This article also appeared on Finweek on 28-Aug-2013
We all have fears and doubts. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. However the big difference between successful and unsuccessful people is how we deal with and conquer those fears. As Oprah Winfrey said: “The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free.”
Years ago in the Psychology 101 course at university, I remember learning about how to handle a phobia. As soon as possible after the fearful incident it’s important to go back to the place where it happened and re-enact it safely. By going through it again and taking charge of your actions and emotions in that situation, you realise it isn’t that scary after all, and that it won’t necessarily turn out bad every time. However if you don’t do this, phobias can grow like a cancer, spreading into all areas of your life. With my late grandmother I saw first-hand just how debilitating this could be. After a childhood fall on an escalator, she became too afraid to use them. Eventually this spread to lifts and stairs, and my grandfather had to carry her from one floor to the next in shopping centres, or worse, she would refuse to go wherever there might be escalators, stairs or lifts. When I was a university student, while cycling past the high school in Roosevelt Park, I had a serious bicycle accident, hitting my head on the road and breaking my helmet. Drawing on the anti-phobia technique, the first day that I was able to get on my bicycle again, I went riding on the very same route where the accident had happened. Yes, it was extremely scary, so much so that my heart was hammering in my chest all the way to the accident scene. But I made it my goal to just get to the next stop street after the site of the accident, and just focused on peddling furiously until I made it there. To this day I still remember the incredible feeling of triumph after I conquered my fear. Every time I have to face something scary, I focus on that feeling and not on what I’m afraid of. But if I hadn’t put that incident behind me, I don’t think I would have been able to ride a bike today, or to teach my kids how to, just like my gran couldn’t face escalators.
So what does facing your fears have to with business, you might be asking? This is where Oprah Winfrey’s story comes in.
Oprah’s big TV break came by accident. It turned out to be a fortuitous opportunity which her hard work and commitment had prepared her to seize. She later summed up her lucky break by saying, “I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”
According to Forbes.com, in 1982, Oprah co-hosted the local television news show in Baltimore, Maryland in the US. One of the station’s producers put together a mix tape of their work and sent it out to a number of major market stations, including WLS in Chicago. One of the on-air personalities on the tape happened to be Oprah.
So blown away were the WLS executives with Oprah’s work that they asked her to audition for A.M. Chicago, a glorified cooking show. Was she a guru in making food on live television? Not at all. Did this stop her? Definitely not.
Like any of us would be in Oprah’s position, it was natural for her to be nervous about taking on a new role in unfamiliar territory in the US’s third largest media market. However, she balanced her apprehension with a lifelong aspiration to confront and conquer her fears, later saying, “I have a lot of things to prove to myself. One is that I can live my life fearlessly.”
Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs are usually not blind to risk. It is simply their attitude to risk that is different. Entrepreneurs like Oprah tend to see risky situations as opportunities to be taken advantage of. In her words: “I believe that one of life’s greatest risks is never daring to risk.” Oprah’s view of risk and fear is shared by many successful entrepreneurs. Another well-known entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki said: “The primary difference between a rich person and a poor person is how they manage fear.”
But you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to have this innate courage to tackle your fears head-on. Nelson Mandela, one of the most courageous icons of our time, himself said: “I learned courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who doesn’t fear but he who conquers that fear.”
No matter what walk of life you come from, regardless of whether you’re in corporate or an entrepreneur, your fear is often the only thing standing between you and success. So what are you waiting for? As Nike says: “Just do it.”