It Takes Guts to Be an Entrepreneur – How to Overcome Your Fear

by Robin J. Elliott on March 2, 2012

How can you, as an entrepreneur, overcome fear and achieve your goals more easily? In a survey of 5,000 business owners, from small to large, 95% agreed that the biggest barrier to their optimal growth was fear. Yet, in spite of that, we persist. That takes guts. And when we achieve success, after all the years of long nights, sacrifice, and hardship, after all the years of sleepless nights, worry, and 16 hour days, the rest of the world looks on and cries, “How lucky they are! Look how greedy they are! They should pay more taxes for us!”

A diver who regularly dives off a very high cliff into the sea in Acapulco told his interviewer that “You dive when you see the rocks below you. By the time you get to the rocks, the water has swept back in to cover the rocks, so you’re safe. If you dive when you see the water, it will be gone by the time you get there, and you’ll dive onto the rocks!” Race car drivers tell us that they never look at the barriers while travelling at high speed, or they will crash into them.

The problem with fear is that it is emotional, and therefore usually illogical. It’s good to experience fear, because it protects us, but at the same time, entrepreneurs need to learn how to control it and master our emotions. Here in British Columbia, the teachers are once again on strike, and the students are protesting that the government pays the teachers more (fifteen percent more!) so that they don’t miss classes. The naive students are being brainwashed by the teachers, and their placards read, “Be Wise – Compromise!” Entrepreneurs know that compromise is the way of the fearful and the loser.

There are four methods that have helped me to cope with fear over the past 25 years of being an entrepreneur.

1. Get the advice and perspective of someone who is not emotionally involved, who is more experienced and successful than you are, and who has no vested interest. This has helped me significantly. Their objective perception and advice is fearless and rational, while fear is usually unreasonable.

2. Don’t think about / worry about your business at night. Stop reading / answering emails and answering / making calls when it gets late. Read a nice book, watch TV, engage your mind in other things, not business. If you’re lying awake worrying, use visualization and relaxation to go to sleep. If it doesn’t work, get up, have a cup of tea, read a good book until you’re tired enough to sleep. Manage your thoughts. It’s scary diving at the rocks, but it is the logical thing to do: pay me now, or pay me later. The pain of discipline weighs ounces, but the pain of regret weighs tons. Fear is exaggerated at night when one’s defences are low, that’s why late night infomercials on TV are late at night.

3. Put everything down in writing, and don’t rely on the “pipeline.” Be conservative. Things always take longer than you think to come to pass. The lag time between sowing and reaping usually seems impossibly long, and it takes self discipline and faith in yourself to hold out and not run off and get a job. Putting your goals, time lines, and action plans in writing, as well as your possible Plan B’s and the obstacles you expect to encounter, helps you remain objective and to maintain a realistic perspective. Written and specific goals provide much-needed clarity. Following your action plan keeps you productive, too. Especially if you have a coach working with you on a regular basis.

4. REST and rejuvenate. Take time off. Get enough exercise. Manage your diet. Being overweight and out of shape will add to your stress. Physical activity reduces stress. I find that playing with my grandsons is wonderfully relaxing and it stops me thinking about business. It’s a real break and lots of fun. Have an absorbing hobby. Laugh. Watch funny movies. It all helps you stay objective and motivated.

Finally, like the race car driver, focus on what you want and where you want to go, not of what you don’t want and where you don’t want to go. It really is that simple, and it does become a very good habit.

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