9 ways for entrepreneurs to overcome fear and doubt
If you’re thinking of starting a company – or already have – and feel fear creep up, you’re not alone. Every entrepreneur faces fear and doubt on a regular basis. The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is simply that successful people don’t let fear and doubt stop them from taking action.
Reaching out to three successful entrepreneurs in my network, I asked for three ways each of them overcame fear and doubt. All had slightly different takes on the topic, but there’s a strong thread among them of looking fear in the face and walking right by.
Know why you started
Look for meaning in the work you do
The best antidote to the pain of challenging work is finding clear meaning in what you do. If you wake up each morning with a clear and ego-less sense of purpose, of mission, then work will begin to feel like play. On the other hand, if you’re primarily motivated by extrinsic factors — making headlines or out-earning your peers, for example — then you’re toast.
You don’t need to set out to “save the world,” by the way. Maybe you simply want to make healthcare incrementally better for outpatients, bring transparency to a market dominated by opaque pricing, or, in my case, help prepare people for the future of work.
Have a clear measure of success, whatever that means for you
The best way to combat uncertainty is to establish a clear measure of success for your business, then focus on that measure with single-minded purpose. This will help you tune out the noise and help you direct scarce resources more efficiently.
Your success metric may change as your startup grows, but at least it will help you remain objective about your progress.
Accept the Risks
A startup is an experiment. Be passionate about your business hypothesis and rigorous in testing it, but try to remain dispassionate — objective — about the outcomes of that experiment, at least during the idea-stage. Fear and doubt are inevitable features of the founder’s journey.
Barring that, try meditation and remember to get plenty of exercise.
Trust your gut even when you’re scared
Believe in your mission, deeply
A successful entrepreneurial venture requires authentic passion. Being an entrepreneur is very hard. It takes immense commitment, grit, resilience and frankly very hard work. Every day when I rise and start a new day that will inevitably require immense energy, dedication and hard work I am fuelled by my passion. Because I love what I do and deeply believe in our work, I can sell the vision. People can see my passion. They can also see when you don’t have it. So if you have a great business idea that fits a need, but you are not passionate about it, don’t do it. Because passion is a pre-requisite for success.
Have a mantra for the tough moments
When I was afraid at the outset, and not sure if I had it in me to start #movethedial, one of my mentors told me “Jodi, you have magic beans in you, you can do this”. And I have kept those words in my heart ever since. And I have to go back to it and hold that phrase in the tough moments. I have to choose belief in myself over fear. And have to look at the fear and move through it.
Trust your gut on priorities, and focus on one at a time
Truly learn to effectively compartmentalize. There are SO many things to do all at once, and you can truly only do one at a time. So I have learned to tackle the most important and urgent items first. To be able to park important but not urgent tasks until I can bring my focus to them (even if other people want me to deal with them faster than I can). Don’t take it personally when people are disappointed that their priorities are not your priorities. You know (or will figure out) what you need to do first, then second and so on. Trust yourself and move forward, one step at a time.
Build a community around you
Overcome fear by going through discomfort
It’s sometimes hard to get past the feelings of fear and doubt, but you need to keep in mind that in order to grow and become better leader you have to do things that scare you or make you feel uncomfortable. One of my advisors once told me that as a founder, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable, so when I am doubting myself, I remind myself of that advice and it helps to frame the discomfort as part of the larger journey.
Build an advisory board
Every founder should build an advisory board comprised of experts in areas you’re not well-versed in – for example I have advisors who are lawyers and experienced CEOs. When I have doubts about the business – or am doubting myself – I call them to talk through an issue, and I also hold regular advisory board meetings to tap into their expertise.
Be open with other entrepreneurs about challenges and setbacks
Talking with other founders about your fears and challenges is really therapeutic. It’s comforting knowing that it’s normal to feel this way, and that the emotional ups and downs will happen to everyone who is running a business. Create a small group of peers who are going through similar challenges, and whether you meet up regularly or just know that they’re there to talk through things, it can be really helpful.