Bennis Inc. | Fear Factor: Why this emotion is necessary for success
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Fear Factor: Why this emotion is necessary for success

Fear Factor: Why this emotion is necessary for success

fearThe inspiration for this week’s blog post comes from one of the world’s best-known thinkers who I happen to find absolutely fascinating—Plato. He’s credited with this wisdom, “Courage is knowing what not to fear.” Like most philosophies or proverbs, they’re simply stated, but the endless possibilities of meanings and applications run much deeper. I liked this quote from the first time I heard it, but now as a business owner and entrepreneur, every quote I see or re-read seems to also be applicable to business and success in some way. This one is no exception.

I wrote not too long ago about fear and inspiration as being the two ultimate motivators. In this breakdown I examined how each motivator results in very different types of actions. What this topic did not allow me to expand upon is how fear, though not the preferred motivator, is still an essential part of success. We should never be without at least some fear in our lives for the same reason we should never be without pain. These are the emotional and physical indicators that we’re doing something that’s stretching our limits – it can be a good feeling when it’s that of growth. Once we move outside of this “good growth” area of pain and fear, they then become the indicators that we shouldn’t go any further. This is what keeps us from destroying ourselves (or our business or our relationships). Thus, the goal shouldn’t be to overcome every fear; it should be to overcome the unnecessary fears.

When NOT to fear

“Courage is knowing what not to fear.” But how do we know what is fear-worthy and what we should push to overcome? This differentiation might be the most critical component to ensuring we’re exhausting our options and not ourselves. Unfortunately, Plato didn’t go on to further describe how we might know what to fear; he left that for us to figure out on our own. During my experience of quitting my job, taking a chance on starting a new business and overcoming the expected ups and downs of entrepreneurship along the way, I’ve had to face quite a few of my own fears. In the beginning I feared losing any client or getting turned down for any project. I’ve since realized that this is something I should not and cannot fear if I wish to excel in this industry. The possibility for rejection and change are around every corner, but this does not stop me from continuing to seek new clients and put my hat in the ring for proposals. The fact is, if I got every client I created a proposal for and kept them ongoing, I would be very overwhelmed and my business would not have the same opportunity to re-evaluate and refocus its client base every so often. That same rejection and change that I once feared is now my natural business cleansing process that I’ve come to appreciate. In this example, I found courage not by eliminating this fear or avoiding it, but by learning that it’s something I should not fear at all.

 When to fear

In contrast to knowing when not to fear, it’s just as important to know when a fear is reasonable, logical and a valuable safety mechanism. Again to provide an example from my own experience, I’ve become very in tune to the fear of sacrificing my standards or quality of work to accommodate a client. When business is slow and you’re looking to just pay the bills, it’s a natural instinct to go into survival mode. It’s OK to work for reduced rates or take on less than ideal clients for a short period of time to help pay the bills until your business is again revived. But fear rises up whenever I feel as though I’m lowering my standards or providing sub-par work to meet these reduced prices. I would rather turn away a client if it’s not a good fit than to squeeze and stretch to make it work and have us both be supremely dissatisfied in the end. In this case, my fear helps me to protect my personal reputation and to stay focused on the direction I want my business to go. It keeps me from digressing into offering services more aligned with a personal assistant or data entry and to protect my time for future clients that require the PR services in which I specialize.

Being courageous

I would like to believe that “courageous” is a term that has become synonymous with “entrepreneur.” It’s no easy feat to go against the grain, open your own business and pursue your dreams. It’s hard to watch peers continue down a path that’s well-beaten and easy to see miles into the future. Entrepreneurs don’t get that. We blaze our own path and often have the scars and exhaustion to show for it. But this is all with the hope that the path we choose to follow leads us on a better journey – a journey we control and can change at any moment. Ultimately, this takes courage and because “courage is knowing what not to fear,” we have to make the effort to look within and separate true fear from perceived or imagined fear. This is a critical step in both personal and business development. So, get to know your fears – intimately – especially the ones that can become your moral compass and business instinct.

Stephanie Shirley

stephanie@bennisinc.com