March 25, 2014

Managing Fears when Embarking on New Endeavors. ~ Catherine la O’

Photo: Harry Eggens on Pixoto.

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” ~ Plato

Starting something new is not easy.

Taking a leap of faith into a whole new career, launching a new business on our own or doing something that brings us out of our comfort zone can leave us feeling uneasy. Learning a new skill from scratch can make anyone feel unsure, especially when we enter a field surrounded by others who have been doing it a while.

The internal obstacles one faces when launching a new endeavor are often times more challenging than external ones. Fear and doubt can become regular visitors. At first they may start out subtle, but if success isn’t immediate, they can become more prominent.

I would like to offer you a set of strategies which I have discovered to be an effective tool to use for building an internal system of support when fear and doubt come knocking on our door. They can be used as daily check-points to help ease our worries during an un-nerving transition.

The ideas were gathered from a collection of books (referenced below) and include my own thoughts on the process. If you’d like to dig deeper, I highly recommend reading them, or you are always welcome to contact me to discuss the various ways in which I can support you during your transition.

When fear or doubt starts to arise, you may refer to these check-points to overcome internal roadblocks on your path.

1. Allow Ourselves to be Beginners.

This is a tough one for us Perfectionists. If we find ourselves caught up in needing it to be perfect, we are setting ourselves up for failure. As Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, points out, “The perfectionist fixes one line of a poem over and over—until no lines are right. There are no first drafts, rough sketches, warm-up exercises. Every draft is meant to be final, perfect, set in stone.” Approaching new endeavors from this perspective will have us feeling defeated before we even begin.

When we allow ourselves to be beginners, we allow space for growth without input from the Inner Critic. The best way to gain experience is to have the experience. Perfectionism prevents us from exploring who we are and what our true capabilities are because no matter what we do, it’s never going to be good enough. We often compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing it better, but our scope of another’s plight is limited. Cameron writes, “We don’t compare our student films to George Lucas’s student films, we compare our work to Star Wars.” Allowing yourself to be a beginner is a very important first step in mastering any skill.

Daily Check-Point: When you find your Inner Critic chiming-in, remind yourself that everyone was a beginner at one time. Make it a point to speak with others you find successful and hear their stories of when they were beginners. It is very reassuring.

2. Refine Our Skills.

Mess up. Learn. Refine. Repeat. Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Put your head down and practice your skill every day. I once asked a successful tech friend how he learned so much about computers and his response was, “By breaking a lot of them.” He tested things out. He was curious and explored. He found all the edges by going past them.

Keep practicing, keep writing, keep painting, keep watching how others who have succeeded at it do it, and if there are no others who do it, just forget everyone else and keep doing it.

Whatever you do, do it every day no matter what. Anyone who mastered a skill did so because they spent a lot of time doing it regardless of setbacks. They just don’t stop. Winston Churchill said it best, “The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem…Never give in, never; never; never; never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty/If you are going through hell, keep going.”

Daily Check-Point: Ask yourself, “What have I done to develop my skill today? Have I gotten caught up in other things: distractions/business administration tasks? If so, how can I adjust my schedule to ensure I have time to practice my skill today?”

3. Manage Our Fears.

This one is a bit of a son-of-a-bitch. Fear can break us if we let it and, truth be told, I don’t know that we can ever break it. I have a feeling it will always be there. Because we are the type of people who strive for something better, we are likely the people who will always be challenging ourselves to rise to the next level. But what usually accompanies the next level is fear, so we might as well find a way to be OK with it being there.

The best way I have found to manage fear is to face it head on and that usually starts with naming it. I have fear. I am scared. I feel vulnerable. Fear can come disguised as an excuse, so take notice as to when you are making excuses about something and don’t get tricked by fear’s illusions.

Once you name it, you give yourself the option: do I succumb to it, or do I do it regardless of the fear?  Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art says, “[The professional] is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage. The goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.”

And, sometimes, those insides are riddled with fear and excuses.

I have found that part of learning how to manage my insides is to be somewhat guarded on the outside. I know this probably goes in opposition to what most people say (and I am open to other opinions), but for me, holding some of my work close to the chest is helpful.

Julia Cameron warns that if we show our work too soon and we are not ready for feedback, it is a risk that may have us close up shop and send us back to where we came from. This is especially true when we choose to embark on a path that is so intimately close to our hearts.

But don’t confuse this with perfectionism. This isn’t about holding your work until it’s perfect; this is about choosing who we share it with and at what stage. There are some people that you may choose not to discuss your work with in great detail.

You don’t need to hear their warnings that feed your fear; no matter how loving their intention is, you don’t need to hear it.

Choose your supporters and stick with talking to them about your work in its current state. They are the ones that are going to give you the insight and feedback you need to progress and grow, not retract and hide. There is wisdom in deciding when to tell who what.

Daily Check-Point: Learn to identify when it’s fear. Before saying, “No” to a new job, stop and ask yourself, “is it really because I don’t have time? Or does it just scare me?” Imagine taking on the work and see how it feels. Does it feel like you are overextending yourself with time? Or does it feel like you want to crawl under the covers and hide? Name fear as fear and choose not to act on it. Instead see

4. Seek to be Inspired.

If I had one wish for everyone on this planet, it would be to live an inspired life. It is my belief that this is the single most awesome feeling that one can have. Use inspiration as a barometer. Figure out what inspires you and focus on doing that. If you begin to feel deflated by something, reassess where your inspiration lays and recalculate your path to follow it. Hopefully, this brings you back to number two and the skill you are cultivating.

Inspiration motivates; it disempowers fear and just feels so good.

Civil Rights activist, Audre Lorde, reaffirms this notion, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

When we are driven by inspiration, fear has no choice but to step aside. Churchill agrees, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Inspiration is contagious. When people see your inspiration, they want some of it. Business will follow that. When we are inspired, we are working from a place of “what feels good.” And I say, why not live like that?

Daily Check-Point: Lost your path? What feels good when you do it? Which task do you “lose time with” because you are so engaged and inspired when you do it? Do that. Use inspiration to bring you back to center.

I wish you all the luck and enlightenment that comes with being courageous enough to put yourself on this new path.

If you would like to hear about the many ways in which I can support you during this time, please feel free to contact me. I am here in service to you and your goals.


Recommended Reading:
The Artists Way, Julia Cameron
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
Reflections on the Art of Living, Joseph Campbell
One Person/Multiple Careers, Marcy Alboher


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Catherine la O'