The Monster of Startup
My favorite Sesame Street character is Grover. And my favorite Grover book is called “The Monster at the End of this Book.” Throughout the book, Grover tells the reader, “There is a monster at the end of this book. Don’t turn the page.” Of course, the reader turns the page, and Grover gets more and more terrified as the end approaches. On the last page, the monster is revealed – it’s Grover! (It reminds me of the old famous Pogo quote: “We have met the enemy and it is us.”)
This also reminds me of the famous quote by Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I never really understood this quote until I started working with people who wanted to start their own writing businesses, and until I started my own businesses. I have thought a lot about fear and the way it can paralyze us and I have seen this paralysis first-hand.
Here are a couple of examples:
I was talking with someone who has a passion to teach, but she is afraid of public speaking. She said she wasn’t sure how to overcome this fear. She was not moving forward to conquer the fear (I of course, encouraged her to try Toastmasters.). She was just sitting there thinking about being afraid.
In another example, I spent a lot of time, and many phone calls and emails, helping a professional with the startup process. He would go only so far, only to stop. He needed a loan for startup costs, but he only tried a couple of banks then gave up. After months he finally decided to stay where he was working, for someone else, where he was unhappy; for all I know, he’s still there.
In another more personal example, my elderly mother-in-law has known for over two years that she needed dialysis. She was terrified of the whole process, since she had never been in a hospital in her life, so she kept putting off telling her family. When they finally found out and convinced her to start dialysis, she found herself feeling much better. She was more afraid of the dialysis than she was of dying without it. Think about that for a minute.
Why does fear paralyze us?
Old voices. We all have voices in our heads, from times when someone (parent, friend, spouse) told us, “You can’t do this,” or “This is stupid. You’ll fail,” or “Don’t risk failure.” “If you fail, it will be terrible.” As long as we listen to those voices, we don’t move ahead.
Perfectionism. It’s great to want to do things well, but we often are way too picky about how things must be. For example, the guy who wanted the perfect location. Or the woman who was sure she wasn’t going to be the perfect teacher. I’m in the process of writing a book about how to start a writing business, and I was getting hung up on trying to make it totally complete. A friend of mine gave me some advice: “My rotten published book is better than your perfect unpublished one.” So I’m sending it off to be printed. How about, “My ok writing business is better than your perfect unstarted writing business.”
“Don’t just do it.” We figure we have to start at the beginning and work toward the end, in some kind of specific sequence. Then when we get stumped at a certain point, we figure there’s no way around. Not necessarily. Sure you will have to get a loan before you can start buying that computer you want, but there are lots of things you can do to get started with little money, and there are lots of paths, not just one.
After all my thinking about how to work with people who have “Fear of Starting Up,” I came across a book (as you knew I would) that I want to share with you. It’s the “hot” new motivational book The Four-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss. (Crown Publishers, 2007). Ferriss talks about the process of escaping the 9-5 live, living anywhere, and joining the New Rich. While Ferriss’s life probably isn’t feasible for you and me, there is much in the book to help you think differently about your life after Palmer. Here’s what Ferriss says about conquering fear:
First, define your nightmare. What is the worst thing that could happen if you fail in your new writing business? What’s the monster at the end? Spend some time thinking about this. Create a worst case scenario. Then consider two factors: Probability and Severity. These are insurance terms, but they apply. First, what’s the probability (on a scale of 0% – never happen, to 100% – guaranteed to happen) of failure? Then look at the severity – the cost – of failure. While I’m not a fan of dwelling on the negative, I do believe you need to look under the bed to convince yourself there really are no monsters under there (like Grover.)
Then look at the steps you could take to repair the damage. How could you get your life back on track if you fail in writing business? Spend some time thinking about alternatives, like starting again elsewhere, or working for someone else. Over the course of my adult life, I have had times when I lived very well, with a nice house and no worries about money. And I’ve had times that I lived frugally and worried about money. I can tell you the first is certainly more pleasant but the second is do-able. The frugal times are actually more clarifying, because you find out what is really important. Maybe cable isn’t the necessity you thought it was. And you really should think about the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” because it really is all small stuff.
Consider the outcomes and benefits of more probable scenarios. Think about what would your life look like in a “best case” scenario. Then set yourself to thinking that this is the more probable outcome of starting your own business.
Finally, Ferriss says, start working on your fears by taking baby steps to overcome them. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear. In your work toward starting your writing business, do one small task every day that will move you toward your start date. It might be as simple as calling the Yellow Pages and ordering an ad in the next book.
“What we most fear doing is what we most need to do,” Ferriss says, emphatically.
About.com suggests two positive things you can do to overcome your Fear of Startup:
Change your attitude to failure. Our culture tends to define people in terms of what work they do and how successful they are at it. But creating a business that fails does not define you forever. You’re not a failure if your business fails. I can give you lots of examples of successful business people who have had failed businesses. The only way you can fail is if you stop trying.
Prepare to succeed. Learn how to succeed by gaining knowledge of how to start a business. Start working on your business plan, your blueprint to successful business startup. Working on your business plan not only moves you toward your goal, it focuses your energy on positive action. By the time you are done writing the business plan, I think you’ll find you will see that startup success is not only possible, but you’ll feel more confident about starting your writing business.
So, Grover, I hope this discussion was helpful to you in getting you past the Monster of Startup and the paralysis that comes with this fear. My favorite all-time quote, from Henry Ford: If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.
It includes lots of useful information and resources to get you started putting together your business plan.