Fear comes in many shapes and sizes. It can affect all areas of our lives, including business; and one of the most common business fears is failing.
In fact, Statista reports that as many as 35.2 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs experience the fear of failure.
As you can imagine, this fear of failing prevents many entrepreneurs from following their dreams.
Few things are scarier than starting your own business. You sacrifice the stability of a paycheck for the uncertainty of working for yourself. You stake your personal finances and ego with no guarantee of a return. These risks and vulnerabilities are enough to give pause to the savviest of entrepreneurs — myself included.
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I’m considered a successful entrepreneur by many definitions. I grew one of my businesses, Catena Media, to a $200M valuation on the Stockholm Stock Exchange and earned more than $50 million before my 30th birthday. I have over 80,000 Instagram followers, many of them entrepreneurs, who come to me for business advice and strategy. I speak at conferences around the world and host the popular entrepreneur podcast, “Becoming Great.com.”
Yet, when I bought the domain Great.com to start my new venture, I felt the same fear of failing that many entrepreneurs do when launching their business.
Being afraid of failing is a completely normal response to starting a business. While you can’t remove fear, you can and should learn how to overcome, channel or circumvent it in order to navigate the trying waters that is entrepreneurship.
Below are three things I’ve learned about fear and failure as an entrepreneur.
You see your failures more than anyone else does
This was my first experience with failure in business.
I was about 19-years old and had started a party planning business. I was preparing for my first event — I hired a DJ, rented out space in a local nightclub, and spent the days before promoting what I expected to be a fun and memorable Friday night. I was partially right. It ended up being memorable, just for the wrong reasons.
The event ended up being a complete failure. After spending the entire week telling everyone in school and those around town about how amazing the party was going to be, I felt humiliated and broken as I watched people arrive and then leave quickly. I had failed to throw a successful event, and I knew everyone was judging me.
I spent the weekend terrified of going to school the following Monday. I replayed several scenarios in my head, and they all ended with the entire school laughing at me as I walked the hallways. Well, Monday arrived and what do you think happened?
I spent a week building up everyone’s expectations only to disappoint them, so why didn’t they care?
I saw it as a complete failure, but they just saw it as a bad party
Nobody in school really cared that my party wasn’t a success. While I spent the entire weekend worried about how they perceived me and my failed event, they just went about their lives oblivious to the emotional investment I made.
This night helped me realize something incredible: we’re all self-centered. We are the stars of our own movie, but we are just extras in everyone else’s. In other words, we’re often so busy and concerned with our own lives that we don’t recognize others’ failures.
After I realized that I took my failures more seriously than anyone else did, it gave me the confidence to take more chances. After that night, I became less worried or afraid of what other people thought or said about me and my mistakes.
Failing in business does not make you a failure
We’ve already discussed how we typically view our failures more intently than anyone else does, so now we need to learn how to separate our entrepreneurial-self from our personal identity. Even if we fail in business, it doesn’t define us.
Many of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world have overcome failure. Tim Ferriss had 25 publishers turn down his book “The 4-Hour Workweek” before finding a publisher. It then went on to become a best-seller. Steven Spielberg was rejected three times from film school before finally getting a shot, and he’s widely considered the greatest director of our time.
I, too, failed many times before hitting it big. In fact, I had at least six failures before Catena Media — but, I don’t consider myself a failure.
Find techniques to help you disconnect emotionally from the business
This may sound strange, but I’ve found that I’m much less afraid of failing in business if I use techniques to help me disconnect myself emotionally. For example, after my party planning business, I started calling new ventures “hobbies” instead of businesses. I had several “hobbies” before eventually starting an affiliate marketing hobby that grew into Catena Media.
From a psychological perspective, calling new projects “hobbies” rather than “businesses” allowed me to distance myself, which removed some of the fear associated with it. After all, have you ever heard of someone failing at a hobby?
Distancing yourself from new ventures doesn’t mean removing the passion or commitment to the project, it simply means delineating between what’s business and what’s personal and learning how to identify yourself beyond your work.
Mitigate the fear of failing with patience
There are a lot of reasons entrepreneurs fear failure, but one of the more common fears is what would happen to you after the business fails. The reason people fear this is because they often associate starting a business with the end of their current job. While you can certainly go all-in and quit your current job, you don’t always need to.
When we upgraded our affiliate marketing hobby to a side hustle, we did so while we continued working full-time building websites for local businesses. At that time, we were just getting our toes wet and learning about the affiliate marketing industry.
We used our full-time job to help fund and support our side hustle. We could see the potential and knew that it was worth our commitment, but we knew that if we were patient and built it slowly, we could mitigate the risk and fear.
Over the next two years, we started spending more time and effort on our side hustle, which began to yield more return. Eventually, it became our complete focus.
We would not have grown our business without patience
Looking back now, we were able to overcome the fear of failure by practicing patience and restraint.
We didn’t love our side hustle of building websites for local salons and restaurants, but it gave us the flexibility to grow our business without the pressures that we would have faced otherwise. We were financially supported and didn’t feel the stress of needing our business to succeed immediately. We continued to learn and test strategies without forcing anything. We treated it like a hobby, so our passion and excitement never dwindled.
If we would have quit our jobs and worked full-time on the affiliate marketing business, there’s no telling what would have happened. Would the pressure and forced nature of the situation have caused us to lose focus? Would we have abandoned it at the first sign of turmoil?
It’s impossible to say, but one thing is certain: by remaining patient and launching the business while we continued to work, we didn’t fear it failing.
You define what a failure is, it doesn’t define you
Fear can be a paralyzing emotional response that is hard for anyone to overcome — even for entrepreneurs, who are considered risk-takers. For entrepreneurs, the first and often hardest fear to overcome is the fear of failing.
It’s one of the biggest hurdles preventing entrepreneurs from starting businesses, and it can creep up at any time. While it’s impossible to remove fear entirely, you can implement techniques to help overcome it.
No matter what strategies you use to overcome the fear of failing, never forget the most important rule — you define failure, it doesn’t define you. Ultimately, you have the final say about what you consider a failure to be. You can let a failure or mistake define you, or you can learn from it and use it to help you grow professionally and personally.