Many People Are Burdened by Fear. Here's How I Embrace It.
Fear is inevitable, especially in business. Instead of trying to hide from it, we'd do well to embrace it.
Fear is not to be feared. My mantra is, “Embrace it.”
Fear is natural. We’re wired for it. It keeps us from a myriad of dangers. And we’re not the only ones — nearly all living things contain some sort of self-defense mechanism. One of my personal favorites is the Mimosa pudica, also known as the touch-me-not plant. It uses a complex chemical reaction to fold and bend its leaves, making it less exposed to predators.
But it’s not so much the life-or-death fears that plague us in life and business these days — it’s those of social positioning. We experience fear of failure, fear of a damaged reputation or fear of financial loss. Both a lack of clarity and a lack of certainty can weigh heavily on us and exacerbate these fears.
Fear can be learned
Survival instincts are a natural part of us, but they can also be learned. Picture Homo erectus at the dawn of civilization compared to us modern humans today, competing for food with the likes of predators we only see in movies. I am not an expert, but I imagine this really honed their survival instincts. Maybe this type of knowledge became the basic building block for future generations that we take for granted, and it started long, long ago.
Today, when I compulsively wave my hand between elevator doors before stepping through them, I am using my instincts so the deadly elevator won’t close on me. By doing so, I don’t become a statistic, and I don’t miss that urgent meeting that I am often late for. Around 30 people die from elevator accidents per year in the U.S., and half of those victims were doing some sort of maintenance to the elevator when the accident happened. It’s not a very real threat, but we’re still prepared for the worst.
In the presence of a threat, our bodies naturally respond. We become more alert and tense. Our eyes widen, and our breathing quickens. Sound familiar?
I have been through some serious automobile accidents that were thankfully no more than close calls, but they certainly left indelible marks on me. These accidents occurred almost half a century ago, but I still have flashbacks. My anxiety while driving has improved as time has gone on, but I’m not embarrassed to take an Uber when necessary. The fear is there, and it is real. Any time I enter a vehicle, I am taking a risk. It’s good to be aware of that.
But the fear does not need to rule over me.
Achieve a harmonious balance
Newton’s Third Law of Physics teaches us something valuable, and it’s not just about physics. Each action has an equal and opposite reaction. This sums up our lives in so many ways. When we get hungry, we eat. When we gain weight, (ideally) we eat less or exercise more. We drive cautiously in the rain and snow … or when we see a highway patrol car, especially if apps like Waze are not turned on. Our species deals with complex emotions and interdependencies. My belief in science leads me to think that these forces come in chains of pairs until a balance is achieved. One way a human being might recognize this balance in his or her own life is in the transition from the feeling of chaos to a sense of clarity.
Many of us can relate to the internal tug of forces that occur when someone falls in love. You may fall in love but then fear the loss of that love. This fear may cause you to enact self-protective behaviors, thus prolonging the tug of forces, which could happen for a long time. As soon as we feel we have achieved a comfortable level of certainty, we may be willing to risk making a commitment to that love.
After we achieve some certainty in this decision, we will likely find a new issue to fear. I do not think this is a bad thing — it’s what makes us human. It’s a desire to survive and do better. Finding a way to overcome fear and use it to our advantage makes us successful.
Related: Harnessing the Power of Fear
Embrace the “safety valve”
Many people believe fear is something to avoid at all costs. I think this is bad advice. This chemical reaction is built in all of us for a purpose; it’s our “safety valve.” As we seek to find a balance for dealing with inevitable fear in our own lives and embracing it head-on, we will all take different approaches.
Tai chi has been an incredible source of inspiration for me in this area. In this practice, every up has a down, and every left has a right. It’s about harmonizing two opposing forces to manage fear and transform it into something useful. Part of this is getting comfortable with failure. If you’re going to spend any amount of time in the business world, failure is going to be close at hand. If you get comfortable with it, you can focus your energy on the positive things that are necessary for success rather than spending it all on feeding fear and avoiding failure.
Inviting other people into the equation can alleviate a lot of stress too. I rely on talking with my colleagues about the issues I’m facing in business. This collective thinking often provides the confidence, comfort and clarity I need.
But my colleagues are not my only allies in this area — I often lean on my smarter and better half (that is, my wife) to serve as a sounding board for both business and personal matters on our long walks to dinner. We talk about everything — sometimes just giving a recap of the day and sometimes developing a well-thought-out strategy. In 41 years together, I have found that I manage fears well with a reality check from someone whose opinion I respect and who I know will not think less of me. I choose not to fixate on what I can’t control and instead pour my efforts into what I can do.That’s how I embrace fear.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor