How to Live with the Fear of Failure While Building a Business

(This article was written by Stephanie Burns and appeared on forbes.com.)

Humans are naturally risk-averse, which makes the pursuit of something as risky as building business quite unsettling. In short, entrepreneurs face fear more than any other type of professional. It’s up to them to make decisions, make payroll, raise money and build a great company, with few people aside from advisors and fellow entrepreneurs to turn to.

But how do we cope with the fear? Fear isn’t talked about nearly often enough, simply because we all want to seem like we know what we’re doing. And while bringing more attention to the fear can actually contribute to more fear, it’s also important to create strategies and coping mechanisms to live with the fear and create anyway.

  1. Know That Fear Can Also Motivate You 

We often hear it said that fear can actually just be misunderstood excitement since the physiological response it invokes in our bodies is identical. Similarly, fear can motivate us. The Journal of Business Venturing shared research on the reconceptualization of fear in entrepreneurship and found that “the experience of fear of failure in entrepreneurship can at times motivate and at other times inhibit an individual.” It went on to report that  the responses to both either engaged an “approach” tendency (in other words, few feel the fear and want to go after it) or an “avoidance” tendency (when we get scared and run the other way).

So, we know that fear is a coin with two heads. It can motivate us or cause us to run, but we can choose the motivation aspect and let fear motivate us to do more and do better. It’s up to us how we want to train ourselves to cope when we feel fear.

  1. Think About the Greater Implications of Your Business 

Fear can also pale in comparison to the good you’re doing in the world. Macdonald Worley, founder of McDonald Worley PC, noted that “taking a moment to look around your business and realize that you are not only helping customers, but you are providing jobs for your employees and a way for them to provide for their families is one of the best ways to orient yourself in a success mindset.” And it’s true: no matter how big or small your business is, you started it to help people. This is the nature of the business. You’re contributing something of a unique value proposition to the world. If the focus is more so on this, you’ll find ways to make it work.

“If you don’t decide to go all in and make it work, you will fail. Burn the ships so you have no way out,” Worley advises. “Giving yourself no choice BUT to succeed is a great way to kick into high gear and take radical action.”

  1. Ditch the Need for Perfectionism

Perfectionism is one of the byproducts of the fear of failure. We somehow internally believe that if we do everything perfectly, we’ve decreased our chance at failure. But, we also know perfectionism is a myth, and it can ultimately sabotage us from doing what we really want to do. If an entrepreneur who is just starting out is holding themselves to an impossible ideal of perfectionism in order to feel comfortable launching their company publicly, they likely will never get to a place where they do feel comfortable.

How perfectionists find a way to prioritize completion over perfection differs, but common ways to move past the need to be perfect include practicing self-observance on the need for perfection, setting mini action steps, and asking for feedback so you can rely on others’ perceptions of your work, too.

Fear is simply an emotion that exists to protect us, but we can consciously decide how much we let it get in the way. Tap into the reason you chose to start a business and move your focus away from the fear and onto the action. This is what entrepreneurs do best.

 

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