This idea--courtesy of a Roman poet named Marcus Annaeus Lucanus--is one I rejected for years.
Where I grew up, if you were a guy, you didn't cry. You bit the bullet. You toughed it out. You stood up and took it like a man.
I remember a football practice so brutal, one of my teammates broke down sobbing. I looked at him and thought: I'm never going to be that guy. I'm going to be the guy who's unafraid.
(Given my utter incompetence at sports, I may have been aiming a little high there.)
Growing up for real
When I decided to become an entrepreneur, I read all sorts of books on motivation. One of the keys to success is figuring out what drives you to take risks and work harder than the next person.
Why was I busting my butt to build a business from the ground up? Why didn't I choose a safer path?
It took me a long time to peel back the layers of the onion and recognize that at my core--in every way, on every level--I'm motivated by fear.
This realization opened my eyes to several truths that helped me both in my personal life and my career:
1. Never fear honesty.
I believe that most of us mislead ourselves when it comes to our motivations. We do this because we're raised in a culture that says it's uncool to admit we're afraid.
We say--to take just one instance--that we're motivated by money instead.
We don't admit the corollary: that being motivated by money is simultaneously a dread of getting evicted, having the power and water shut off, or a car repossessed.
You couldn't perform at your top level with a business partner you didn't trust. Similarly, you won't be your best as a leader and colleague if you lie to yourself.
False bravado is crippling. Look inward and embrace your humanness.
2. Fear can be born out love.
Admitting fear as a motivation allowed me to separate the good fears from the bad. I had a 12th grade teacher who predicted I'd be a failure, for example.
Years later, I was still letting it gnaw and fester. I was still wasting mental energy trying to prove him wrong. Dumb.
On the other hand, I have six daughters and a wife I adore. I have a company full of employees who rely on me for their livelihood.
A fear of letting these people down arises from one simple thing: love. Love is stronger than fear. Acknowledging the interplay between the two gives me power over my life and priorities.
3. Fear comes with the territory.
I was once neighbors with a bona fide rocket scientist. His house stood across the street from mine, and I'd often see him tinkering with a 20-foot rocket in his garage.
It was a memorable sight, because it was pointed directly at my front door.
The guy was a genius. In fact, I believe he held a record for designing the first private rocket to make it to space without public funding.
I asked him what it took to accomplish what he had. He said, "Levi, it was years of riding the ragged edge of catastrophe."
I like to joke with people that company owners--in response to the question, "How's business?"--are usually capable of two completely contradictory yet completely true answers at the same time:
- Things are amazing and we're about to blow up and be the next big thing.
- We're about to blow up.
It can always be both. When Twitter was first taking off, and making all this extraordinary progress, there were full days you couldn't use it because their back end was collapsing.
Supreme confidence and supreme insecurity are natural bedfellows.
4. Fear means you're alive.
Imagine an astronaut leaving a launching pad for the moon. His rocket is wreathed in smoke and flame. He's relying on a million things to go right, and zero to go wrong, to leave the earth's atmosphere in one piece.
As an entrepreneur, you're perpetually stepping into the unknown. You're strapped to a machine with a lot of moving parts, and not all of them are under your control.
The faster you move, the higher you fly, the greater the exhilaration. But part of you knows that the more spectacular the flight, the more spectacular the crash if things don't end up going your way.
Don't be ashamed of that part. Don't hide from it or dismiss or pretend it isn't there. After all, it's what you signed up for when you decided to try for the moon.