It doesn’t matter if you work for yourself or some big multinational corporation, fear is with us every day. We fear screwing up and getting fired. We fear losing clients. We fear accidents. We fear other people. If you’re a writer, or want to be one, you sometimes fear the blank page. In fact, it’s possible that we fear almost everything that gets processed in our brains.
The Two Main Kinds Of Fear
To me, fear has always broken down into 2 distinct areas. The fear of things you can’t do anything about. And the fear of things that you can resolve or control.
The fear you can’t do anything about is the big stuff. Stock market crashes. Terrorism. Natural disasters. Crazy human beings. Disease and death. Stuff like that. I could tell you that there’s not a lot of sense is being fearful of these things and on one level you might believe me. But if you have conditioned yourself to be fearful, nothing I say or anybody else says will help. You’re just gonna have to live with it or break the fear habit.
The fear you can do something about is what you should be working on. This is the fear that most people carry around in their back pockets like an Iphone. Every so often it rings and you know it’s not gonna be good news.
The Irrational Fear Of Rejection
A lot of people in business have a well-developed fear of rejection. This is probably the most common fear of all in business. But if you ask a really effective salesperson about fear of rejection, they will invariably tell you that rejection comes with the territory and that it’s a numbers game. 80% is a pretty common figure they use when quantifying rejection.
The other side of the coin is that 20% that you breakthrough to. However, you can only get there by going through 100% of the process. It’s never going to be easy. But it doesn’t have to be something that paralyzes you either.
These same salespeople will also tell you that it’s not personal. People who buy stuff for their companies, whether it’s products or services, understand that they are going to be getting a lot of people calling to sell them stuff. It’s part of their job to deal with people trying to do just that. If they’re professional, they don’t take it personally. They listen and decide. If they don’t need it, they politely decline. If they are interested, you get a meeting. But you always keep moving on to the next one.
If you think about it in these terms you’ll see that most fear of rejection is actually self-generated, and happens before the fact or as a part of your anticipation. And if it is, it can be self-regulated. And that’s really all about your attitude.
How I Got Out In Front of My Fear
When I started in the advertising agency business, my first job was kind of a paid internship where I just took stuff in. It was a small agency and all I had going for me was the ability to string words together. I knew very little about either the art or the science of persuasion. I wasn’t expected to perform all that much, although I did a bit.
But my second job. That was the one that scared the hell out of me.
It was at a big agency called Vickers & Benson and at the time, it was the hottest agency in Canada. On my first day, when I walked into the reception area and saw all the great ads hanging on one wall and all the awards hanging on another wall, I almost crapped a brick. What had I gotten myself into?
The people I met that first day were really nice to me, but I got the underlying theme, ‘Everybody here is hot stuff. We expect you to be that way too’.
I spent the first six months in a state of panic. Every time I got an ad or commercial to do I sweated through it, paranoid as hell. Every time I had to show something to my group head for approval, I felt a huge lump in my gut. Projectile vomiting was an ever-present possibility.
Then one day, my group head and my (very senior) art director came into my office and closed the door and I thought, ‘Oh no, this is it. The jig’s up. I’m toast.’
But, despite my worst fears, it was not that way at all.
In fact, it was the day that everything changed. They sat down and told me that, though they hadn’t really said anything up to that point, because they needed the time to evaluate me, they thought the work I was doing was exceptional. But what they really wanted me to do was to understand that I was a real live ad agency writer now, and that I did not need to fear the work, but embrace it.
These guys both had about 15 years more experience than me, and I really respected them. So I was a bit blown away by all that. It didn’t sink in right away. But over the next few months I noticed that I was having more fun. I was looser. I was gaining confidence and though I was pretty sure I had not actually conquered my fear, I was at least out in front of it a little. And that felt good.
Fear Has Its Utility
What I started to feel after that day kept growing. In fact, it has been growing ever since. The fear I feel has shrunken into a tiny little ball that floats around in my head. Sometimes I feel it, but most of the time I don’t.
It’s still there, and that’s a good thing, because it keeps you on your toes, knowing that if you screw up, that fear will grow and make you uncomfortable and unhappy, and who wants that?
In hindsight, the fear I felt when I first arrived at Vickers & Benson was a combination of intimidation and anxiety about being able to perform up to high standards.
But, and this is important, we all can only do what we can do. You are who you are, and if the market out there, or some boss inside some company doesn’t recognize that you are working hard to be the best professional you can be, that’s their problem. It’s only your problem if you’re slacking off, because you’re cheating yourself and those you may be responsible for.
Fear Is The Mind Killer
Frank Herbert (Dune)
Fear can make us feel vulnerable and weak. It can also make us easy prey out there in the business world.
But it’s like the glass half empty/glass half full analogy. Every day, you have a choice. You can give in to your fear. Or you can push it aside for a time and concentrate on being the best professional you can be.
If you do that, and I mean really work hard at it, you’ll see your fear for what it really is, a controllable force. It’s always going to be there. But you make the conscious decision every day that it’s simply a tool that you can use to make sure you are doing whatever it takes to be your best.
I know this can all sound like bullshit. But that’s a choice you make too. Because it can also sound like good advice from somebody who has been there and in fact is still there, but out in front of his fear. And working hard to keep things that way.
I’m not a motivational speaker or business coach. I really don’t have anything to gain by telling you this stuff, other than the satisfaction that comes from sharing advice. I’m just a writer and this is just part of what I went through to become a real one.
You know what you want…you know what it looks like…you know where you can find it…over there, on the other side of your fear.
About the author
Jim Murray is owner and creative director of Onwords & Upwords Inc., a Toronto Ontario based creative consultancy.
O&U provides strategic focus, concepts, copywriting & editing, art direction and production in all on and offline media for SMEs and funded startups wherever they may be.