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Fear: It’s What’s Holding Entrepreneurs Back

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In one way or another, fear affects everyone’s decision-making from time to time. If you’re a full-time entrepreneur, then you probably felt some fear when you decided to quit your job and commit yourself to making your new business a success. The thing is, fear doesn’t go away when you make the leap.

In fact, entrepreneurs are continually facing challenges that can inspire fear and dampen their ability to grow their businesses—if they let that fear rule. If you’ve been thinking about starting a business but were too afraid, or if you have a business and you’re letting fear get in the way, here’s what you need to know about the impact of fear on your success and happiness.  

What Do We Fear?

You might not be aware of your fear. A lot of it might be more subconscious than conscious. Most of us fear similar things, and unless we desensitize ourselves to certain fears, we feel uncomfortable and try to avoid the stimulus that causes us to feel afraid.

Here are some of the common fears entrepreneurs face on a daily basis:

  • Fear of failure/inadequacy
  • Fear of change/the unknown
  • Fear of loss
  • Fear of embarrassment
  • Fear of rejection

Just about every entrepreneur at some point is afraid of their business failing, or of embarrassing themselves in front of potential investors, or of making changes to normal patterns. Entrepreneurs who manage to push past these fears and act anyway are those who succeed.

How Does Fear Work?

Fear is a physical reaction to potential threats. While it’s rare to come face-to-face with primal threats like an angry bear anymore, our bodies still respond to threats of all types by flooding the body with hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen. This is designed to give us more strength and awareness.

It is, essentially, survival mode. That “fight or flight” response is very helpful during moments of actual danger, but can be actively detrimental when building a business. Pushing past this embedded physical response is something entrepreneurs need to learn—they need to learn to make logical decisions when confronted with illogical feelings.

“I think fearless is having fears but jumping anyway.” – Taylor Swift

Overcoming Fear of Failure in Entrepreneurship

For most entrepreneurs (or would-be entrepreneurs), fear of failure is the biggest obstacle to success. Just ask the 57% of Fortune 500 companies that first emerged during downturns in the market. Fear of the bear market didn’t hold them back—it helped their founders catapult to success.

That said, fear can keep you from getting started at all for fear you’ll fail. It feeds into procrastination, and the tendency to make safe choices that don’t advance the business, or worse, making no choices at all.

Overcoming the fear of failure means actually taking the scary step of embracing it. Of realizing that failure is an important part of growth. You need to be able to explore different options in order to find out which ones work best—and you have to forgive yourself for failures along the way. Successful entrepreneurs don’t look at failures as a waste of time or a signal that they aren’t good enough—they learn from those failures and use them as motivation to succeed. This isn’t an easy mindset to cultivate, but it can ultimately be life-changing.

Using Fear as a Tool

Is fear holding you back? You can change that reality. Fear can be damaging if it’s allowed to make your decisions for you. Fortunately, it can also be used as a tool to enhance your decisions if you harness it properly. Think about it. Fear is a powerful force. We need it to make common sense decisions, and to avoid danger—we needed it to stay alive for much of history. The decisions we make in modern times are rarely life-or-death situations, but the brain often treats them as such.

One way you can turn fear into a productive tool is to use it as a signal. When you feel fear and hesitate to move forward, take a moment to consider what’s going on. Is your fear simply trying to avoid change and new situations? Using fear as a signal, you’re doing something you SHOULD be doing instead of a signal to turn back can help desensitize you to fear and push you beyond your normal boundaries.

That doesn’t mean you should jump into any situation headfirst without considering the potential risks and rewards, but it can help you turn the dialogue of fear around and help you make empowering decisions.

“Just remember, you can do anything you set your mind to, but it takes action, perseverance, and facing your fears.” – Gillian Anderson

How do you control your fears while moving ahead in life? Let us know in the comments below!

Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis.

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