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Fear Can Hold Us Back – But It Can Also Drive Us Forward. Here's How to Turn Fear Into Fuel.

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Steve Shloss, CFP®

Castle Financial

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Fear is one of the most natural emotions. In fact, according to Medical News Today, "The fear response has kept us alive. It is primal, and we should respect it. At the same time, it can be unpleasant and interfere with people's day-to-day functioning."

It often holds entrepreneurs back from pursuing their dreams and ambitions — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , nearly 75% of all ventures fail within their first decade. However, fear should not be the reason that any business fails. Fear can be rooted in a combination of stress and anxiety, which can become a serious mental health issue.


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To overcome the stress of fears and find success, detach emotions from decision-making. Be rational and focused when choosing a business and planning for success. Though challenging, my experience in starting a business offers insights. Confidence in tasks eases stress. As a new restaurateur, immersing myself in business tasks boosted my confidence and expanded my skills — and it can help you, too.

How I balance work and life

I recall hearing a folk song from the '60s that said, "Our life is more than our work, and our work is more than our job." That is exponentially true for me, as the co-founder of a restaurant franchise, as a physician and as a husband and father.

It is important to separate all of our several "selves," compartmentalize them and give each of them the attention they deserve, while attending to the needs and desires of those we care about: our spouses, children, colleagues and in my case, the co-founder of my business.

Here are three ways I compartmentalize :

  • When you are at work, be focused on work — request that family and friends only communicate when there's an emergency during work time. The new iPhone voicemail screening feature can help you avoid distracting interruptions.
  • When you are at home, be present with your family — that might mean no devices at the dinner table.
  • When you are out with friends, be a friend — listen, share and enjoy their company.

One of the most challenging periods of my entrepreneurial journey was in the early days of launching my food truck, while simultaneously pursuing my degree in dental school and caring for my family.

The truck had just begun gaining some traction in the local community. Juggling truck responsibilities, dental exams and family life was challenging. Balancing fresh ingredients, academic deadlines and family time felt like a daily tightrope walk. Despite the difficulty in compartmentalizing tasks, focusing on achieving balance allowed me to succeed. It's normal to feel you could have done more, no matter how hard you try to fulfill all duties.

Putting the "I" in team

Chances are, if you started a business, you began by identifying your personal strengths and weaknesses and assigned yourself a role in the organization chart for your new business that you had confidence you can master. Setting myself up for success as much as possible, I chose to delve deeper into the marketing aspect of the business while allowing my partner to focus on his strength in operations.

Discovering oneself in the business realm involves:

  • Self-reflection: Entrepreneurs benefit from deep self-reflection to identify strengths, values and passions. Crafting a bio for our website forced me to delve into my core.
  • Self-care : Entrepreneurs often neglect self-care, but it's crucial to take mental and physical breaks when under pressure. A brief walk around the block helps manage stress effectively.
  • Self-scheduling : Act as your own best boss by scheduling dedicated "me time" daily. Harvard Business Review emphasizes the importance of giving yourself permission for self-care. I use this time for creative tasks, forming a great creative team with me, myself and I.

Getting help when fear of failure becomes anxiety

The three fears all new entrepreneurs share are:

  • Fear of financial loss
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of the unknown

In launching my franchise restaurant, I conquered financial fear by investing only what I could afford to lose. Despite the daunting prospect of using my personal credit card amid student loan pressures, clear vision and strategic planning allowed me to decide confidently. Alternatively, you can explore options like applying for a small business loan, providing a lump sum to be repaid over time.

There are three basic ways to combat the generic fear of failure all entrepreneurs face:

  1. Get real: Confronting failure as a very real possibility is the way to avoid it. What we did was identify all possible causes that could lead failure, then reverse-engineered them — that means do what needs to be done by understanding exactly what not to do.
  2. Make a plan: A comprehensive, well-structured plan can instill confidence and help mitigate fears by outlining strategies and contingencies. For example, my goals as chief marketing officer included innovating our social media and furthering its growth to increase our audience reach. I looked to improve our Google metrics.
  3. Ask around: Seek guidance from mentors, advisors or experienced entrepreneurs. Start with your current network first . While I had brothers and a father who have started and ran successful business, I would never hesitate to ask for advice and help. Reach out to the local chapters of SCORE , the SBA or your chamber of commerce .

The key to overcoming fear is to recognize that while fear can hold us back, it can also drive us forward. Research has shown that fear of failure can also motivate greater striving for success. However, combatting the more serious mental health challenges of entrepreneurial stress requires emotional fortitude and often, professional help.

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Steve Shloss profile photo

Steve Shloss, CFP®

Castle Financial

Schedule a meeting