Ah, entrepreneurship. Freedom, impact on your terms, deep and inspired missions, limitless opportunity, clear blue skies and a great wide open. And… potential for failure and free fall, the likelihood of significant challenges, the chance you could face plant so hard your face will never look the same again. Not to mention the occupational hazards of self-doubt, confusion, burnout and isolation.
It’s a land of creative spirit fairies, where unknowns are many and external resources can be relatively scarce.
Fear is designed to help us survive, but in the case of entrepreneurship it’s often the very thing that stops us, or sends us hurtling into a void of over functioning and overwhelm.
The data is likewise not encouraging, with 20% of businesses shutting down in the first two years and only 25% making it 15+. Of course, closure doesn’t mean failure necessarily.
I was scared silly to become an entrepreneur myself. I’m grateful to be in it over two years running and still going strong. Below are the most common fears I hear from clients, over 50% of whom are current entrepreneurs or transitioning.
Because we’re a lot better at managing fear intelligently when we’re aware of it.
What if I fail?
The financial fears of entrepreneurship are usually the biggest stops. This can look like fears of losing a certain lifestyle or fears of going into debt/defaulting on loans. Entrepreneurial ventures are like stocks (or crypto). Except in this case, you’re betting on yourself. There are lots of ways to manage this. First off, putting aside blithe claims of “you can do anything!” or macho chest thumping, know that you can be genuinely bold and still take care of yourself. What do you need emotionally, socially and for your physical health? It can be expensive to live in certain places, but today’s world is very virtual and ultimately basic needs are pretty basic. Beyond that, you can create virtual safety markers. What is the dollar amount of savings you’re unwilling to dip below? What date will you turn a profit by, or else get a job/supplement? In my experience it’s common for these markers to flex as you gain confidence and evidence of potential success.
What will people think?
This is probably the second most common fear I see in clients. Humans are social, and entrepreneurship often requires going against the grain and standing out. The fears of rejection can be visceral. Would be entrepreneurs worry about estranging friends and family who don’t understand their choices, or fear marketing themselves and the judgments that might come up. Of course, decisiveness and standing out are also key to success. Some tips for dealing with this fear are getting social support — a coach or a mastermind group for example — and connecting with the heart or spirit of your mission. Accountability is key and anxiety and excitement are two sides of the same coin (check out Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk on stress for the science). Along those lines you can do an in-the-moment reframe: My fear is helping to prepare me. Whether you have a clear goal/mission or an intuitive pull, your job is to lean in — not out.
I don’t have what it takes.
This is similar to #1, and has the same impact of stopping people in their tracks — or not taking the journey to begin with. There are two variations on this. First, there’s the person who is all that and a bag of chips in everyone else’s eyes, but they themselves can’t see it. This person has the simple if not easy task of letting go of their self-doubt and fully appreciating their gifts. There’s another type who may actually see themselves accurately on some level (in that they haven’t cultivated the skills or qualities they need — yet). The issue is that they equate themselves with their current state and their past and see themselves as incapable of change. But identity, personality, and of course, habits, are not as stable or singular as you think. Ask a personality or developmental psychologist, or a buddhist monk — or ask me, because this is huge topic of interest and personal experience. The coaching and education industries are based on the premise that people can and do change. The reason we don’t change is because we don’t try to, we’re not socially/emotionally resourced, or we aren’t able to see out of our box. You may have real limitations — the famed footballer Rudy would never have become a star quarterback for lots of material reasons — but in the vast majority of cases success is multifactorial and more malleable psychological factors play a huge role. Not to mention, if you’re not great at something required for your business (and you don’t want to be or think you can), you can always team up.
I don’t know what I’m doing.
I love this one because it might be true! Entrepreneurship is about innovation. You can train and do your research to have a better sense of what you’re doing, but on some level you just won’t. Figuring it out is a work in constant progress — and feedback helps you get better as you go. Resourcefulness trumps resources in these cases. One tip is to deeply connect to a “why,” a higher commitment or vision. It can be as specific as a business milestone that has you hot and bothered, as bold and beautiful as a heart-based mission, or as broad and intangible as god or happiness. Another tip is creating structure and support to be in consistent action, versus getting hung up. Again coaching and masterminds are good resources, or simply being in conversations that inspire you.
I can never go back.
This one’s more subtle. There is a fear that calling attention to yourself in a particular way brands you for life and cuts off all other options. This might be true in some senses in the moment, but pivoting these days is the norm. Of course it depends on a lot of things like job market factors, but that will always be true. The trick here is again knowing why you’re starting a business in the first place. What’s important about it? One of the top 5 regrets of people on their deathbeds, according to an Australian palliative care nurse, is not having had the courage to live a life true to themselves.
Like all of our actions once we become aware, entrepreneurship is a choice. Ultimately you choose what you want from it and if the risks are worth it.
Success coach for entrepreneurship, joyful work and women’s empowerment. For weekly tips and insights subscribe to my newsletter at caseyonder.com.