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The Three Most Common Fears That Hold Us Back

By Rebecca Chandler

By Rebecca Chandler

Since October 18, 2010, I have kept an article from USA Today by Henry G. Brinton on my desk – because of a quote in it. I've read and re-read the quote and paraphrased it to others.

". . . we can agree on things that we ought to fear," says Thomas Hibbs, Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor University. The result is that "the pursuit of happiness gets transformed into the pursuit of freedom from unhappiness."

I reference this often to check in with myself. Am I acting in ways that pursue happiness and success or are my actions simply diverting unhappiness and failure? Now, obviously, we all want to avoid unhappiness and failure, but at the same time, we don't want to live in fear.

We can relate this to any aspect of our lives, but from a business perspective, this means looking at our everyday decisions as either pushing for success or averting failure. These are not the same thing. For example, here are three common fears that keep us avoiding failure instead of seeking success.

  1. Fear of change.

It's easier to do the same things everyone else is doing or the same things we've always done. In an example taken from the book, "Blue Ocean Strategies," by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Cirque du Soleil created a completely new "circus" from the Ringling Brothers variety. They took risks that set them apart from their competitors and created something so entirely new, they were no longer in the same category as their previous competitors. Food for thought - In what ways are you standing out from the crowd? For example, are you servicing your clients in a way that others don't or can't? If so, take this uniqueness and spread the word through an aggressive marketing campaign – so that consumers see you differently than others – and you stand out.

  1. Fear of learning.

Today's world moves at break neck speed and the amount of information that streams at us constantly can be so completely overwhelming that we may feel ill-prepared to make decisions or have conversations because we feel we don't have a full grasp of the available information. That feeling can make us avoid learning new things because new things change into more new things and the stress of keeping up with all these new things – gives us a headache. Let's face it. It's highly unlikely that we could become experts on everything. However, that's no reason to abandon our natural curiosity. In business, this means examining new trends, technologies, or practices without the fear of having to fully master every nuance. The good news is that you can hire experts to help you with the detailed execution. You just need to understand enough to determine strategy and measure impact.

  1. Fear of confrontation.

I'm not suggesting that we become argumentative or overtly aggressive, but saying the things others want to hear versus saying what you really think is sometimes so much easier. A productive dialogue involves listening, considering, and communicating in a collaborative way and can result in better conclusions. But – speaking your mind sometimes results in risk of rejection or ridicule, so we remain silent or agreeable in order to avoid that uncomfortable feeling. Some of us could wallpaper our offices in rejected or bad ideas, but none of our good ideas will ever get implemented if we are afraid to communicate them. Like the lottery, we will not win every time, but we can't win if we don't play. In your business dealings, are you being honest with buyers, sellers, colleagues, and vendors in a productive way? Are you forming opinions before you've listened fully and considered what they have to say? You may even have a totally new outcome to an old conversation because now you've conquered the fear of saying what you really think and allowed others to respond.

One of my favorite movies is an Australian film, "Strictly Ballroom," an early work of Baz Lurhmann, director of "The Great Gatsby," and "Moulin Rouge!" The plot revolves around a ballroom dance competition in which the main characters dare to introduce "new steps," to the competition – to great opposition. The main characters press on – inspired by an elder's advice that "a life lived in fear is a life half-lived." I won't spoil the ending for you (because you really should watch this movie), but I think the quote has one of the most important lessons we can learn – that overcoming the fear of unhappiness and failure opens more doors to more happiness and more success.

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