January 31, 2017

Don't let fear kill your dreams

How to let go of fear and embrace that next step

I’m scared too.

What if everything I’m pouring my energy into is for nothing?

What if it all goes wrong and I have to start again from square one?

Fear is often the biggest dream killer. We avoid chasing our dreams because we’re afraid of the obstacles along the way. Before even starting we end up in a spiral of self-doubt and worry.

It’s only once you embrace fear can you take that first step forward. A life lived constantly in fear is like sitting in a traffic jam. You never move forward and become more frustrated as time goes on, wondering if things would’ve been different if you took a different route entirely.

We often let fear hold us back. It’s an easy excuse we tell ourselves when we don’t actively pursue something. Without embracing fear it’s impossible to get out there and make your mark.

If things don’t pan out quite the way you wanted to, there’s no shame in changing tactic or moving on to something else.

Whenever others talk about fear, there’s three common excuses I hear:

- I’m not good enough

- No one will care

- What if I fail?

Any of these sounding familiar? I call these excuses because they’re irrational and said to make us feel better about why we’re not moving forward.

Let’s take a look at each of these excuses in more detail. 

#1 I’m not good enough

I recently received this from someone via email:

"I think my problems getting myself to work stem from feeling like my work has to look good all the time. Intellectually I know that usually it looks rough for most of the process, and only comes together looking nice and shiny at the end, but it’s still a nagging thought in my head."

This is classic imposter syndrome mentality — the feeling that your output isn’t good enough. With so many talented people out there it’s impossible not to compare yourself to their talents and strengths.

Unfortunately negative thoughts and self-doubt breed negativity. The more you put yourself down, the harder it will be to climb out.

It’s easy to forget that everyone starts out with the same blank slate. All that’s between you and someone you perceive as ‘good enough’ is hard work. Instead of standing still and wallowing in your self doubt, take a step forward. Refine your craft and focus on gaining confidence in your work.

If your work really is that terrible (which I’m sure is not) — embrace it! Iterate in private. Learn from the mistakes you make or identify the areas of improvement so you can move forward with a new focus to improve and refine.

My mum recently told me this story of two women who wanted to take up knitting. One never did because she was intimidated by the difficulty of knitting baby booties. The other embraced knitting and focused solely on knitting simple squares.

The point here is that you don’t have to be a professional at something to be good enough. It’s OK to define your own level of success.

What’s the definition of good anyway? We often let others define this for us. If you’re struggling with accepting the quality of your own work, try setting the definition for yourself.

Only you know your true potential and capabilities. If someone thinks you can’t do it, take that as a challenge to prove them wrong.

#2 No one will care

So what? If you’re producing work for others you’re not producing honest work.

I’ve seen so many people give up on their passion projects because no one else showed an interest in what they were doing. Well, who are you doing it for? You or someone else? If it’s for someone else — be patient. Success doesn’t happen overnight and it takes time to build trust, reputation and authority.

I’ve been writing for this newsletter for 18 months and haven’t even hit 1,000 subscribers yet. I’m not letting that stop me. In fact, it’s only fuelling the fire inside of me to work harder and persevere.

If it feels like nobody cares, consider the possibility that maybe nobody saw it? We’re bombarded with thousands of messages everyday. It’s getting more difficult to capture peoples attention.

If people aren’t noticing your work, try putting more effort into letting it shine and sharing it. You can’t expect people to care about something they don’t know exists.

Depending on your goal it might not matter what others think at all. For example your goal might be to up skill or try something new. If so, don’t let success hinge on what others think and whether they care about it.

#3 What if I fail?

Spoiler alert: you probably will.

We’re often taught to believe that failure is shameful. It means we messed up. But failure can be a good thing too. I’ve talked about this in the past during my conference talk but I’m gonna mention it again because I honestly believe it’s true: It’s impossible to move forward without failing.

Failing doesn’t have to be some huge publicised event. Failure can be small, micro events that happen behind the scenes. In fact, these behind the scenes failures are the best kind because it provides you with an opportunity to learn and course correct before releasing it into the wild.

With every failure there’s an opportunity to learn, grow and move forward. It provides exploration and the ability to step forward with a clearer direction in mind.

Of course there’s always the possibility that you might fail because what you’re working towards isn’t achievable. It’s better to learn this early on or fail fast as they say. 

How to move forward successfully

Let’s say that after reading about the above three fears you magically have the confidence to move forward. What’s the next steps?

Define your Why — What drives you? Where does your passion lie? What’s the goal you’re trying to achieve? If the goal sounds too scary shift the goal posts closer and start smaller. You’ll be coming back to it and relying on it to keep you going during down times so think about it hard.

Be confident — You need to be confident about your Why. Believe in yourself and don’t let your own negativity and self-doubt hold you hostage.

Find support — Surround yourself with people who support you wholeheartedly. You’ll want someone you can call on to help guide you through challenging scenarios or decisions.

Celebrate the small wins — I’ll take any excuse to throw a party. As you move forward you’ll reach milestones along the way. Take the time to celebrate and reward yourself for your small successes. This will help keep your fuel and passion ignited.

Embracing fear is never a waste of time. There are always lessons to be learnt along the way. I want to end with this quote by Seth Godin:

"Excitement about goals is often diminished by our fear of failure or the drudgery of work. If you’re short on passion, it might be because your goals are too small or the fear is too big. (…)Fear is the dream killer, the silent voice that pushes us to lose our passion in a vain attempt to seek safety. While you can work hard to dream smaller dreams, I think it’s better to embrace the fear and find bigger goals instead."

– Seth Godin

You got this.

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