I have never lacked fire in the belly, but I have not always had nerves of steel. This has been a trait I have had to develop. It took years to do so, and the corporate world was a great training ground for me. But when it is your money and your venture on the line, the stakes go up, causing you to lose more sleep. There is no motivator like sheer terror. This has been one of the most difficult aspects of entrepreneurship that I have had to learn to deal with.
I love to recount the story of Wilson Harrell and the way he described his battle with fear.
As a fighter pilot during World War II… I was shot down behind enemy lines. There, badly burned, I was picked up by members of the French Underground, who devised a unique and cynical way to hide me from the Germans: They buried me in a cornfield with a hose stuck in my mouth so I could breath. The first time they buried me, I lay there for four hours – time enough to consider all the bleak possibilities. I figured the Germans would 1) stick a bayonet through the dirt and into me; 2) riddle the hole with bullets; 3) accidentally kick the hose; or worst of all, 4) turn on the faucet. For 11 days in succession, I was buried. For 11 days I lived with a new unwanted friend – stark raving fear. (“Entrepreneurial Terror,” Inc. Magazine, February 1987)
Harrell went on to state that the only thing that matched the intensity of the fear was the exhilaration he experienced as he was unburied each morning.
And so it is with entrepreneurship. When everything is going as planned, you will feel higher than you ever have before. But if it starts to bury you, you’ll lie awake at night, just waiting for the bayonet to come through the dirt or for the water to seep down the hose.
Terror is like exercise. It is intimidating at first, but once you get intimate with it, you realize it is not as painful as you first imagined. It can function as a powerful motivator, keeping you alert and focused.
As an entrepreneur, you will have daily opportunities to confront and conquer your fears. If you let it, the fear will keep you alive and moving. There will be times when the uncontrollable fear of uncertainty surges into your throat. Thoughts like, “Will the receivables get here before the payables are due?” “Will the market sustain?” and “Will I be able to generate enough cash to make payroll?” will become your “unwanted friend[s].” These questions might not sound too scary right now, but connect the answers with your bank account, your home, and your family, and you’ll understand what I mean by terror.
Whatever questions or circumstances instill fear in your heart, work through them. You can and you must conquer them to achieve the exhilaration, confidence, and rewards that await you as a successful entrepreneur. I’ll never forget the absolute joy I felt when I made the first $100 of what would grow into a multimillion dollar venture, lying in bed after snapping my Achilles. Was I terrified? Yes! But I let the fear lead me to success. You can do the same.
Porter’s Points – Terror
- You will experience terror–allow it to be a motivator.
- Visualize the exhilaration you will experience as you confront and conquer your fears.
- Accept this truth: overcoming fear will write the first chapter of your success story.
So if the challenge ahead fills you with terror, let that fear motivate you to succeed!