This Wise Advice From Jim Carrey's Commencement Speech Will Teach You How to Tackle Fear as an Entrepreneur
Fear is a tool. Here's how to use it.
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Comedian Jim Carrey might not seem like an expert in facing fears as an entrepreneur, especially since many of us associate his corporate experience with losing a fight to a ballpoint pen in the 1997 film Liar, Liar. But in 2014, he delivered a commencement speech to the graduates of Iowa's Maharishi International University, and he had some surprisingly sage words.
"So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality," he said. "What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect." But fear, he says, isn't so much about practicality as it is about focusing on worst-case scenarios. He goes on:
"My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn't believe that that was possible for him. And so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant. And when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job, and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love."
Being an entrepreneur is inherently risky. But the usual risks have magnified in recent years given the uncertainty of the economy in the wake of Covid, the new challenges of managing remote or hybrid teams, and even unrest and conflict abroad. Here's how to keep moving forward, even in these trying times.
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No action is still action
It might seem as though staying still will somehow protect you, like a deer that freezes when it hears human footsteps. But as Harvard Business Review's Sabina Nawaz points out, "not making a choice is, in itself, a choice."
Rather than trying to shrink from decision-making, Nawaz suggests starting small. "Instead of ignoring the requests to make a decision, assign resources or launch a project, identify one next step to get moving. For example, you can poll half a dozen customers about how they use your product to further inform the path forward," she writes.
Changes, whether they're within your business or the economy as a whole, will happen with or without your consent. Trust yourself to make decisions with confidence, and do the best with the resources you have. Remind yourself of all the obstacles you've overcome and the challenges you've confronted head-on to get to where you are. What tools did you use in those moments? What skills did you develop as a result? Keep those times in mind, and remember that you're more resilient than you think.
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Silence the noise
In 2020, I fell into a trap that consumed many of us: Doomscrolling. The constant assault of bad news and scary statistics took its toll on my mental health, and I found my sleep and appetite were out of whack.
When we're afraid of something, it's often easier to give in to distractions or worse, validate those fears with information we find online. But spiraling doesn't fix whatever it is we're afraid of; in fact, it makes it worse.
Instead of hunting for evidence to support your fears, turn down the noise and focus on your actual concerns. Nawaz suggests naming the "perceived nemesis you're avoiding," and then creating a spreadsheet with three columns: Worst-case scenarios, the current situation and the ideal outcome. Note down what would need to happen for each possibility to occur. Mapping out the route to these outcomes may help you discover that the worst-case scenario really isn't all that bad, or it can be avoided with a shift in direction.
At the same time, it's also helpful to limit the amount of negativity you're subjecting yourself to. After I started restricting my news consumption to just 15 or 20 minutes daily, I found myself feeling less anxious and more able to run my company with a clear mind.
Related: Why Many Entrepreneurs Fear Success — and How They Can Overcome It
Get in touch with your emotions
Being an entrepreneur requires a high degree of emotional intelligence — and part of that involves understanding how your feelings are influencing your behavior. For instance, if everything you do suddenly seems terrible, take a step back. Is it actually terrible? Is everything really going to fail? Or is this less about reality and more about your mindset?
The good news is that emotional self-awareness can be learned. One method I've found helpful is practicing mindfulness. When I feel anxiety clouding my judgment, I like to use a method called RAIN, which meditation teacher Tara Brach talks about in her book Radical Compassion:
- Recognize the fear when it comes up. Is it related to work, or home?
- Allow it to coexist within you. Sit with the fear, rather than trying to fix, control or judge it.
- Investigate it. Focus on your body, and try to pinpoint the origin of the fear.
- Nurture the feeling. "You might just put your hand on your heart and offer a kind or soothing message to yourself," Back advises. "You can say to the fear, 'Thank you for trying to protect me; it's okay.'"
The urge to be risk-averse makes sense. As Brach points out, fear is your mind's way of trying to protect you. But for most of us in the modern age, fear is more existential than it was when our brains evolved. In some cases, fear is a good thing: It keeps us on our toes; it can motivate us to do our best work. The key is learning to use it to your advantage, rather than paralyze you.
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