Toddlers are fearless creatures when trying new things.
My 2-year-old daughter has recently been teaching herself how to somersault. She sets herself up in the backyard – crouched down, her head planted in the soft grass. Slowly she walks forward, up towards her head – and then executes a superb fall onto her side. Sometimes, if she’s lucky, she’ll end up on her back, wearing a massive grin and marvelling at her accomplishment.
It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t get it right every time. She’s not thinking about how she could hurt herself, or whether she’ll look like an ass, or what other people will think of her. Her goal is simple – do a somersault because somersaulting is awesome.
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And then there’s me. I’m the kind of person that feels the need to do the world’s greatest somersault every time. That I should be able to do a perfect somersault without constant practice (and failure). That if I try and do a somersault, and it doesn’t work, somehow that means I’ll never be able to somersault again.
I’m terrified of trying new things, in case they don’t work out exactly as intended. The trouble is, everything is new when you’re trying to start a new baby business. And every part of the process is scary, especially for me – hell, it kept me from even considering leaving the comfort of employment and getting started for ten years.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to create something people find valuable. I’m scared that even if I do create something, no-one would want to buy it. I’m worried that sharing my thoughts in public might lead to people judging me. I panic about burning through all of our savings before finding a profitable product. And if there’s anything else that could go wrong that I haven’t thought of yet, it’s a safe bet I’m afraid of that too.
But I’m slowly learning the truth:
Fear is just a feeling. It’s not real.
We tend to believe that our fear and self-doubt is telling us something valuable. The reality, though, is that how you feel internally has fuck-all to do with the real-world facts of the situation. No funnel-web spiders are hiding behind that Publish button. One slow launch doesn’t mean your product is an epic failure. As long as you’ve done everything you can to make sure your book, podcast, or blog post solves a actual pain, chances are it’s fine to acknowledge your fear, understand it’s not telling you anything useful, and move forward anyway.
“Fear only has the power you give it. Its power is making you get too afraid to try something. So if you’re afraid but try something anyway, it doesn’t have any power.”
The biggest thing holding you back only exists in your head.
And if you’re feeling like you’re the only one going through this, here’s another useful tidbit to remember:
Everyone struggles with fear, even if they tell you they don’t.
The fear of launching, of putting yourself out there, never goes away entirely. Just ask a seasoned veteran like Amy Hoy:
“We all have it. I have it. Every time I launch something… and during the whole process of creating it, too. For me, it’s a pendulum, swinging back and forth between “People will LOVE this!” and a small voice that quivers, “But what if I’m wrong?””
The reason people like Amy can deal with their self-doubt and still achieve success is that they experience it, they acknowledge it, and they keep moving.
So start getting used to it.
Fear is also a sign you’re on the right track.
Believe it or not, doubting yourself, your abilities, and your work is a sign you’re actually doing the right thing – that you’re working on something important. The reason you doubt yourself is likely because you feel that the work you’re doing is so important, it should be done by a perfect human being. But no-one is perfect, and no-one else is going to do the thing you’re doing. There’s just you.
Most of the time, the best thing you can do in this situation is to steer into the skid. Take this advice from Seth Godin:
“If you’re afraid of something, of putting yourself out there, of creating a kind of connection or a promise, that’s a clue that you’re on the right track. Go, do that.”
A little fear is good for you
Self-doubt keeps us doing our best work. It’s what pushes us to do more, to reach higher. It keeps us from putting something out into the world that’s sub-par.
The risk, though, is that too much fear and self-doubt can be crippling – I know from experience. This can be a hard thing to overcome, especially if you’re trying to build a product on the side while also working full-time. There’s a lot of security in employment – even starting something small, like a blog, can feel like it isn’t worth the effort and risk. I spent ten years stuck in Wantrepreneur-ville – it took a solid trip through burnout for me to finally get started blogging and creating products.
There’s no secret trick to conquer self-doubt and fear of failure. There’s no 7-step process or checklist that I can give you. Self-doubt is very real – I struggle with it every day – and it’s something you need to learn how to manage as an entrepreneur.
I am learning one lesson from my daughter, though:
Learn to love the action over the result.
Start small, and keep moving. One Twitter post. One email to a potential customer. One blog post. Then another, and another. They won’t be perfect – but that doesn’t matter. Just keep going. Celebrate your progress, and learn from your mistakes. Make a habit of action.
It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into acting.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try some somersaults.