The Most Vital Virtue for Encore Entrepreneurs
Lots of people say that they want to start a business. Few of them do so. Why not? What holds them back?
One of the greatest impediments, I'm convinced, is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of financial ruin. Fear of losing income security. Fear of the unknown. I could spend this entire article just chronicling the fears that have led people to forestall a startup.
These fears, I might add, are rarely articulated. Most frequently they hide cleverly behind some plausible reason for not starting a business. Either the timing is not right. Or the economic climate is not right. Or there's not enough startup capital available. Or there is some other compelling reason to wait.
And to be truthful, these explanations are sometimes factually accurate and legitimate. All too often, however, they are a convenient rationale for not confronting one or more underlying fears.
Fear Is Always Lurking
What about you? What fears, anxieties, and apprehension have you dealt with in your quest as an encore entrepreneur. If impediments and distractions like this have never been an issue for you, you’re free to dismiss the balance of this article. Everyone else will find it helpful to read further.
To be successful. business owners must come to grips with fear early on. In business, as elsewhere in life, fear is always lurking in the wings, eager to seize center stage, if we let it.
That's why courage is our most important virtue as encore entrepreneurs. Some might argue that things like integrity, persistence, or will power are the prime virtue for success. But I beg to differ. Without courage as an undergirding force, neither integrity, persistence, nor the power of will can thrive.
Courage is not the absence of fear. It's the determination to conquer fear. Courage consists of not yielding to fear, whatever its intimidating power. That's why the most common thread in hero stories is courage.
Learning to Fear
Interestingly, we are not born with fear. We must learn to be fearful. This truth is not necessarily self-evident, because we often see small children crying from fright. But there is a difference between fright and fear.
Fright is closely akin to the startle response, which is inborn. Even infants flinch when startled by a sudden bright light or loud sound. As with the startle response, fright is triggered in the most primitive part of the brain. It's part of the fight or flight mechanism that is built into us for survival.
Fright is an unconditioned response. As such, it onsets quickly and dissipates just as quickly. Fear, on the other hand, lingers. It can last for hours, even days. That's because fear does not arise from the same portion of the brain that gives us fright. Fear originates in those brain regions which are capable of thought and reflection.
In the final analysis, fear results from a certain way of thinking, whether the thoughts are conscious or unconscious. So long as this line of thought persists, fear persists. Unlike fright, fear is a conditioned, patterned response to certain stimuli or circumstances.
To put this another way, we can’t "unlearn" fright, but we can "unlearn" fears. My wife was once terrified of flying. Now she makes international flights without pause. If fear were a mere reflex, like fright, it could never be "unlearned."
Learning to Be Courageous
The conditioning pattern through which we develop fears begins early in life. Once we start building an inventory of personal fears, we must then cope with them. And that's where courage comes in. Courage is a coping mechanism which allows us to keep fear in check.
As children we learn first to fear, only then to be courageous. After all, until things that engender fear are part of the equation, there is no such thing as courage. Courage only exists in the presence of fear or in the presence of threats that could invoke fear.
During our formative years and adolescence, fears multiply rapidly, so fast that they outpace the growth of our courage. Early on, to be sure, we begin pushing back against these fears. And by the time that we reach adulthood, we've either conquered many of them or mustered the courage to face them down. But our adulthood continues to be plagued by fears that remain entrenched.
Growing Your Courage
Starting a business has a way of stirring up these unconquered fears. There is so much uncertainty involved in launching and running a business, so many threats to contend with, that long dormant fears have a way of resurrecting themselves. Becoming an entrepreneur thus reveals where work still remains to be done in maturing our courage.
Yet, courage matures only by striving against fear. You will never build more courage by ignoring fear or retreating from its presence. Becoming an entrepreneur is therefore an amazing opportunity for personal growth.
Given that fact, here is my counsel to prospective and new business owners:
- Listen carefully to the rationale that you offer when you are hesitant to start a business or to expand your existing one. Test the rationale. Ask yourself, "Is this really the reason that I’m hesitant? Or is this merely an excuse that is masking some underlying fear?"
- If fear is indeed the culprit, identify the fear specifically. As specifically as possible. Sometimes fears come in clusters, like a molecule. If so, identify each of these fears separately.
- Write the fears down. There is something about putting fears on paper that makes them less terrifying. Don’t ask me how it works. It just does. Put each fear on a separate sheet of paper.
- For each fear, now ask yourself, "What one thing would I need to know or need to have in order to act in spite of this fear?"
- Now you have the makings of a plan of action. Start writing out steps that you can take to gain the information that you need or to obtain the thing that you need to have.
- Now act on your plan. Every time that you take action to thwart a fear, the less grip fear has on your life. And with each fear that you press through, the greater your confidence in confronting the next one.
- Stick with this plan until you've mustered the courage to press through each of these fears one by one.
It's the norm for business startups to bring fears to the surface — even fears that you never knew you had. But a startup can also be the mechanism through which you gain a greater mastery of fear than you’ve ever had in your life.