I’m not scared of spiders or tight spaces or heights. In the summers, when I was a high school teacher, I hang gutter with a friend of mine. I would routinely be leaning out over the edge of three-story buildings, balancing and long run of gutter with one hand and trying to screw it into the building with the other.
Most of the things that people cite as their biggest fears, I just shrug off. My fears are much deep-seeded and sinister. They’re not the fears that keep you from riding a Ferris wheel. Or that send you frantically waving your arms when stinging insects start buzzing around.
My fears are the kinds of things that keep you from accomplishing your dreams. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. The kinds of fears that will keep your ambitions in quarantine.
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How I Manage My Fear of Rejection
I’m a pretty driven person, so I run into these fears pretty regularly. Typically, what I do is let them fester for a while. I allow them to dissuade me from pursuing certain courses of action.
I’ll give you a recent example, so we’re talking specifics. I have a running list of people who I want to interview for my podcast, Lawyerpreneur. Most of the names on that list are people who are recognized within certain niches, people who are well known within certain sectors. Others aren’t notorious at all, but they’re still doing innovative things that I want to interview them about.
But then there’s a third group on the list. People who have national renown. Whose names are immediately recognizable to millions of people. I want to talk to them, to interview them about their entrepreneurial journeys. But to do that, I have to reach out to invite them onto the show. To risk being rejected.
So back to how this manifests itself. I’ve had the idea for the Lawyerpreneur podcast (and eventual book, of course) for a couple of years. But I’ve done nothing with it because I know that it requires reaching out to dozens of people with interview requests. Some of them will say no. Others will say nothing.
The idea has lain mostly dormant for the last couple of years. Occasionally, I’d add another name to the list. I would work on my categories of lawyer-entrepreneurs. But what I would not do is actually reach out to any of the lawyers on my list and give them the opportunity to reject my invitation for an interview. I allowed my fears to control and inhibit my ambitions. Until I got fed up with it and asked myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Countering Fears with Likely Potential Outcomes
When the answer to “What’s the worst that can happen?” is that I could lose my job, and the family could starve as a result, then I don’t do the thing I’m considering. But those aren’t usually the stakes.
The potential rejection that I’m typically facing is that no one will read my book or my blog. No one will listen to my podcast. Or back to the instance at hand, the people I want to interview will reject my offer (or just never respond). And while those outcome wouldn’t feel great, they’re not earth-shattering either.
So after having wallowed in my fear for a while, I tell myself, “Buck up, buttercup,” and force myself to act.
Failing to act because of fear will keep you mired in your current situation. It will quench your ambitions and strip you of your motivations. Sometimes you have to punch above your weight class. You might get knocked out, but you might also land some punches. At least you’ll know the realities of what you’re up against, rather than just the collection of fears you’ve accumulated.
As much as anyone, I hate to put myself in a vulnerable position. But sometimes, you have to take measured risks. You can’t experience substantive growth without the possibility of failure.
Is fear holding you back? Analyze the risks. Assess the potential rewards. And buck up, buttercup. Nothing great was ever accomplished without risk. Risk of rejection, of failure, of embarrassment.
But those aren’t the real stakes. What you’re really at risk of losing is yourself. Your dreams and ambitions. Your driving force. By all means, don’t lose those things. Not on account of your fears, anyway.