Fear of failure
Fear of success
Fear of the unknown
I’m here to tell you that even as a surfer who braves the cold, Northern California surf, I have certainly had to face my own set of fears, not only in the water, but on land, too. I wanted to share a story with you about this.
In 2001, I was in the early stages of starting a non-profit called C.E.O. Women, an organization dedicated to helping low-income immigrant and refugee women become entrepreneurs. I was planning our first networking fundraising event to attract donors and volunteers in San Francisco. Mind you – we had no staff, no space and I was not paid at all. I remember feeling so out on a limb with this project, and having so much anxiety around this event. My biggest fear: What if nobody shows? I was mortified that I’d have put myself out there and risked looking like a failure if no one came through.
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a fellow social entrepreneur, who was also in the early stages of her venture, that I realized I had to push through my fear of failure. I was a young entrepreneur, and I had never put myself out there like this. I still remember what she said to me. She pointed out that there was really nothing to be afraid of. She suggested just doing it, and to stop thinking and fretting about it. She also made a point that I remember quite vividly, which was that if only 2 or 3 people showed up to the fundraising event, so what? It would be 2 or 3 more people who would know about the mission of the organization. She was right; I had nothing to lose. At that point, there were more benefits of doing it than not doing it.
I planned the event with a volunteer event planner. I was so stressed, having absolutely no clue as to who would walk through the door. As it turned out, the event attracted a healthy crowd – between 50-75 people. It was more than I could have expected. Was I pleased I did the event? Yes. Did it help me to not be so fearful next time around? Yes.
That was an example of a happy ending. But what about a situation where the ending isn’t so happy? Yep, been through that, too. I remember one of the first training workshops I put together for C.E.O. Women. I had flyered the streets of East Oakland and partnered with the school district to offer a business training program for women. Only one person showed up for that class - a woman from Tonga working on a business idea to start a dress line for plus-size women. I met with her again, and though nobody else showed up for the class, I chose to keep going. I was confident that I had something of value to offer.
Through the years, C.E.O. Women had over 2,000 women walk through its doors. I could have stopped trying, left the organization and got a different job. But I kept going and ended up creating something that provided a lot of value for women, and that inspired new ways and technologies for connecting with a very hard to reach, transient population.
And here’s a secret – at every step of the way as we were innovating, hardly anything went as planned.
Sometimes, we were pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, we were hugely disappointed. Luckily, we had great mentors and coaches around us, who challenged us to never see things as failures, but rather as experiments with results. Oftentimes, what we felt was a big flop or failure was re-framed by our mentors as invaluable information or data with which to move forward.
No matter what the outcome may be – positive or negative - my point here is that when you fear something, it is worthwhile to sit with that fear, acknowledge it, and ask yourself:
- What will I gain from doing this action?
- What will I lose?
- What can I learn if all doesn’t go as planned?
When you do something, you put energy into motion, which begets more energy. You can review the consequences and potential outcomes all you want, but if you don’t do it, you’ll never really know what to expect, or how to make changes if need be. You can write the slickest, fanciest business plan, but until you do, you won’t really know.
Transition, at some deep level, is about recognizing your fears and taking a step towards them. It’s about being brave enough to face whatever type of outcome may be on the other side as well. This is true whether you are starting a business, switching a career or fumbling into new leadership.
I’m curious to hear, what was something you had major fear or anxiety about in your business or career? What did you do to overcome it?