Fear is the wrong fuel for entrepreneurs

Looking back at my early time as a founder, fear fueled 80% of my actions. Now I am determined to help others avoid that fate.

Fear is the wrong fuel for entrepreneurs
Fear is the wrong fuel for entrepreneurs

What if I do change?

In a recent coaching session, I watched with curiosity as equal parts worry and wonder seemed to wash over the face of the CEO sitting in front of me.

She began wondering aloud, “What if I actually do change? Will I be able to do my job anymore? Will I be motivated? Will I be effective? What if this is the only way I know how to do it?”

I smiled to myself because I once asked my own therapist a very similar question, “If I really accept myself and let go of this need to prove to the world that I am enough, will I lose all my motivation?”

“What are you worried might happen?” my therapist asked.

“What if I end up just sitting around watching Netflix?” I replied. I smiled at the ridiculousness of my own question, but I also remember noting there was some real honesty in it.

“Are you passionate about watching Netflix?” she asked.

In her question was some profound wisdom about motivation.

Do you really want to run on fear?

Many of us ambitious, type-A founder types have succeeded by running on fear.

I know I have.

Fear my father or peers would not accept me. Fear I would not live up to my potential. Fear I would let down my team, my investors, or myself.

Fear, fear, fear.

Fear is motivating. But at what cost?

Taking a look at the quality of our fuel

Fear is a costly source of fuel.

We tell ourselves we are keeping ourselves safe by being mindful of our fears. I often hear from clients, “If I keep the thing I am afraid of in front of me, I can be sure of avoiding it.”

In my experience, this is a bit like driving a race car staring at the wall. If you talk with a racecar driver, they will tell you, “If you look at the wall, you will hit the wall.”

Staring at the thing we are afraid of has a way of drawing us toward it.

Allowing ourselves to run on fear may increase the chances we experience that of which we are most afraid.

Fear is also a very costly fuel.

Sustained and chronic fear gradually suppresses the body’s immune system.
-David R. Hawkins, MD, Ph.D

Running on fear is life-sucking and life-threatening.

What is the alternative?

Fear can, however, be a powerful ally. It becomes powerful when we take it out of the subconscious, out of the background, and bring it into the foreground.

Looking at our fears themselves, rather than letting them fester and subconsciously drive our actions, can have a multitude of effects.

First, looking at our fear can show us what is important to us.

Fear tells us that something is at risk. Rather than stopping there, we might ask ourselves, “What am I sensing is at risk?” Or, positively, “What is important to me that I would like to attain or protect?”

By moving toward what we would like, rather than trying to avoid some likely unnamed sense of what might be lost, we can actually design a proactive path toward the outcome we desire.

Second, bringing fear into our awareness also holds the potential to disarm and unwire the fear.

In coaching, we often work with fear by inviting clients to write down the things they are afraid of.

This simple act of naming the fear can have a powerful effect.

We might begin to see that fear is not serving us in the way we thought it was. In fact, fear might be getting in the way of the outcome we most desire.
We might be staring at the wall.
As leaders, we might also be inviting our teams, investors, families, or friends to also stare at the wall.

There is an alternate source.

The antidote to fear is love.

Imagine how much more effective you might be in your work or life if you came with love instead of fear.

What if you turned your entrepreneurial energies toward loving your team, your customers, and your craft instead of laying awake at 3 AM wondering about what might go wrong?

How much more energy might you have? How much more clarity?

You are not alone

This is not an overnight change. And it does not have to be. Even the beginning of change can have a profound effect on the present.

Begin today by writing down the things you are afraid of.

Then note the things you sense are at risk.

Now ask yourself, if I came from a place of love and creativity, how might I more effectively protect, gain, or create that which is important to me?

You might also close your eyes for a moment and offer yourself some compassion. It is human to be afraid. It is ok that you have been afraid. Let the love begin with loving yourself, and begin in this very moment.

Feel some love coming your way from my kitchen table in Los Angeles too.

If I can help in your own navigation of fear and movement toward a different way of holding your work and life, please reach out!

-Matt