Fear can choke a start-up. Entrepreneurs are constantly required to perform new tasks, overcome unexpected challenges and meet the unknown head on. Uncertainty and ambiguity are the norm. That means that entrepreneurs must condition themselves to channel the adrenaline that naturally arises from the fear of the unknown into a source of positive energy. Properly harnessed, fear can be a highly motivating factor, allowing you to break through your inevitable break downs.
Serial entrepreneur Seth Epstein recently gave a keynote address as part of the University of California at Santa Barbara Distinguished Lecture Series. During his inspirational talk, Seth shared six practical, hands-on exercises that entrepreneurs can use to harness--and overcome--their fears.
What makes Epstein qualified to talk about this? He began his entrepreneurial career when he dropped out of the University of California at Santa Barbara when he was 19 to start a clothing company, which he eventually built into a national line of denim products sold at Nordstrom, Macy's and Neiman Marcus. He then went on to found and lead FUEL, a broadcast design firm that Razorfish acquired for more than $30 million. While at FUEL, Epstein won an Emmy for his work rebranding ESPN's X-Games.
Epstein's advice is always useful. But in today's questionable economy, it resonates more than ever. Let's admit it: There's a lot for business owners to be scared of these days. Stubbornly high unemployment, sluggish growth and ongoing regulatory uncertainties have contributed to make many entrepreneurs justifiably more fearful than usual.
Harness Your Fears
Epstein encourages entrepreneurs to pick one exercise per week from the list below that intimidates you and execute it. If a particular task doesn't feel challenging to you, skip it. As Seth notes in his talk, "These tools will expand your capacity to be successful. Do what you are afraid of, because in business, you will have to do...thing(s) that you are afraid [of] to be successful. You need to expand your capacity to deal with challenge. If you shy away from being unreasonable, when you are in business, you will shrink."
Here's Epstein's list.
- Woo a Cheerleader, or a Quarterback. You know that person your friends say is out of your league? Ask them out. Note: Please only engage in this exercise if you are single! Entrepreneurs do not need the added stress of a fractured relationship.
- Talk to Strangers. Engage in a meaningful conversation with three strangers and identify at least three things you have in common with each person.
- Extreme Challenge. Engage in a physical activity that you find intimidating, maybe bungee jumping, parachuting, white water rafting, surfing, long-distance running or ocean swimming.
- Stalk a Celebrity. Well, maybe don't stalk. But do contact someone you admire. The higher-profile and more seemingly unattainable the person, the better.
- Become a Survivalist. Plan a challenging trip to a remote destination that will force you to call upon your resourcefulness.
- Just Say Yes. For one week, say "Yes" to every opportunity you encounter. (Within reason, of course. Never put yourself in physical jeopardy.)
According to Epstein, that last one is really key. "You need to become a 'Yes,'" he says. "Be a 'Yes' for one week to everything. Try it. It will feel awesome. You will meet people that you never would have met. You will learn things you would never learn. You will go places you would never go."