fearful eyes

I am motivated by fear

A version of this essay was published as part of my twice-monthly newsletter several weeks ago. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Someone asked me recently what was the biggest motivator for me to start a company, and I told him it was fear.

That’s true, if still somewhat self-deprecating.

When I helped launch the small publishing company that employes a couple dozen people today, all of the moves included fear. I was genuinely terrified that I was failing, that I would continue to fail and I would be a failure.

Fear is a powerful force for inaction. Hope is better to inspire action.

That is somewhat different when it’s your own fear, when you have control of it. Over the last eight or nine years, I have found a way to (mostly) bottle and throttle the fear that might otherwise consume or cause inaction. It might be something I do well: take the ugly emotions I have in me and try to do something.

Back in 2011, I told a story at a Story Shuffle (yes, my weekly podcast of the Story Shuffle is still going so you should subscribe and listen!) about using jealousy, a brutal and petty emotion I’m regularly consumed, to do something positive. It’s often something similar with fear, a feeling I still often have. Because let me be clear: I still fight these ugly emotions daily, they’re consuming, but I’ve found ways to win.

Over time, the emotion has gotten somewhat more complicated, like my own recipe to avoid inaction. Yes, it’s fear, but I often mix it with guilt and stress. And where that could paralyze me, I take another step and balance it with hope. Like those early days of my company, I still might wake up in the middle of the night in fear. I might be enjoying a relaxing Sunday or want to sneak out of the office early and be struck with that paralysis stew made of fear and guilt and stress. But I turn those emotions around and use them as fuel, they’re what keeps me moving. Then I take a moment to remember life is no journey just a complicated dance, and give myself some hope in that I will find a way to make something right. (Oh and I do find time for myself, or at least I’m working on it).

I sometimes send out a little compliment to a friend or colleague — a message or comment or email — and that buoys me. Then I remember tomorrow the sun will rise. And it does.