Fear paralyzes most everyone at some point or another in life but it’s most drastic affect can be found when people are faced with doing something new or different. It’s fascinating a person would choose not to do someone simply because they are scared of what they don’t know.
I often wonder why that is? As an entrepreneur I am almost addicted to the new, to the rush of achievement and to the embarkment into the unknown. It perplexes me why most of us don’t think this way and allow fear to paralyze them in making life changing decisions. Of course, a simple search brings more to light.
Fear is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it (also known as the fight-or-flight response) but in extreme cases of fear (terror) a freeze or paralysis response is possible.
Additionally, fear is frequently related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, whereas anxiety is the result of threats which are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable. It is worth noting that fear almost always relates to future events, such as worsening of a situation, or continuation of a situation that is unacceptable. Fear can also be an instant reaction to something presently happening.
Why am I focusing on fear? Recently I identified fear as the sole deterrent to people taking the leap and starting something new, like a company or new life direction. I should know, I am currently going through everything a person like this fears and living to tell you about it.
Fear of Failing
Quite possibly the strongest of the fears is the social fear of failing, or the public statement that we are going to do something and then ultimately not succeeding at it. Humans have a inherent need to be liked, embraced and accepted by the norm of society. I think this dates back to pre-historic times and the fear of being left out in the cold, alone and vulnerable to prey. Back then, failing at something meant you would be ostracized from the pack which most likely led to your death.
I can relate to this sort of fear of failing, only to the opposite extreme. I tend to turn our inherent fear of failing into the fear of failing to meet my potential. Sometime earlier in my life I heard a statement that struck me so deep I will not ever forget it:
Imagine dying and arriving in the afterlife only to meet your ‘highest potential self’ – the one God intended you to be when he created you – and only then and there you fully realized what you wasted when you were alive.
Whether you believe in a God or not, that statement should send shivers down your spine. It points to the fact that we all were created with a vast amount of potential, yet it is up to us to choose to pursue it. My ultimate fear is not failure in one thing or another but failing to continue to stretch and reach towards my potential.
Fear of success
Interestingly, a lot of people actually fear achievement and success. Millions of dollars, popularity and attention or the phenomenon of freedom from a job is so foreign to some people they have no idea how to comprehend it in their life. Imagine waking up early and automatically going to a job each day and then one day waking up with so much money you never have to work again. This is unfathomable for many people. So they say things like “oh, I can’t do that?” and “I am not talented, so how could I achieve that.” Fear is actually at the root of those statements – they perceive the ability to do such things as something they lack and thus unknown – so one merely passes it off as a fear not be entertained. That is quite sad.
Fear of hard work
Starting a company is damn hard work. Most people are lazy and don’t want to work hard; they want to cruise through life along the path of least resistance and have as much handed to them for the least amount of effort. There, I said it. And it’s a fact of life. Humans have been trained to expend the least amount of energy for the most amount of gain and it’s no more prevalent than in the corporate world. As a culture we have trained ourselves to be lazy and get the most we can for the least amount of effort or investment.
This is why entrepreneurs are so different than the rest of society. We think opposite. We understand it demands a hell of a lot from us and WANT to work hard to achieve our goals. We actually shun the 9-5 “clock in and clock out” life. This trait can be seen in entrepreneurs, athletes and any person who strikes out on their own to accomplish something extraordinary. We embrace the 10,000 hours it takes to achieve excellence in anything.
Fear of the unknown
I think all of this comes down to the paralyzing fear of the unknown. Quite simply, people just want to know everything and hate it when they don’t (obviously the growth of Google has proven that true). People hate it so much that when they are unsure of something, even when it’s totally normal to not be sure, they just don’t do anything. They’re frozen. They stay put.
If there is one point to take away from this is the fact that staying put is they worst thing to do today if you want to move forward in your life. Doing nothing will only bring more of the same. This is why most of you will not start a company, because you don’t know what you don’t know and that scares you. You have no idea how hard it will be. You don’t know how low the balance in your bank account will go. You have no idea how hard it will be to recruit people to your vision, compensate them appropriately and treat them right regardless of the circumstances. You have no clue as to how high the balance in your bank account could go if you happen to succeed. Lost to you is the incredible opportunities of growth and development that come with placing yourself in a challenging situation.
It’s unfortunate because you have no idea what you are missing. Although this has been the most challenging thing I have ever done, it is also the most rewarding. In the depths of the valley I find more about myself than on the tops of the mountains. The valley’s reveal to us our weaknesses and our strengths; they show us where we need help but they also allow for discovery of the character traits only we posses and how we must use them to get out of the valley and back on the mountain. For that is what the entrepreneurial journey is all about.
Great post Nick! As for how to conquer the fear, this quote comes to mind:
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie
Nick, thank you for laying out simple reasons why people fear doing anything that will bring them closer to realizing their God potential or highest self. I think people also have the fear of starting and short change themselves from the idea and curiosity stage to actually doing this.