Post by Laura Thompson, contributing Women On Business writer
I’m not afraid to admit that I spent the first three-quarters of my life in the constant grip of fear. It wasn’t a pleasant way to live, and looking back, I know that I missed out on a great many opportunities because I was too afraid to take the plunge. When every decision you make is based on the fear of rejection or failure, you aren’t really living at all.
If you suffer from this particular proclivity, I’m willing to bet you don’t even realize how much you are limiting your growth both as a woman and as a professional. I didn’t.
In Mark Twain’s iconic novel Pudd’nhead Wilson, he says that "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear." This means that you will never find a way to scour fear from your life like a sticky residue; instead, you will have to learn to channel your fear into something productive.
Why Fear Matters
In business, you have two choices. The first is to accept your fears and live with the boundaries they create in your professional life. If you’re terrified to ask the boss for a raise, you’ll continue to perform the same job with less compensation than you deserve. If the idea of quitting your corporate position to start your own business gives you the heebie-jeebies, you’ll maintain your employment status even if it doesn’t satisfy your needs.
Is this what you really want? Do you really feel comfortable allowing your fears to dictate every decision you make?
The buck doesn’t stop with you, either. One of the major 2009 buzzwords for business is value–the more value you contribute to the market, the more you’ll take back in the form of compensation. More importantly, providing extraordinary value can have a significant impact not only on individuals in your life, such as clients, but on the entire world.
What if Scott Berkowitz was so afraid of starting a non-profit organization that he never founded RAINN" target="_blank">RAINN’ target=_blank>RAINN? There are plenty of reasons why such an organization might have failed; non-profits go under all the time because of inadequate funding. RAINN helps thousands of women and children recover from sexual abuse every week, and it wouldn’t exist of Berkowitz had surrendered to the fear of failure.
Your professional aspirations might not seem as lofty as Berkowitz’s, but every woman has the power to impact someone else’s life. By giving in to your fears, you rob the world of what you might have accomplished otherwise.
How to Conquer Fear
I’ve always found that the best way to handle fear is to look it in the eye. I’m terrified of spiders, for example, and I know that if I forced myself to handle a tarantula, I’d be far less likely to suffer a panic attack the next time I encountered one. I haven’t yet tackled this particular fear, but it’s on my to-do list.
When you are truly afraid of something that you think is hindering your success, the first step is to face it head-on. Write out a description of your fears in a journal or bring up the subject with your spouse or best friend. Get the fear out into the open where you can address it logically.
The next step is to determine why exactly those fears are stopping you. Are you scared of quitting your job and winding up on the street? Are you worried that talking to your boss about your raise might get you fired? Imagine the worst possible scenario, then list the ways in which you would deal with it.
For example, even if your business venture doesn’t work out, you can always return to the corporate world. Jobs won’t simply evaporate just because you’ve decided to leave the mainstream for a while. If you get fired? You’ll simply find a better employer.
And finally, map out the best ways to avoid your worst-case scenario. If you want to start a business, set a limit to the money you’ll spend getting it off the ground. Start adding to your savings account so you always have a cushion on which to rely.
In other words, set yourself up to succeed rather than to fail.