I’ve never done this before.
And to be honest with you, I’m afraid to do it. I don’t know what kind of reaction I’ll get if I share this information.
In the past, that meant not doing something. Fear stopped me from doing things I wanted to do, things that interested me, things that looked like great opportunities for growth.
Fear stopped me from doing.. well, most things, really. My fear controlled my behavior and made decisions for me.
This started at an extremely early age. I make jokes now about what a nervous kid I was — but it’s true. I constantly worried about what could go wrong.
My mom recently made a comment to me about how she could remember how even as a kid who should have no cares in the world, I was afraid. Not scared, exactly, but “afraid” as in anxious. Constantly anxious and concerned.
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I realized the impact of my relationship with this one thing — my fear. It was toxic, it was limiting, and it was going to drive my life into a place I knew I didn’t want to go.
But that’s the thing: the nature of my relationship with my fear was that the fear had control. It decided what I did or didn’t do. I could want something — to say, to do, to try, to explore — but then fear would step in and say, “no way. Not happening.”
Fear Comes to Us with Good Intentions
Once I realized fear controlled a huge portion of my behavior, I worked to get myself out of the existing relationship with the feeling. My immediate desire was to become fearless. I didn’t want to feel so afraid (of everything! Even of everyone!) anymore.
Thankfully, wiser people told me that wasn’t a productive way to go about this change. Fear isn’t a bad thing. Believe it or not, fear comes to us with good intentions.
Fear tries to keep us safe. It tries to protect us, to keep us from harm and hurt. Fear wants us to be okay.
Thousands of years ago, tuning into fear was a life or death situation. Humans needed to pay attention to the feeling when it crept up, because it came from a deeper level of thinking designed keep us alive.
Fear comes from the oldest part of the human brain and it was a literal lifesaver when humans first got their start as hunter-gatherers evolving into more complex beings.
We’re no longer living in nomadic groups threatened by other tribes or wild animals or the elements, but the kind of fear we carry today comes from the same place. It’s instinctual and designed to keep us safe.
So fear isn’t a bad thing — and we can’t try to become fearless. Humans can’t get rid of fear. It’s part of who we are. Trying to get rid of this piece of ourselves doesn’t work.
How then could I change my relationship with fear so it stopped running my life? Instead of fighting it or trying to silence it, I could work with it.
I could embrace it as part of me and say, “fear, thank you. I appreciate that you want to protect me. I love you for wanting to keep me safe. Thank you.”
I could tell my fear that while I appreciated it and welcomed its input, I was no longer going to give it control of my behavior. I knew it would never shut up, so I gave it permission to express its opinions — but no more.
I changed my relationship with fear so that, in Elizabeth Gilbert’s words from Big Magic, fear still got to come along for the ride. But instead of me riding shotgun with it at the wheel, fear had to sit in the back and let me do the driving.
Here’s What Happens When You Quit Letting Fear Drive
Fear still pipes up all the time. But I navigate where we go and what we do now. And it’s made a huge difference in what I’m able to explore and achieve.
So what about that information I talked about sharing? You know, the info I’ve never shared before and felt afraid to tell you?
I write about personal finance for a living and I started my freelance career by creating and writing a personal finance blog — specifically, about my finances. But I never, ever shared hard numbers.
I never talked about the exact amount I made, or how much I kept in savings, or the total value of my net worth. Most of the time, the information wasn’t relevant to the point I tried to make.
But right now, it matters. I want to share a few details about my income to show you how much your relationship with fear can cost when it gets to decide what you do or don’t do to build a better business.
I wanted to quit my job so I could focus on building my own business. But I was more than scared to do it. I was terrified.
Specifically, I was afraid I would make a financial mistake by leaving a steady paycheck. It felt irresponsible, especially with so many goals I want to achieve in the next five years: invest to build wealth, buy property in Boston’s ridiculously expensive real estate market, start a family, and more.
Wouldn’t it be foolish to quit your job when all these things that you want cost so much money, and you want them relatively soon? Shouldn’t you just be happy with your paycheck and stick with the job for a few more years?
That was fear talking, of course. So I told it to pipe down because, while I appreciated its opinion, I made the decision. I was quitting to go out on my own.
I made $3,750 gross per month during the first year of working this job. In the second, I made $4,750 gross per month.
In my first full month of self-employment, I made $14,725 gross — nearly $10,000 more. I didn’t receive any benefits from the job, so my expenses didn’t change when I switched to working for myself. All that extra was just extra to use to fund my goals.
Had I listened to fear, I never would have walked out and taken control of my career. How much would it cost me to listen to fear over those 5 years?
Even if we assume I could only make $5,000 per month more instead of $10,000, that’s a difference of $300,000 more in earnings.
It’s not just more money. It’s a better life. It’s pursuing my dream of building a better business serving people I care about, by helping them do work I believe in.
Staying in a relationship with fear that puts it in the driver’s seat comes with a real, tangible cost. What’s your current relationship costing you?
You Can Build a Better Business When You Put Fear in the Backseat
Maybe you don’t work with the people you really want to help, because fear decided you should generalize instead of choosing a niche and getting hyper-focused with a single group.
Maybe you don’t make the profit you want, because fear convinced you that no one will pay you for what you do — you’re not valuable enough.
Maybe you can’t build a better business while you’re stuck in your day job, because fear said stay put since that felt safer and easier than risking anything to start your own venture.
Or maybe you can’t build a better business when you’re too busy avoiding bad things, because fear said there was so much to run away from instead of doing what to know to do.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can start doing more right now. Tell your fear that you are in charge.
Take back the power to choose and to act based on what you value, what you want to achieve, and what you want to build in both your business and your life.
If you can change your relationship with fear, you can build a better business — because it’s you who makes the decisions about what you want to do, who you want to work with, and how you want to make an impact.