Does Fear Control Your Future?

Published: 28th November 2005
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"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face...You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

--Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884-1962, Social Activist and Former First Lady.

Does fear stop you from striving for something you dream of doing? For some people, fear paralyzes them into inaction and appears as real as their reflection in the mirror. I'm here to tell you that even that reflection isn't always reality.

When I talk to clients for the first time who dream of starting their own business, the most prevailing emotion I hear, above that of hope, is fear. This is extremely common. When asked about their fears, they admit that they are afraid that they will fail, that people will laugh at them, that they will not be viewed as credible professionals worthy of attention. There is another fear that can pop up, addressed later.

First, this is our own perception of what 'reality' is. Second, what we DO with that fear can make the difference between a career of our dreams or looking back at our lives with regrets. Until we are real clear what it is we really want to do, it's hard to envision it being real, and the unknown is a very scary place. The clients who decide to work with me are the people who have a desire for their dream that is stronger than their fear, and they are able to allow themselves to take a chance; I have never heard any of them complain that they had taken that chance.

All successful people in the world have suffered some failures. Taking chances is a big part of entrepreneurship and leadership. Many people think of success and wealth when the name Donald Trump comes to mind, but it's important to remember that he has suffered some great losses in taking chances, too. Athletes such as Michael Jordan have taken as many missed shots as successful ones, but people remember the ones he did make, not the missed ones. All people known for their successes have taken chances and also suffered some failures. The difference is those failures didn't stop them from trying again. They had the knowledge that they could do it and stepped out to prove it!

The very first step in starting the path towards that dream is to set up goals. If you don't know where you're going, how do you plan to get there? We wouldn't dream of driving to a location without knowing how to get there; why would we assume it's any different with a business or career plan?

What do you honestly believe you can do? Sure, everyone can have doubts about what is possible for them. These beliefs, however, are what will hold you back if you are sure, in your mind, that you cannot accomplish your dreams. Often my clients start working with me with strong doubts that they can really create a thriving practice. However, by the end of our work together, their beliefs in what they can do has totally changed and they now know they can do anything they can imagine. In your list of beliefs, if you find one you do not really want to believe, focus on it. Write down what you want your belief to be, and then plan strategies on how to change that belief within yourself.

In the meantime, though, let's go back to a smaller goal, that isn't as scary. Perhaps your big dream is to become a famous author. You don't even know if you can write. So, a smaller goal would be to start writing small, simple articles for online article submission sites. Failure with this is not an option; the sites will accept articles on any topics. Another idea, if you dream of becoming a public speaker, is to offer to speak to a local community group on a topic of interest to the public.

Once you have written down your goals, it will suddenly become a little more real. It can take people a long time to even get this much done, however. The fears are still real. If you still struggle with this part, consider how lofty your goals are. Perhaps they are too overwhelming because they are encompassing too large a time period. So, if that is the case, create a goal for just the next six months. Sure, ideally you want to look at what you want to create in 5-10 years from now, but if that holds you back, it's still okay to create a 6-month goal.

Another strategy that you can take is to verbally tell yourself you have already accomplished your goals every morning. Wake up and tell yourself you have a thrilling, thriving private practice and just love going to work each day. Wake up and tell yourself that you have the dream job of your life and can't believe how lucky you are. The more you tell yourself what you want to be real, the more likely you will create that reality.

All of us must clearly define what it is we love to do in order to be successful at it. Without passion, we will not convey the message to potential clients or employers that we are good at what we do. Without enjoying the activity we have in mind, we won't give it our all.

However, just writing down the goal and setting in your mind may not be enough to propel you into action. As a good next step, to ensure you stick with the plan, tell others about your intention. All the clients I have worked with who have succeeded were telling people about their dream before they even contacted me. That showed intention. They had no doubt they would succeed. There's the reality; it's in our mind. If we know something can happen, it will happen.

As I progress with clients, though, there is another fear that starts to show its ugly face. The fear of success. This is not just a female trait; I have seen it in male clients, as well. Men just don't talk about it as easily as women do.

Fear of success is just as paralyzing as fear of failure but may show up later in the process of building the business. It may even be more paralyzing, though, because these are deeper-held beliefs. What if you accomplish all that you dream of but find you still are not happy? What if you are more successful than others who are so much smarter than you? Maybe you suspect that, for some reason, you do not deserve this level of success. What if you become someone you no longer like or that people will no longer like you for who you are inside? What if your success leads to the loss of those you love? What if the success suddenly is gone, just when you start to enjoy how it feels? Part of these fears have to do with lack of self-confidence and doubt that have helped keep you in your comfort zone for years. It's the creation of the self-fulfilling prophecy that 'I can never really make it big'. These fears show up through sudden lack of organization, indecision, procrastination and lack of motivation. However, just becoming aware of this fear can help resolve it because then you can create a strategy to address and resolve these issues.

As with ways to address fear of failure, there are also effective strategies to help work through fears of success:

Visualizing what your life will look like when you achieve these goals of success will help keep things in perspective.

Never allowing yourself to be ok with excuses will force you to face your fears.

Continue to monitor your level of commitment and motivation to reach your goals.

When you achieve a milestone in working towards your goals, it's important that you acknowledge those successes you have achieved. There may be others who you can acknowledge in your journey, too, thus being sure to include those who are important in your life and business along the way.

Be sure to continually request those in your life to continually give you honest, open, candid feedback when they see you backsliding or self-destructing. Learn how to honestly accept compliments and recognition from others, too, however.

It is important that creating this new dream encompasses all aspects of happiness in your life and has not been created as a way to escape something else in your life.

In 1996, it didn't even dawn on me to be fearful of starting my own small business. Sure, I wondered if it would be successful and if I would meet my initial business goals, but I also knew that there was no other option for me to choose; it was just the right thing for me at that moment. My initial goal was achieved in 1.5 years and I have never looked back, since. I just looked forward, towards the possibilities I know are always there, available for the asking.

When you allow fear to control who you will become and what you will do with your career, you will eventually look back at your life with regrets. We live for such a short period of time on this planet that it's a shame if we don't strive for the things we dream of doing. If there is anything in your life that you have dreamed of doing, but have still not made an attempt, I challenge you to consider stepping outside of your comfort zone and make that dream a reality. Sometimes doing this in just little ways can help you set the stage for bigger things in the future. Allow your fear of NOT doing it become a higher priority than the fear of trying and failing.

Marjorie Geiser is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and life coach. Marjorie has been the owner of a successful small business, MEG Fitness, since 1996, and now helps other nutrition professionals start up their own private practice. Margie also offers CPE courses on small business start-up. To learn more about the services Margie offers, go to her website at or email her at

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