This is a time of year when I see a lot of fear.
My clients are running businesses and tend to think of things a year at a time.
As a new year approaches, they assess how they are doing this year and what they want to change for next year.
Our culture attributes special meaning to January 1 and we begin to think about the next one around October 1.
“Fourth quarter” is when we think about the goals we’ve not met, and the goals that we want to meet come “first quarter.”
A lot of people come to me because last year did not go as well as they wanted it to and because they want next year to be different. Because I work with people running businesses, and because I tend to work with people a year at a time, I have a lot hinging on this cycle even as I work with them to break it.
I end up feeling the fear, too.
The cycle may be somewhat arbitrary, but the fear behind the cycle is very human.
Three Types of Fear
While fear shows up in a lot of different ways, the three most common ones I see with business leaders are the following—
Fear of Uncertainty
Leading a business, even if that business is just you for the time being, is full of uncertainty.
Full of decisions that have no easy answers, and paths that only reveal themselves a little at a time.
What humans crave is certainty, predictability. We are genetically programmed to seek safety. I think this is why most people work for someone else. They know they don’t know the answers, but hope that someone else does. And (see below) they’re not willing to take the risk of being wrong.
In fact, most people will not start something new until they feel sure of the result. And thus most people find it very hard to change.
Fear of Failure
Related to the fear of uncertainty is the fear of failure.
It seems obvious that we are afraid of trying something new and failing at it. We might feel foolish, people might laugh at us, there might be economic consequences.
Failing at some things might even mean that we or people we employ could lose their jobs.
It’s one thing to feel the fear and do it anyway. But a lot of people want to avoid even feeling fear.
So they avoid taking risks in the first place.
Yes. This means that the fear of failure actually contributes to lack of success. That fear of failure can be a self-fulfilling prophesy.
If I never apply to my dream job, I will never know if I would have gotten it. If I could have succeed at it.
If I never go into business for myself, I will never find out if I could have done it.
The phrase, “it is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all,” was likely written by someone trying to talk themselves out of the fear of failure.
Our fear of failure might keep us physically alive, but it might also keep us spiritually dead.
Because it keeps us from pursuing our dreams.
Fear of Success
So if people are afraid of failing, they must be eager to succeed, right?
Not so fast.
Remember that mostly we fear uncertainty. So it’s really hard to take a risk, even if it appears likely to succeed.
But another thing that gets in the way of success is the stories that people tell themselves about success.
About what it means, to them and to others.
Maybe successful people never see their families.
Maybe successful people are selfish and exploit others.
Maybe successful people become famous and lose their privacy.
You can try this yourself—just journal with the sentence “Successful people are…” and see what are the first few things that come to mind.
If the first few things are bad things, things you would never want, you have a fear of success.
Unless you are willing to consciously let go of what is called an “upper limit,” you will never be successful.
You will never let yourself be.
How Fear Has Served You
Remember that from an evolutionary perspective, small is safe. Safe is alive. Alive is what brought you here.
The fact that your ancestors were afraid is the very reason that your parents survived to give birth to you.
Humans are pack animals. Watch pack animals in the wild. The ones at the edges get killed.
Stand out, in a bad way or a good way, at your own risk.
How Fear Gets In Your Way
If your job or your business is completely fulfilling, congratulations.
But if you are a human being, you are drawn to grow, to test yourself, to create. To learn and try new things.
You will want this your entire life. It is another, essential part of genetic code.
A paradox—when you look at the amazing things a small number of people have been able to do, even while most are afraid of acting.
When you see opportunities, does fear keeps you from acting on them? The fear of failure runs deep. Failure used to mean getting kicked out of the tribe. About being on your own with predators all around you. Taking risks wasn’t about money or reputation. It was about life and death.
But staying small has created some big problems. Politically, economically, environmentally. We can see a day where if we don’t change we might not even survive.
Life is asking us, requiring us, to make BIG changes. Staying small and doing what we have always done no longer feels like it is enough.
At times it can feel like we will not survive UNLESS we take risks.
A different kind of person is called for. A different kind of leader.
Are you one of the people who will answer the call?
How To Go Deeper
If you are reading this, you are different, or at least you want to be.
You are willing to feel the fear and do it anyway.
Most people shake their fists at life when it does not turn out as they want, rather than work with what life is actually giving them.
You accept your role as a co-creator of your life. Yes, you still stop yourself from time to time. It is hard to completely overcome our genetic programming. But you are miles ahead of those who refuse to see it.
There are others like you, and I work with and hope to inspire them, just as others have inspired me.
This is what I write about. For founders, for original thinkers, at all stages of their journey.
The world needs YOU, in all your brilliance and imperfection.
If you are a founder wanting to scale and sell your company, there are three shifts in identity that can help you do so with twice the impact and half the stress. Take a look at this video.
If you want to build a coaching business where you get to be yourself, help amazing people, and replace your corporate income in the process, here’s a video where I share the top three mistakes I see coaches make when trying to build a sustainable business—
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