible data is sought and the avoidance of making a wrong decision becomes the primary driver.
In some cases, the two go on to write, fear of failure can even drive entrepreneurs to self-sabotage their projects by setting either overly-simplistic or “wildly impossible” goals that inevitably undermine any real progress they might have otherwise made.
I can sum up all of this research in three words: Fear undermines progress.
It’s as simple as that.
Here’s how I see it. This is America — if you’re smart, lucky, and determined enough, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. But you need to learn to veer around the potholes that fear places in your professional path. Plenty of people are going to say no to you over the course of your career; you don’t need to say it to a mirror.
Let me tell you a story. When I was in college, I managed to land a job teaching night-school photography classes. One day, as I was strolling across campus, I noticed an old chemistry lab that looked as though it hadn’t been touched in years. I asked the school if the photography department could have it, and within a few short months (and a massive remodel), I had the place turned into an art gallery and became its director.
I was an upstart seventeen year old. Countless people could have said no to me, or questioned why someone with my age and minimal experience should have the job — but because I had the initiative to ask and the confidence to follow through, they didn’t. If I had doubted myself, or been too afraid to ask for the opportunity in the first place, the story would have turned out differently.
The truth is, the other side of failure isn’t as scary as people think it is. When your project flops, you have two choices: You can either languish in regret and let that failure prevent you from moving forward, or you can reframe the experience in your mind as a constructive learning experience. Rather than being traumatic, that moment becomes a lesson you can live with.
It’s true that fear holds an outsized place in entrepreneurial culture — but you don’t have to see it that way. Reimagine it! Rather than allowing it to develop into a career-halting monster, view it as a pothole in your path. It’s inconvenient, sure; but how crazy would it be to disrupt your day over a pothole?