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How an Open-Water Swim Helped an Entrepreneur Conquer her Fears

She now makes fear-conquering a habit.
How an Open-Water Swim Helped an Entrepreneur Conquer her Fears
Image credit: Ann Tuennerman

As I stood at the banks of the lake, I stuck my hand into the dark water. I could barely see my fingers a few inches down. Soon, I’d be jumping into this water, along with hundreds of other people -- the first step of my first sprint triathlon, where I’d face my fear of swimming in open water. Holy crap, I thought. What have I gotten myself into?

Related: Don't Fear the Fear -- Let It Drive You

I tried to calm myself by remembering the answer to that question. This wasn’t some one-off adventure. It was part of a continuing process that started in 2000 when I quit my corporate job and became an entrepreneur. The book Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., helped me find my bearings and inspired a new personal philosophy: Rather than be forced to take on my fears, I should make fear-conquering a habit.

Until then, I took only small risks. But suddenly I was taking giant, terrifying ones. I started a walking tour of New Orleans bars, which then evolved into a giant conference for the bartending industry. Would anyone want what I’d created? I had no idea. But as I faced that frightening question, I also started knocking down other fears -- taking dance lessons, running marathons, biking 150 miles.

And now here I was: facing the open water. When the race started, I jumped in. Other swimmers kicked me by accident. Keep breathing, I told myself. It wasn’t easy, but I finished.

Related: How to Overcome Fear and Find Motivation

I’m certainly not immune from fears, even today. As my company has grown and we put on even more events, I still have anxiety attacks, worrying that people won’t show up. But now I’m used to the feeling. I relish it, in a strange way. Each time I face fear and make it through, I give myself the confidence to know that I can do it again. It becomes second nature to go barreling through walls. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be scary. It just means I know I’ll survive. That’s all I need to know.

This story appears in the June 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »