in Entrepreneurship/Life as a founder

Getting Over Fear Of Failure

I woke up this morning to the weekly digest email from the Centre For Entrepreneurs. Matt Smith and the team over there do an incredible job of the email they send out every Sunday with all the week’s best articles about entrepreneurship in the UK. Anyway, I digress.

One of the articles in the newsletter was titled, “Fear of failure prevents would-be entrepreneurs from developing business“.

The article opens with two alarming facts:

39 per cent of would-be entrepreneurs across the country consider starting a business each day.

78 per cent of those who have a business idea are being held back because they’re afraid they’re going to fail.

From those stats it is evident that the UK is full of “wantrepreneurs” that just don’t know how to get started. Or, perhaps, that’s incorrect; maybe they do know how to get started and are just to afraid to do so.

The truth is, that fear of failure never goes away. Not in my experience anyway. It’s not something that you simply overcome. It is however something that you build up a tolerance to, learn to manage and learn to understand. Overtime, you grow thicker skin.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

– Nelson Mandela

I think the most important thing for entrepreneurs is to learn where the fear stems from. What’s the root cause? And constantly asking yourself, ‘what is the worst that can happen?’ Only then can you begin to understand how to measure it.

As Seth Godin outlines in his post, “Fearlessness is not the same as the absence of fear“:

The fearless person is well aware of the fear she faces. The fear, though, becomes a compass, not a barrier. It becomes a way to know what to do next, not an evil demon to be extinguished.

Seth clarifies that the absence of fear is not what we should be striving towards. That will end badly. Instead, we should use the fear to guide us. Easier said than done though of course. In most cases, fear will be the controlling emotion for worse; the aim is to use it for the better.

The other factor that sometimes comes into play is that the root cause of not getting started is fear, yet there are also any number of other reasons which can be blamed first. Not enough time, too much startup capital needed, not enough experience etc etc etc. Yes, in isolated cases, these can be perfectly valid reasons however, in most cases these are just cover up excuses for admitting that fear is what’s really getting in the way.

How do you overcome fear if you want to start up?

My first recommendation would be to read “Why to not not start a startup” by Paul Graham. He takes 16 of the most common objections and gives a detailed explanation as to how they can be overcome, or in most cases isn’t even an objection at all.

My second recommendation would be to read, “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers.

Susan’s advice:

“the only way to overcome the fear of doing something is to get and out and do it”

Fortunately, there are so many resources out there now to help you get started. I would definitely recommend Tim Ferriss’, “The 4-Hour Work Week” as a great book to read and inspire you to change the way you think about how you design your lifestyle. Tim runs through many techniques on how to get started with a new business venture, or ‘muse’ as he calls them and also tasks to complete that will help you overcome fear. Secondly, Noah Kagan has created a fantastic course, “How To Make A $1,000 A Month Business“. Noah and his team at App Sumo, have also recognised that fear of failure is the biggest hurdle to overcome which is why they have created the Failure Olympics. Have a look.

The truth is that unfortunately most startups will fail and therefore fear is not unjustified. However, for most, the journey and experiences – even if the venture does fail – will leave them in a net-positive position (providing no bridges are seriously burned by the failure).

As I mentioned earlier, the fear doesn’t go away and for any entrepreneur there are always some seriously hard struggles to contend with on the journey. Sometimes, these struggles even sadly result in depression and I think that’s why having a co-founder and mentors that you can really rely on is so, so important for those that do decide to start a business.

One other thought that is often discussed is the differences between the way that failure is perceived by others. There seems to be a striking difference between Silicon Valley and Europe when it comes to this perception. In Silicon Valley, failure is a good thing. “Fail fast and fail often” is the mantra.

“those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.”

However, in Europe, whilst the startup ecosystem is still growing, the perception of failure is still unfavourable. Not so much by other entrepreneurs but more so by the wider population; peers, family etc. (Rightly or wrongly, this is arguably my biggest fear.) This HAS to change. Failure needs to be accepted and those brave enough to try, need to be supported if things don’t work out so well.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

My main purpose of writing this is to hopefully spark a thought in those considering starting up. My purpose is not to belittle this fear, nor is it to claim that I myself do not have this fear. In fact, far from it. I actually find talking about it to be helpful and hopefully this will start some helpful conversations for others too.

Afterall, Mark Zuckerberg himself said:

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

—-

What’s your experience been with fear of failure? Please feel free to leave a comment, or don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help in any other way.

 

  • Ash

    Great post Andy. Love all the excerpts here! I completely agree with pretty much all of them and live by my own home-mase mantra (that often sounds a little drastic but does hit home):

    “If it won’t kill you, or put you in prison, then you really have nothing to lose”.

    I see losing my life or my freedom as the two ultimate failures. Anything else I can bounce back from. Therefore I give pretty much everything a go and don’t think twice when presented with an opportunity!

    Keep up the good work.

    Ash

    • Thanks for the comment Ash. Sounds like you’ve got a good outlook on it!
      I stand by the fact that managing your own psychology is one of the hardest challenges/skills of being a founder. I don’t what your thoughts are on that?

      • Ash

        Tough to answer – I’d be a psychologists dream (or nightmare… depending on how you look at it). I think the best way is to be as open-minded as possible about enlightening yourself. Read books, watch TED (and YENA) videos, and generally keep yourself educated so that you can understand the way you think; then, rather than just be the subject of your own thoughts, you can use them to your advantage or consciously handle them the right way if they’re how you’d like.

        • Definitely agree that curiosity plays a big part. Watching things like TED, This Week in Startups etc has had a big influence in keeping my inspired. You just have to remember to turn that inspiration into action and not get stuck in your own thoughts as you say.

  • I just came across this blog post by Ben Yoskovitz on Putting Yourself In a Position to Be Lucky – http://www.instigatorblog.com/put-yourself-in-a-position-to-be-lucky/2015/03/02/

    His words here were particularly relevant:
    “In order to get extremely lucky you have to put yourself in a position to do so, which means putting yourself out there, trying things, failing a bunch of times and seeing what happens.”

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