How Great Entrepreneurs Beat Fear in 4 Steps

A couple weeks ago, I came face to face with the scariest creature on earth. I was laying in a fortress made of nylon (a tent) in the middle of bear country during breeding season.

But the scariest creature on earth was not a bear – there was no bear. It was my fear taking complete control of my mind. Every time I heard a suspicious noise, my mind turned it into a bear in my head. I laid wide awake all night – ready for fight or flight.

This reaction, while often necessary for our safety, has unwanted side-effects in non-life-threatening situations – like our relationships, business, sports, and more. It starts to show up the moment we set out to change our situation. Fear loves the status quo – it only shows itself with bold, new, boundary-stretching pursuits.

Each time I think about how I want this life to go, I get this feeling: I’m capable of doing something important. I’m capable of making a meaningful impact. I have another gear to give to the world. I call it my thing.

I’m not sure what this thing is, or what to call it. I don’t know what it looks like. But I am sure of this: It’s in there, and if my thing is going to come out into the world, I’m going to need to conquer my fears.

As Steven Pressfield says, I’m an amateur, not yet a pro. So how do the professionals recommend we handle our fear?

1. Follow your fear

My fears are like rudders – they point me this way or that way in life under the surface of my consciousness. They’re what makes option X “impossible” or what keeps option Y from ever crossing my mind.

For that reason, we’d do well to explore our fears.

Chase Reeves

2. Then ignore it

Fear saves our lives in the jungle, in the streets, and even at the doctor’s office. Fear is one of the most useful emotions you’ve got.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a killer. Anxiety is the false fear that corrupts your life. Anxiety is what happens when you imagine possible negative outcomes instead of embracing the reality of right now. Anxiety is also the reason that organizations overstudy opportunities—and then hesitate to take action until it’s too late. Make a list of the last fifteen things you and your peers were anxious about. How many of them actually occurred? If you had ignored that anxiety, wouldn’t things have gone a lot more smoothly?

Seth Godin

“People should certainly ignore fear if it’s irrational. Even if it’s rational and the stake is worth it, it’s still worth proceeding,”

– Elon Musk

3. Dance with it


The only way to get rid of the fear is to stop doing things that might not work, to stop putting yourself out there, to stop doing work that matters.

No, the right question is, “How do I dance with the fear?”

Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.

Seth Godin

4. Then beat it with action

The enemy of creativity…is fear.

We’re all born creative, it takes a little while to become afraid.

A surprising insight: an enemy of fear is creativity. Acting in a creative way generates action, and action persuades the fear to lighten up.

Seth Godin

What we need to do is say, “What’s the smallest, tiniest thing that I can master and what’s the scariest thing I can do in front of the smallest number of people that can teach me how to dance with the fear?” Once we get good at that, we just realize that it’s not fatal. And it’s not intellectually realize — we’ve lived something that wasn’t fatal. And that idea is what’s so key — because then you can do it a little bit more.

Seth Godin

Idleness and Productivity

Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything. 

– Jonah Lehrer, via Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

As I return from a week away, I’m reminded of the importance of the getaway. Although it’s counterintuitive, I’ve learned how idleness can actually be the key to productivity. It cultivates a mental clarity unavailable in our day-to-day lives. I love this post from Crew on the single best thing you can do for yourself and your company.

Ferris Jabr from Scientific American sums up the science:

Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future.

Bad Hops and Rotten Calls

The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged.

Steven Pressfield

It took me far too long to learn this lesson. If I could, I would pull little 12-year-old James off the soccer field and talk him through the ins and outs of adversity in the real world.

Feeling like the world is out to get us only distracts us from the work at hand. Our only concern in each “campaign” in our lives should be the parts which we can control. When we hit adversity, the best reaction is to accept it and focus on making our next action the best we can do.

My experience playing sports helped me understand this lesson in retrospect, but I can’t help but wonder how much better each “campaign” would have gone with this in mind.

I’ve read the War of Art twice now. To call this book inspiring would be understating the impact it can have for anyone trying to change any status quo. It’s a total punch to the gut – in a good way of course. It’s the kind of book that made me wonder: what if I never would have read this?


Misery of Creativity

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

Steven Pressfield

I started writing over at the Plant Eaters’ Manifesto six months ago.

I wasn’t an artist committing myself to my calling, but I was committing myself to have some fun blogging with my wife about a subject we care about. No one told me I’d volunteered for hell.

I thought a little writing would satisfy my craving for a creative outlet. I thought a little writing would help me wind down after a long day. I thought a little writing about vegan food – a subject so very central to my everyday life – would come easy.

Sheesh. Of all the assumptions I made, I never imagined feeling miserable. Alone. Worthless. Humiliated. Self-hatred. Each time I sit down to write, I end up at war with myself.

And yet, most days, there’s nothing I’d rather do.

Why is that?

Maybe it’s because I love the feeling of getting to know myself. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel like I’m pushing my boundaries.

I’m not quite sure, but I’m committed to explore the misery.