I hope no one told you that being an entrepreneur would be easy. Somewhere, in the definition of entrepreneur, you may not have been told about the stress, dancing on the edge of poverty, and all of the hurdles that go with the excitement of being self-employed or self-directed. Yes, the definition includes the words, “assumes the risks of a business or enterprise,” but many times, in the excitement to declare yourself an entrepreneur, you forget that fear is built into your chosen path.
It is that fear of the risks you take that makes the outcome worthwhile.
Personally, I have a fear of heights. Or, as I say, “I’m not afraid of falling from heights, I’m afraid of the sudden stop at the end of the fall.” When I was younger, I called my summer employer during college to tell him that I was ready to come back to work. He responded that he had no work for me, because the only work they had available was climbing high steel to inspect bolts. He continued, “Whoever takes the job, will be climbing to 40 stories above the air on 10 inch beams.”
I responded, “Perfect. I am only scared of being higher than 50 stories in the air.” I took the job, and every day I faced my fear. Why did I take the job? How did I overcome my fear of heights? Simply, I made an instantaneous decision that my fear of poverty greatly outweighed my fear of falling.
First day on the job, the building was at three stories. I met the iron worker foreman, Charlie, and he taught me how to keep my balance on a beam and what to do, and not to do, to remain safe.
I climbed onto the steel and began inspecting the bolts. That was my job. Every couple of days, the building would be a floor higher. By the end of the summer we were at 36 stories and preparing to top off the building. I noticed the changes of height, but with each floor, I became less nervous about the prospect of falling because my confidence had grown.
Whatever is inhibiting you from taking the next step, or whatever is in the way of giving your full commitment to more than you can imagine, needs to be balanced against the fear of not taking the leap.
It was during the summer that I first learned the four rules of the risk game that I follow today:
- Remember why you are doing what you were doing. In my case, I needed the money. Later in life, it was the joy of accomplishment that outweighed my fear of whatever it was that I was doing. But no matter what risk or challenge faced me, I balanced the decision between my life with the accomplishment, and my life without the accomplishment. Once I envisioned my goal as necessary and valuable to my future, the goal always won over the risk. It may be as simple as hanging your business plan on a wall in your office. Maybe it is writing your goal on the first page of a book, and writing your failures and accomplishments each day to take note of how important that goal is in your future.
- Find a mentor. Having a valued mentor will give you someone to remind you that you are not alone. It may be someone that can teach you how to master what you are seeking to accomplish. Sometimes, we have many mentors to cover the various tasks and subject matter necessary to our growth. Through my career as an attorney, I had various mentors. My mentors were very specialized in their fields and in their careers. Some taught me how to handle matters in court, some taught me business, and others taught me negotiation. Charlie taught me how to walk iron on the very first day, but checking in with him every morning to hear his stories gave me confidence as the building rose far above street level. And every morning, I thanked him for that confidence.
- Take it one day at a time. I never would’ve climbed 36 stories into the air on my first day, but as the summer progressed, I became more confident and more comfortable with the height. When I was in high school, I was a shot putter. Throughout my life, at various times, I coached track and field. I would watch the sprinters run. They started at one spot and ran without hesitation towards the ribbon. On the other hand, I watched the hurdlers fall. The first time a person would run the hurdles, it was a noisy clanking mess of metal and wood bouncing off the ground. The first time off the blocks, they would hit the hurdles and knock them to the ground as if they were targets. But then, as they trained, one-by-one they would clear another hurdle. The progression of a hurdler learning to clear hurdles one at a time until they can complete a race has always been my metaphor for getting up and running again when I fall. One hurdle at a time. One day at a time.
- Never quit. Throughout life there are times when you feel like you cannot succeed. It is in those times when you must remind yourself that you cannot fail. You have chosen the career of an entrepreneur. When you chose your career, you accepted risk. Even if you didn’t know risk was in the definition of your chosen path, somewhere deep down inside, you knew you were going to have to work harder than you ever did to succeed. During my college summers, I worked on iron every day. It became an addiction. Every so often, we would find out that an ironworker somewhere in the city of Philadelphia fell to their death from a construction project. We would all come off the steel that day to mourn the loss, and we would go home early. But the next day, without a word, we all climbed back onto the iron to complete the job we started. Once we reflected upon the risk, we knew that it was time to begin again. Quitting was not an option.
Do not hesitate. Do not fear. You have chosen a career as an entrepreneur. Whatever business you are in, be the best that you can be. Do not ever lose sight of your vision. Others have been where you are, and they can be there to guide you and teach you. Take advantage of that resource. Treat each and every day as brand new, take on the challenges that each day brings with the confidence that no matter what happens you will not quit.
Embrace your fears and allow your fear to motivate you to pass through it.