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Overcoming Fear: The Most Important Thing You Can Do

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” –Mary Anne Radmacher

Have you achieved your goals yet?

Allow me to introduce you to Edward. He’s recently made the decision to leave his job, his route to a safe, secure income, and has decided to start out on his own. He’s started up his own business, a sales consulting firm that is leading on from his 14 years as a sales manager for a leading company. He knows his stuff, and has been nominated for a few awards for ‘personal excellence’. In other words, you wouldn’t be far off if you called him a ‘big shot’.

But Edward’s come across a problem. Can you help him? He’s been working in sales for so many years, and has learned a lot about selling, advertising, marketing. But for all his expertise, Edward struggles to resolve something in his mind.

Edward still focuses on failure. He’s scared of failing.

And this poses a dilemma for him, because despite being good at his job, Edward doesn’t know a thing about managing the books, organising his own time, or maintaining a complaints department. In other words, he hasn’t had to do anything other than selling, and now he’s realised this, he’s a little scared. He feels overwhelmed. He’s afraid of failing at something he doesn’t know how to do.

Staring Down The Lions

Like Edward, there are many ‘small’ entrepreneurs who have just started, and soon realised that there’s a lot more to this ‘entrepreneur thing’ than they first thought. They’ve quickly become overwhelmed with dealing with it all, and it seems like they have no-one to turn to. Their families can’t provide answers, nor can their former employees. They’ve been thrown into the gladiator’s arena, and there are lions at the other ends waiting to tear into them at the first false move.

But there is a way out. No matter how bad it may seem, and no matter how scary those lions seem from afar, you can find a way to get past those obstacles and not only survive, but thrive in this cut-throat business world. How?

There’s one way of thinking that will help you in overcoming fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of being torn apart. It’s this:

The only thing that matters is that you try. Nothing else matters.

The Main Reason For Despair

The main thing that guarantees stress is fear. We have a multitude of fears in our daily lives, and they regularly surface. We could wake up in the morning, ready to tackle the day, and then become paralysed by a prickling fear that we won’t achieve our set goals for the day. Edward might wake up one morning and worry that he won’t be able to secure enough deals to meet his daily target.

As the day winds on, more and more fears could set in. We might fear that someone may pull out of a lunchtime meeting. We may fear that those supplies we ordered could be late. We might fear the books may not balance. Whatever business you have decided to venture out into, there’s no difference in the level of fear that you experience. It gets to us all.

In fact, fear is the underlying cause of all negative emotions and feelings. Anxiety is caused by fear of losing something. Stress is caused by fear of not moving fast enough, or moving in the wrong direction. Anger is caused by fear of being shamed, or losing a battle. Fear is the end product when we either:

– Don’t want to lose something or gain something unwanted, or

– Don’t move in the direction, at the speed, that we want

From these feelings, fear can emerge. Even if you think of loss and despair for just a second, fear can strike into your hearts and disrupt your thinking, perhaps causing you to miss out on opportunities, or lose something that ‘might’ lose you money. It’s the single biggest reason why markets crash and businesses go under.

Happiness Is The Journey

Now, here’s the quote that I mentioned earlier:

“The only thing that matters is that you try. Nothing else matters.”

Let’s apply this to Edward’s situation. Edward has to meet a client at 10:30am, to hopefully close a deal that will bring in enough money to last Edward for a few days. He meets the client, and though the meeting goes well and everything is amicable, the deal sinks. Edward leaves the building with nothing. From this experience, Edward now has two choices. He could either:

– Wonder why the deal didn’t close, and spend that time wondering at the nearest bar, or he could

– Brush himself off, and immediately try again with a new client

Which do you think is better? This one is pretty easy, but let’s come up with another outcome. Let’s say Edward closed the deal, and he now has enough profit to keep him afloat for a few more days. He’s a happy man. Again, as he leaves the building, he could either:

– Celebrate his new deal by heading to the nearest bar, or he could

– Congratulate himself, then go to work on the next client

Again, which do you think is better? It’s a little harder, but I’d choose the latter once more. Even if you gain a success, and you can afford to ease back for a few days, don’t. Keep trying. Keep trying for as long as you are able to try. If you need a rest, then take one. But make sure it’s a proper rest and not an excuse to watch TV or surf the web. The key idea of ‘rest’ is that we do just that, rest, not distract ourselves with something else.

So, unless you need rest, keep trying. Keep moving to better yourself, to better your company, and to better the world. Perhaps there’s a workshop that you think would be beneficial to you? Or a client who seems stubborn but you know, deep down, that gaining her services would be highly useful for your business? This is all that matters.

Why The Result Doesn’t Matter

Of course, trying is important, we all know that. But to say that the result doesn’t matter? This requires a little clarification.

No matter how successful you become, there will always be another mountain to climb. If you always want to gain more and more, then you will be doomed to a career of striving for more and more, because there will always be more. In fact, there will be more ‘more’ than you can handle. You might strive for $1,000,000 when you have $100,000. You might strive for $5,000,000 when you have $1,000,000. The point is, in this mind-set, you can never have ‘enough’. Nothing is enough for you, because you feel you need more. No matter how many achievements you earn, no matter how many successes you have, or results go your way, it will not be enough. In fact, would you even recognise ‘enough’ if you saw it?

Let’s look at two of the three most richest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They have billions, enough to last them for 100 lifetimes. But despite accumulating all this wealth, and so many successes to boot, they have decided to give the vast majority of their wealth away to charities. They are giving away around 90% of what they’ve earned, without a second thought. Why? I’ve yet to speak with them, but my guess is that they realised they don’t need the money. As long as they have enough to live by, they don’t need any more. They had enough a long time ago, but they now realise that no matter how much money they make, they can’t take it with them when they die.

No matter whether you’re in poverty or you’re a billionaire, you’re going to leave this world with nothing.

This is the honest truth. As long as you have enough, you don’t need anything else. It’s just excess. This is why the result doesn’t matter. As long as you try with all your heart and soul and you have enough, the result can be anything. You’ll survive. It doesn’t matter whether that deal gets clinched today or in two months time, the only thing that matters is that you try.

Back to Edward…

So now Edward has realised the most important thing you can do, he’s a very happy man. He’s clinched some deals, watched other deals sink, and he’s smiled all throughout. He doesn’t let the failures bother him any more, and he doesn’t let the successes make him lazy and idle. Because he knows that even if he has the same amount of money in 50 years time than he does now, as long as it’s enough, and he keeps trying, then he can end his entrepreneurial career with his head held high.

What’s your experience with fear of failure? Did you ever face it? Do you have any stories about dealing with failure? Have you overcome fear?

About Stuart Mills

Stuart Mills is a personal development writer, and the owner of Unlock The Door, where he writes about unlocking the potential in your life.

47 thoughts on “Overcoming Fear: The Most Important Thing You Can Do

  1. Nice Post,
    I think most people don’t realize that fear is holding them back.  Sometimes hitting rock bottom helps us overcome our fears. for instance, when the economy sinks, there is a rise in entrepreneurship and new start-ups.  The fear is not COMPLETELY removed but there is less to lose and people take more risks than they would normally take. 

    Thanks for this post. I hope more and more people can liberate themselves from fear.  

    • Hi Annie, thanks for the comment!

      Do you think then that by hitting ‘rock bottom’, we can then gain access to far more opportunity and possibility than we did before? I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts 🙂

      • Stuart,
        Hmmmm, i think hitting rock bottom CAN be a motivator for change. The other being inspiration.  I wold much rather be inspired without having that feeling of desperation from hitting a low point in life. 

        Too often, when life is comfortable (not great) we stay stagnant and inertia sets in.  How often do we hear about or even experience being in a rut?  But we do nothing to change. Suddenly when something bad happens, we hit a low point (rock bottom), we take action to make changes in our lives, in our actions and our thinking?  I know plenty of people who literally go to work, eat, sleep and wake up day in and day out. There is no purpose and they are unhappy. They have BMW’s, occasional vacations but for the most part their daily lives are uninspired and monotonous. Yet they do nothing year after year.  (guilty, i am)

        So i suppose the answer is yes Stuart.  We can and often do gain access to more opportunity than we did before because fear of losing our comfortable lives can freeze us into inaction. Where as the fire created from being uncomfortable, or hitting a low point forces us to take action which results in change. Hopefully for the better. Failure will happen but i see failed attempts as a learning opportunity. Fail enough times and you will have ONE BIG WIN.

        I suppose the alternative is that you could totally crumble under the pressure of the rocks from hitting rock bottom.  I can definitely see how repeatedly failed efforts of trying to climb out of a bad situation could cause depression and a sense of hopelessness. That’s where friends and family and support come in handy don’t they?

        • I’m with you, Annie – all things being equal, I’d much rather be inspired, but I don’t think it’s an either-or kind of thing.

          Rock bottom doesn’t get you going, but it is a sort of “reset button” that forces you to abandon projects and paradigms, and frees your mind and attention for new and better opportunities. You may be too burned out to take advantage of them right away, but eventually you get inspired again, and I think that the rock bottom state is sometimes necessary as a way to get there.

          And yes, I also agree with you that rock bottom is much better as a place to pass through than a place to stay for an extended period of time – it takes real strength of character to survive that for an extended period of time and come out stronger for it.

          Thank so much for stopping by and leaving such a value-filled and thought-provoking comment!

          • Yeah, I agree with you both here – rock bottom is not designed to be an end to a means, it should be a means to an end. You experience rock bottom, and failure, in order to set yourself up for the next challenge of your life.

            Without failing, we would not know what needs changing.

            Thanks for the excellent response Annie 🙂

  2. Really great post Stuart, but I’d change the word “try” to “do”.  I ascribe to the Yoda’ism of:

    “Do or do not: there is no try.”

    I do think that we mean the same thing though: perhaps just a matter of semantics, but an important distinction, I believe.  When I’m working with clients, we banish the word “try” from their vocabulary, and replace it with the word “do”.  But since I think we’re on the same page in terms of intent, I would simply rephrase your statement to say:

    “The only thing that matters is that you DO. Nothing else matters.”  Action is where it’s at: the results will take care of themselves when you take action.  Cheers!  Kaarina

    • ‘Yoda’ism’ is a nice touch Kaarina! 😉

      I would agree with you about our differing semantics, but I’m now intrigued; would you say that a failure to ‘try’ is still ‘doing’? Perhaps by ‘doing’ something else, whether intentionally or unintentionally, we don’t try? 🙂

      • Very interesting Stuart. I guess because I’ve eliminated the word “try” from my vocab, and because I work with others to eliminate it from theirs, there is only doing or not doing.  Taking action or being inert.

        So, a failure to “try” is to me, inertia…it means no action is taken, nothing changes, nothing moves.  By “doing” something ‘else’, to me, means that:  a thought was had – a decision was made – a decision is the precursor to action – action was taken.  Doesn’t matter if it’s “right” action or “wrong” action, results in success or failure…the important thing is moving in the direction of one’s dreams and goals.

        I don’t know if that answers your question or not: I think we’re on the same page in terms of intention.  I think the words we use are SO important.  Cheers!  Kaarina  P.S. I look forward to Skyping soon:)

      • I agree with you both – it’s all about doing, and I subscribe to the Yoda-ism as well. There’s a nice take on it in Karate Kid, too, which goes something like this:

        Miyagi: Now, ready? Daniel: Yeah, I guess so. Miyagi: [sighs] Daniel-san, must talk. [they both kneel] Miyagi: Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [makes squish gesture] Miyagi: get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do “yes” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,” [makes squish gesture] Miyagi: just like grape. Understand? Daniel: Yeah, I understand. Miyagi: Now, ready? Daniel: Yeah, I’m ready. 

        It kind of bugs me that my most inspiring wisdom comes from Karate Kid and Star Wars – makes me feel like I need to expose myself to a little more culture… 😉

  3. Stuart I have to be honest, this is one of the best posts that I’ve read for a little while! WOW! So many awesome points to cover.

    Firstly to talk about fear, this is so true – fear of failure stops many people progressing. Fear of doing something different is what stops so many people even starting their entrepreneurial journey. Interesting analysis, all those negative emotions do stem from fear in one form or another.

    Secondly, talk about being “thrown into the gladiator’s arena” – This sums up my initial experience exactly! I started out and needed guidance urgently, but didn’t get it from the right places! I had no idea what was involved and how hard it would be until I started! That’s a large reason why I started my blog, to help those people that feel like I felt when I started – and I’ve got a funny feeling there’s many of them out there! But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the most important thing is to try, as you mentioned.

    Thirdly, I know some people that unfortunately have that attitude – want, want want! This makes for an absolutely shallow and meaningless life, and just means that they are never happy, there is no such word as “enough”. They are always focussed on the end result rather than the process and the journey – which, as far as I’m concerned, is never the correct approach to have. 

    It’s all about having enough, no more and no less, that’s why although we should always strive to better ourselves and progress, we should also have our own limitations in terms of “I’ve got this much, I’m happy now; I can live a good lifestyle, anything else is just a bonus.”

    Think that people need to remember that, as we say in Yorkshire “No point in being the richest man in the graveyard!” Lol

    Thanks again and thanks Danny for featuring this!

    Speak soon guys.

    Rob

    • Nice comment Rob, I’m liking this! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      My initial approach with this post was to calm fears about starting out (what to do, where to turn, how to handle it, etc). It then turned into something of a story, involving our fictional friend Edward, where he learned the single most important thing you can do, which is to try. Or ‘to do’ as Karrina put it.

      I’m very happy that the post has ‘worked’ in that respect, if I can relay fears and ensure small entrepreneurs and leaders will try for the sake of trying, then I can say that this post has provided its value.

      Take care man, speak soon 🙂

  4. Hey Stu,

    You deliver the goods. Your name is becoming synonymous with excellence. Congrats on demanding that of yourself.

    Man, I could write a book on fear, excuses and blame. The way we become empowered is by facing ourselves. No excuses. No blaming others. Being accountable. Demanding more from ourselves.

    And for fear? We all have them. Everyone. Whether it’s writing a post, leaving a comment, or starting a business. Will these fears dissipate as we write killer posts and comments or build successful businesses?

    Not according to best-selling authors. The fear remains. Robert Frost had to self-publish AFTER he had made it big. Then, he made it bigger. We must push on through the fear and meet with success on the other side. Each time. Every time. Courage isn’t the absence of fear.

    You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. -Wayne Gretzky
    Here’s to fear, and moving right along anyhow.

    • Why thank you Rob, that’s very kind of you!

      Interesting to hear about Robert Frost, I didn’t know that. I remember Robin Sharma publishing his first book, MegaLiving, but even then, he had to self-publish The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.

      You say you could write a book on this, is this speaking from past experiences? I’m interested in hearing more about the backstory of Rob Adelphia 😉

      • Oh, yeah, the fear doesn’t go away – and we’re all so busy faking not being afraid that we don’t realize everyone else is doing the same thing.

        The good thing is that if you fake it long enough, it becomes second nature, and gets a bit easier… 😉

      • Hey Stu,
        Feel free to read my bio over in my neck of the woods. I don’t pull any punches. I made blaming and excuses a way of life. Even during success, if there were problems, I would look around quickly.
        I have seen some successful folk do this same thing. But, alas, my journey was to be different. I accepted this (and a few others) fault in myself and purposed to change the nonsense. If it came down to one sentence it would be this, “Demand more of yourself.” Each of us know whether we are giving an effort or biding time. We know we should get that next sale instead of hitting the bar as you point out.
        Stu, I was reading a comment or post by you (I must be a fan) where you mentioned a guest post by you not getting accepted. The next part was telling, ‘I dusted myself off’ and got back to work.
        Perfect. 

        • Rob, you are starting to become my first online stalker lol 😉

          I’m kidding, seriously. Thanks for the kind words. I’ve looked at your bio and WOW, that was something else! You’ve had an amazing story so far, and I love the diagram illustrating the road to success.

          The best thing? The first 70% of that diagram involves the word “failure” in some form. That just speaks volumes about the guy you are.

          Take care champ 🙂

  5. This was very thought provoking. Some of us have a bigger fear of failing than actually accomplishing our goals and that is what sets us back and sees us not seeing them through. You speak of Bill Gates with other examples and I agree 100% – you leave with nothing when you die.

    “This is the honest truth. As long as you have enough, you don’t need anything else” – something to live by.

    Great post!

    • Thanks Gabriella, I appreciate the kind words!

      Some people also have fears of succeeding; once their wildest dreams start to come into view, they actually become nervous of what might happen.

      I think this is down to change, and the fear is of their old routines being broken, but what do you think? 🙂

      • That’s true – it’s funny that two of the biggest reasons why things don’t get done are fear of failure, and fear of success. Kinda damned we you do, and damned we you don’t aren’t we?

  6. Ah, I knew this was your style before I got to the end Stuart! Great post! I’m no fan of fear though it’s been my counterpart far too often. I can say that I’ve made huge, huge strides in trying to conquer it and give great credit to having my daughter. It’s amazing what you’ll do in the face of fear to protect and provide for someone. We’re both all each other has and that’s a massive motivator. “I fall, I get up, I fall…” words I live by and words that make me thankful just to breathe every day and open my eyes. I’ve learned that though the wolf is at the door, he doesn’t have to eat you. Believe me the wolves are lurking every day around here as I pull myself out from a pretty dark hole, but I’m getting there and know that I’m trying like a mad woman and will succeed! Thanks for this awesome post Stuart – love your style! 
     
    Much kindness,
     
    Elena

    • Yup, Stu’s got a signature greatness that’s pretty to spot!

      The great thing about pulling yourself out of that kind of hole (been there, and I hope I won’t have to again) is that even though it can be excruciatingly slow, it does get easier every day. Just hang in there, and reach out for help from people who’ve been there and are willing (you can email me anytime – seriously, try me!).

      I’m reminded of this quote from the West Wing, that I really liked:

      “This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
      “A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.”
      Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on”
      Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says,
      ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”

      • You’re incredibly kind Danny. And of all the people, I sincerely believe you when you offer help – thank you.

        Your quote was quite profound and relevant! The one thing through my experience I’ve learned, is that I’ve had to reach out for help that I never thought I would, nor did I want to. But .. you get to this place and you’re actually forced to in a way or you choose to suffer. All pride goes out the door and falls into that hole with you. Each day it does get easier, yet there are times I’m thrown a blow that knocks the spirit out of me and I feel like I’m back at square one. Those times I just focus on one breath at a time – the “down” time passes quicker now. I have to keep in mind to keep reaching for help though Danny; I know this. So … you may just get that email yet. 😉

        Thanks for being wonderful you!

        Abundant kindness,

        Elena

    • Hey Elena, great to have you here!

      I’m very humbled that you knew it was me before you reached the end, that means I need to improve my disguise more 😉

      That wolf at the door, he may not be there to eat you. He may be there to threaten you, watch you, or even look out for you. But how we react to the wolf is the key. If we respond in fear, the wolf will respond in kind, but if we be calm, and carry on regardless, the wolf may leave us alone 🙂

  7. Stuart! Wow, very thought inducing.. which I happen to believe is a critical hallmark of an effective blogger. 

    I align with most of what you said. We’re trained worriers and if we can STOP IT, we’d be better off. I also align completely with the idea of congratulating yourself, and then continuing to fire away after a success, rather than thinking you can take a rewarding break for a while. I think a balance is needed, but letting success breed more success, is even more awesome. 

    • Hi Ryan, great to meet you!

      I agree, a balance between not letting success go to your head, and rewarding yourself, is essential in times like these. Trying too hard in one direction leads to imbalance, and falling over.

      Success breeding success is the best kind, without a doubt 😉

    • Hey Ryan, yup – Stu hit it out of the park with this one. 🙂

      And yes – the less time we spend worrying, the more time we have for other things. Did you see my guest post over at Stu’s blog?

  8. Very thought out post! 
    Complacency and fear is extremely powerful when joined at the hip. Sometimes people don’t know how to get past barriers that they themselves put up and wonder why they keep hitting a “brick wall”. I use to do that a long time ago when I worked at a job for many years. The moment I tried to break out my shell and try something new , the more they tried to keep me back. Instead of letting that get me down, I chose another direction and I am where I am now because of it. What you focus on determines your reality. 

    • Hey Sonia, thanks for the comment!

      That was the best way – if anyone or anything tries to stop you from being true to yourself, then it’s best to detach yourself from them as soon as possible, as much as possible.

      Keep smashing through those brick walls 🙂

    • Hey Sonia, that’s a really great point – persevering in pushing through those brick walls is important, but it’s also important to analyze why we’re having so much trouble with this direction, so that we can course-correct and find an easier way through the “wall”. 🙂

  9. Hey Stuart, this is an awesome article, buddy! The fear of failure is the biggest fear most people face (ranking somewhere up there with public speaking and death). And learning to stare it down is crucial to success. Once you conquer it, success becomes a formula each time. Thanks for keeping the message alive. 

    Great blog, Danny! Will be back!

  10. We’re so conditioned to fear failure.  Aren’t we, Stuart?  I think this is one of the hardest mindsets to break past as an entrepreneur.  Even when we manage to do so, we’re still surrounded by those who are entrenched in this avoid taking a chance mentality.  

    I like your point that the result doesn’t matter.  In many ways, it’s simply out of our control.  The only thing within our command is what we do and how we respond to others.  Jim Rohn used the parable of the farmer sowing seeds to illustrate a great point.  As the seed was carried away by the birds, baked by the sun, and strangled by the weeds before it fell on fertile ground – the farmer kept on sowing through it all.

    We have to discipline our disappointments because there will be some along our journey.  Anything worth achieving is also worth failing at.  It’s a hard lesson to learn, but liberating once you do.

  11. I love this! Stuart encapsulates so succinctly what’s holding us back from living the life we secretly yearn for. I just stumbled on this blog by way of getbusylivingblog.com and haven’t stopped reading since. Thank you for living up to the mantra of providing stellar content for readers – this is a clear example of hooking customers by exceeding their expectations by a mile. I fall hook, line and sinker for it every time. Thanks, Danny!

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