201: What fear is and how it stops success
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What fear is and how it stops success
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Welcome to episode 1 of season two of the Simplify & Multiply Show. This season is about Dealing with the Fears and Unknowns in Business, and in this season intro episode, I’ll be talking about what fear is and how it stops success.
In the trailer for Season 2 of the Simplify & Multiply show, I shared a little bit about why I chose to focus on this topic for an entire season. It’s a killer in business success, but especially for solopreneurs. Throughout this season I’m going to be interviewing fellow solos about how they face down fears and unknowns in their business as well as sharing my own secrets for not letting fear run the show.
This show is my baby, and I promised myself I would be as “Brené Brown” vulnerable as I could be, because I know there are listeners in this audience who are dealing with similar challenges that I am or that I have experienced in my early years running my business. And this is one: I still deal with fears and unknowns in my business even now. Just this past week I had a bit of a panic attack when I let my thinking go down that tunnel with no cheese, which is my expression for thinking things that totally don’t serve what I’m about or where I want to go in my life. It was related to a thought that I had, which was fear-based, and it was centered around the idea that a rather large client I’ve had for a number of years would go away at some point in the future. It was accompanied by the desperate thoughts of, “OMG, what will I do when that happens?” The way it ran in my head was like I was facing imminent death. My stomach got upset, I felt anxiety rise and it nearly went into a full blown panic. It was worry. It was anxiousness about an unknown. It was especially triggered by my conditioned terror around loss. And it was all in my friggin’ head.
I have had a lot of loss in my personal life. Dramatic, life-altering loss of my mom at 6, followed by a compressed series of loss with my dad, my sister Jane and my husband, Chuck—all within a three year span, and then my brother Rich a number of years after that. What those experiences did to my brain is that they have conditioned me to go into survival mode when the threat of any kind of loss shows up. I’ve unconsciously and consciously designed my life in such a way to protect myself from these types of threats, or really, the thought of any threat of loss. In nearly every case, there is little to no evidence that it will ever happen. But because my brain has been conditioned by these past experiences, it now has a propensity to immediately respond in a negative way and my survival instincts take over.
If any of you believe in attraction, you know that if you’re focused on a worry, or a specific outcome you don’t want, eventually it or something that delivers a similar emotional trigger will show up in your experience. I’ll give you an example of this, which actually happened to me last year. My largest client, who I had been doing work with for nearly ten years, decided to stop working with me. The way it all went down was a total shock. However, about a year leading up to that, I’d been experiencing a growing anxiety around the account and losing it. Partly because getting paid for the work I’d completed was becoming increasingly difficult. They were on average six to eight months late with their invoices, and it was hurting my business as you can imagine, especially since they were my biggest client and demanded a lot of work on a pretty regular basis. I was spending a lot of time chasing the invoices and trying to get them paid. This struggle went on for over a year, and the anxiety around the account continued to build, but instead of ending it on my terms, I stressed and feared that they’d stop working with me altogether.
The irony was that they weren’t paying me anyway, and when I would worry about losing the account (which was based on nothing other than my insecurities and fears of that happening), I’d laugh and say, “Well, I’m not getting paid now, and I’m still doing fine, so why worry about it?” It was kind of funny in a way, and at least I was able to temporarily assuage my fears and unknowns related to losing the account. Once I let go of the idea that I would be a hot mess and my business would fold if I lost them (which, by the way was complete BS because I never put all my eggs in one basket, a lesson I learned long ago working at an ad agency that folded because they lost their IBM account and had to close their doors as a result), I was able to function. It was as if I put it out of my mind, let it go, and made conscious efforts to stop worrying about it.
But the worry was still percolating in my subconscious. And I’d done so much hand wringing and vocalizing about them (you know, complaining, whining about how they don’t pay, blah blah blah), that a few months later they pulled the plug and said they wanted to stop having me do the work I was doing for them and bring it in-house. Now, that is understandable, many businesses make knee-jerk decisions around outsourcing. But it was abrupt and I wasn’t prepared. The good news is that I was able to get them to pay all of their invoices, finally. Their balance was zero, and we parted friends. But get this. They were so ill prepared to do the work I had been doing for them, that they recently reached out to me with a large project, which I happily did. I also contacted the owner of the company and made peace. There was a bit of misunderstanding between us that I wanted to clarify, and they were grateful I did.
Today, I’m in good standing with them, and they may use me moving forward and stated as much, however in a different capacity, which is good for me. It gives me a healthy dose of reality when it comes to running a business and depending on anchor accounts. You can’t control what your clients are going to do regarding working with you at any given time. You could be doing an amazing job for them, getting them dynamite results and over delivering top to bottom. But sometimes clients will make decisions they feel is in the best interest of their company and it impacts your relationship with them in a way that’s not in your control. That’s business, and that’s people.
This is another reason why you should have as diverse and broad a list of clients and engagements at any given time. Like that example I gave about the ad agency I worked at that folded, they were sucking off a big fat teat for way too long and did not have a balanced portfolio of clients to offset any attrition. When that agency client chose a different agency, which by the way happens often in the agency world, especially when a client feels their agency isn’t delivering fresh creative, and the entire agency scrambled to find new work, but because you can’t just flip on new accounts in the hundreds of thousands overnight, the agency closed. I learned back then in the mid 90s that I would never have any one account that had that much ability to impact my business in a negative way. To this day, I prefer having a diverse array of clients and keep my pipeline flowing with leads and relationships so I reduce the risk to my business. It’s a good strategy for any solopreneur, or any business owner. It’s no different than having a diverse investment portfolio. If one area of your portfolio has a bad year with negative returns, you’ve got other investments to carry the burden.
As you can see by these examples, fear can stop success because it stops US. It all begins in the mind, which is why mind-SET is so critical. Being able to direct your thoughts in such a way that forwards your goals and vision for where you want to be is always more profitable than not. And when I say profitable, I don’t just mean financially. I mean mentally, physically and emotionally as well. Fear can be paralyzing. It can make us play small. It can keep us from taking risks and living large. It can keep us from being courageous and in full service of others. It also can affect our integrity, our language and our choices. When we live life where fear has a seat next to us, we have to work harder to keep it from whispering in our ears. I’d like to give fear the heave-ho and not have it in my life at all, however, it is hardwired into our DNA. It’s all driven by evolution and our brain’s prime directive to keep us alive. But the cool thing about that is we are conscious enough to know that, and so we get to take charge of our knee-jerk thoughts and be more deliberate. Yes, it takes practice, and diligence, but you can become utterly powerful by going where it’s uncomfortable and not letting fear whisper (or yell) in your ear. Just say, “Thank you for sharing, I know you’re trying to protect me, and I appreciate that you do. But I know this will work out, and I have the tools and resources to survive and avoid the tiger in the bushes.”
It’s okay to have fun with it, once you get control of the wheel and stop listening to the fear whispers. There are many exercises you can do, and I’ll be talking about a lot of them in this season, as well as my six wonderful solopreneur guests who are sharing how they deal with fears and unknowns in business. I hope you enjoy this particular season and know that it’s okay to be scared about things you face running your own business. And by the way, people have fears who have J-O-Bs too, you know, like the constant fear of being laid off or outsourced like I was from Marriott back in 2006. But the great thing that happens is that it made me start my business, and frankly, if it wasn’t for that lay-off, I may never have started Better3. So in a way, what I thought was the most terrifying thing at the time ended up being the push off the cliff I needed. What I didn’t know at the time it was happening was that I had a secret parachute, and that parachute was my desire to be on my own, build a business and provide great service to people who needed my expertise. It’s been 13 years now and I know for a fact that I want to do this for the rest of my life.
Know what fear is and how it can stop success. Know that you have all that you need, and if you don’t, you can find the resources to fill in the gaps, to succeed. What will stop you is YOU, nothing else. Fear is always the root cause of inaction, of stepping back, of using excuses not to take bold steps in your business and your life. Identify it for what it is when it happens. Know the physiological responses that are associated with fearful thinking. Grab the fear thoughts and shift them to positive thoughts. The more conscious you become the more in control you become. The more deliberate you are at counseling yourself when fear strikes, the more you’ll train yourself to not go down that tunnel with no cheese. It’s okay to play it safe, it’s okay to stay in your lane, but how boring is that? What kind of life do you really think you could live if you gave yourself permission to color outside the lines?
Okay enough analogies. What I really want to leave you with is that you can get more control over your fearful tendencies so you can be more empowered in your work and do the things your business needs to grow and succeed. Business is pretty basic. We overcomplicate it with fear-based thinking. The most successful people in the world don’t let fear run their business—they have total mastery over their mental direction and take massive action to achieve the goals they most want to achieve.
Fear is a physiological response to a perceived or imagined threat. Your brain doesn’t know the difference whether it’s an imagined threat or if it’s a really big tiger in the bushes ready to pounce on your head. So feed your brain things that will eliminate the fear response. When you have a worry, intentionally shift that thought to a thought that serves you and watch the physiological response diminish. Write if it helps. Talk to a friend if it helps. Retrain your brain to focus on positivity, success, things working out and possibility. The more you do, the less that fear voice will whisper in your ear and you can get back on track to building a profitable and fun business you love.