Make Friends With Your Fear, and It Will Do Great Things for You
Fear is the elephant in the office. Every founder, CEO and employee feels it. We fear failure, damaged reputations and even success. To top it off, we’re afraid to talk about our fears.
Fear in itself isn’t bad, of course. In fact, it can be healthy and highly motivating. Fear makes us cautious about risky decisions: It fills us with energy and adrenaline, propels us forward and breeds innovation. In the intensely competitive startup environment, fear can be a great ally.
When I worked for Google as a teenager, many of my co-workers had been leaders in their industries for decades. I feared I would fail to live up to their expectations, but the experience taught me to face my fear, live with it and master it.
Here are five ways you can become friends with fear:
1. Embrace it.
You’re not a robot or a superhuman. Considering the decisions, responsibilities and risks you face each day, fear is a normal response -- so, embrace it. When you think positively about fear, it becomes a driving force instead of a weakness.
In moderation, fear can help you impose self-control; it prevents us from making rash decisions. For instance, a business leader considering the purchase of a nice-to-have item or service may fear he or she is blowing cash on an unnecessary expense. And that's good: Fear can provide a gut check of sorts to make us think twice about big decisions.
2. Choose analysis over paralysis.
Fear can paralyze you and prevent you from rationally thinking about the problems at hand. Don’t let fear become a shadowy monster in the corner of the room; analyze it. Ask questions such as, “Is this project terrifying to me because our time line is too short?” Solve one piece of the puzzle at a time. A surefire way to corral your fear is by breaking problems down into separate parts.
3. Handle pressure in your own way.
Fear affects people in different ways. Past experiences, personality traits and support systems will all influence how we handle the heat. But the good news is that being challenged is healthy -- meeting confrontations and tight deadlines empowers us when we may not immediately believe in ourselves. Fear teaches us to handle stress effectively: We are forced to either rise to the challenge or let it overpower us.
I employ a “sit back and take stock” approach when it comes to handling my own problems. With pen and paper in hand, I outline the particular problem plaguing me at the moment. I try to objectively consider the source of my fears. Many times, I realize that my seemingly gargantuan problem isn’t as big as I thought it was. Before you harness fear, you need a tactic for handling stress.
4. Find support in your network.
Everything is less scary when you have friends by your side. Surround yourself with trusted colleagues and advisors you can look to when the road gets bumpy. If your closest allies say you seem stressed or suggest you take a vacation, trust them. This support network will serve as a mirror when you’re feeling weak. It’s comforting and energizing to know you’re not alone; there’s always a gang behind you to fall back on.
5. Know your problem’s root cause.
Many business leaders struggle with pressure and fear because they have difficulty identifying the source of a problem. With experience, leaders eventually realize that problems have one of three root causes: people, products or processes.
The first step: Don’t panic. Look at the real problem at hand -- it probably isn’t quite as scary as you think it is. Next, avoid rearranging your whole organization to tackle a small issue. Instead, look closely at your team’s collaborative behavior, the functionality of your product or the flow of your process. Find the problem’s source, and you’ll be a step closer to a solid resolution.
Everyone feels fear, but you can set yourself apart from the crowd by identifying the cause of your anxiety and leveraging it to achieve your best work. The sooner you accept fear and learn to respect it, the sooner you’ll be able to use it to supercharge yourself and your business.
Falon Fatemi is founder and CEO of Node, a stealth startup of ex-Googlers backed by NEA, Mark Cuban, Avalon Ventures, Canaan Partners, and more. Fatemi has spent the past five years as a business development executive doing strategy consulting for startups and venture capitalists and advising a variety of companies on everything from infrastructure to drones. Previously, she spent six years at Google, starting at age 19. As one of the youngest employees in the company, Fatemi worked on sales strategy and operations focusing on global expansion, Google.org and business development for YouTube.