When I was a little girl, I was a worrywart! I was famous for all of my “what if” questions… What if I get sick? What if the other kids pick on me? What if I don’t do well on the test? My Mom had her work cut out for her because she would constantly need to reassure me that everything was going to be okay. Although it helped — and reassurance is comforting — as I got older I realized that it didn’t always help me face the fear and move forward. I was, however, on to something good with my “what if” questions — I just needed to learn how to take them a few steps further.
When fear is in charge, we play it safe
Years on, I still lived with many of the same fears — only they morphed into much bigger problems. Fear of getting sick turned me into a hypochondriac. Fear of being picked on as a child prevented me from embracing my authenticity as a young adult. And the fear of failing tests evolved into perfectionist tendencies that often kept me stuck in place.
Before starting my business, I had become very unhappy with playing it safe in my professional journey. What I began to understand by looking ahead was how disappointed I would be if, by the end of my life, I would never find the courage to give my business ideas a try. My thoughts finally made the leap from simple worry “what ifs” to big life questions like “what if I never go for it?” as I began to consider the opportunity costs.
Research shows that a top regret folks have at the end of life is not being true to themselves. In other words, we are more likely to regret the things we don’t do and the actions we don’t take because of fear instead of the things we tried and failed.
Understanding this was my turning point and when I began to take action.
Between fear and opportunity cost
We need to back up though!
If we can face fear by starting with “what if?”, and may want to change course after we consider the opportunity cost, what happens in the middle?
In the middle is the important stuff!
It’s where you take a moment to better understand your fears about moving forward with something. In the middle between raw fear and envisioning opportunity cost is where you do some risk management and benefit analysis. This is where you work it out so that you’re not stuck in place “what iffing” like I did as a kid. Don’t skip this part!
Author & speaker Tim Ferriss has an interesting and straight-forward system for this which he presents in his TED talk on Fear Setting. He explains that once you have in mind what you’d like to accomplish, you first ”define” your fears, then list out ways to “prevent or repair” the worst-case scenarios you imagine. Next, you consider the potential “benefits” to be gained even if you only partially succeed in your endeavor. Finally, you evaluate the “cost of inaction” — or what I am calling the opportunity cost.
Entrepreneurs are no strangers to fear
So, let’s say… you want to start a business. Maybe it’s a coffee shop! You would first list out all your fears surrounding that idea.
-What if I don’t know what I’m doing?
-What if my coffee sucks?
-What if the customers are mean?
-What if I fail? Now, THIS is the biggie, and something we all question! Entrepreneurs are surely no strangers to fear… it just doesn’t stop us.
So, let’s face this fear and further define it…
What if I fail?
Imagine the scenario more clearly, sitting alone in your vacant storefront, drinking cold, over-extracted coffee. You don’t know how to use any of the equipment and people are standing outside your door screaming “you suck!”
Instead of packing it up and giving in to that vision of fear, now you start to analyze how could you prevent this from happening. As one who has walked the path, I’ll offer a few suggestions. You might include things like:
-Write a business plan.
-Attend a trade show.
-Become a coffee expert.
-Consult with other business owners.
-Research the competition.
So many options!
But just in case the worst were to happen and failure loomed on the horizon, how might you repair the damage? Well, you could decide to change course, ask for help, or get a job to pay your bills, among many other alternatives.
As for the benefits you may gain by going for it, where to begin?
For me, there is always more benefit to stretching yourself than in staying with the status quo. Even if you attempt to start a business and fail you learn more about yourself and also gain experience. Before Espresso Elevado I had another business that we closed after two years. Even though it was painful, I learned valuable business skills. But in your particular situation, the benefits are for YOU to determine.
For the last part — the cost of inaction — you consider how life will look if you do nothing. This is the opportunity cost I arrived at before deciding to finally start my business. Even more than the fear, I couldn’t bear the thought of never having tried at all.
Soar to new heights
So what about you? It’s time to face fear head-on so you can “harness and master” it in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Do the exercises in the messy middle to help you gain a broader perspective and move from stuck to soaring.
When I reflect on my business today, it’s clear that I made the right decision. It hasn’t always been easy, but I believe that facing fear is the best chance we have to soar to new heights.
As Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. advises in the title of her book “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
Just make sure you carefully consider all your what ifs!