The Seven Deadly Sins of the Solopreneur Series: Deadly Sin #7: Foolish Fearlessness

Having fears goes with the territory when you own your own business. Trepidation is a normal part of growing outside your comfort zone, but you wouldn’t know it from the advice you hear from some business gurus:

Punch fear in the face.

Live fearlessly.

Let me get this straight. As a business owner, I should strive to fight my fears or block out the fears I have so I can reach my goals? Really? Live fearlessly? Punch fear in the face? I don’t know who came up with these cute, catchy slogans, but I’m pretty sure the road to Hell is paved with these well-intended sentiments.

While arguably adorable, these quips have a few glaring problems:

Problem #1: Being fearless is physiologically next to impossible--and if you are truly fearless, you should probably see a neurologist. Being totally fearless indicates the survival part of your brain isn’t working properly. Your brain isn’t just supposed to think, do math, and make sure your body’s systems are operational. It’s built to scan for danger and make decisions that protect you, which are pretty important features, and being able to detect and process fear is a key part of survival. Your sub-cortical brain keeps you from doing dangerous things like sticking your head inside of a live alligator’s mouth for the ultimate selfie or making really bad decisions, like accepting the clandestine business deal from the Prince of Nigeria. Nope. You cannot be fearless, nor should that be a goal. Learning to leverage the energy and information your fears hold is far more useful than trying to act as though nothing scares you.

Problem #2: “Snap out of it” is rarely sage advice. Telling a solopreneur to be fearless is like telling someone who doesn’t know how to swim just to dive in because they’ll get the hang of it. Naturally, if you have a fear of swimming, someone giving you the advice to not feel fear would be grossly unhelpful, unattuned, and harmfully shaming. Likewise, when it comes to your business, if you listen to the fearless rhetoric, you’re likely to detect that subtle insinuation: “You should be able to approach business situations fearlessly, and if you can’t, you don’t have what it takes.” Not exactly the pep talk you’re looking for to help you move past your fears. Identifying your fears and approaching them from a place of curiosity and interest is a far better way to quiet the anxiety by analyzing if the fears are absolute truths or mere distortions.

Problem #3: Punching fear in the face can only make matters worse. I’m a big fan of anthropomorphization, but this punching-fear-in-the-face example is just wrong. Picture “fear” as a guy who is 6’4”, 330 lbs., and all muscle. He is standing between you and your dreams, blocking you from opening the door of opportunity behind him. What do you do? Punch him in the face? Get ready to throw down? No way. You know what will happen if you try something so ill-advised; either he will punch you right back, or he will laugh at you as you recoil in agony, clutching your fractured hand. No matter which way things go, you still aren’t moving forward through that door, and you’re left with painful injuries and a pending arrest warrant. Perhaps the intention of the “punching fear in the face” phenomenon is to have you face your fears, but attacking your fears will only exhaust you and potentially create more problems. The fears you have are there for a reason. Simply trying to overpower them doesn’t work long term--even if you happen to get one good jab in. The bottom line here is that the fears often come from a part of self that is trying to stop you from doing something potentially arrogant, reckless, or embarrassing. Instead of punching it (and therefore a part of yourself) in the face, spend some time really “hearing” all the arguments that part has against moving forward. What is the fear really about? What’s the horrible fate the fear is trying to save you from? The great thing about fear, just like with other emotions, is if you tend to it instead of ignoring or fighting it, the intensity lessens.

Acknowledge your fears. Realize your fears carry useful information that can help you reach your goals if you get quiet and curious enough to see what’s behind them. Let your curiosity illuminate the distortions your fears hold so you can move forward.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

-Joseph Campbell

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