It’s been a long search for a new gig. And at this point, after a metric ton of coffee and 472 opportunities to perfect my pitch on what I’ve been up to, I have found very little that has fired me up enough to want to join. Saying I’m “frustrated” barely scratches the surface. So I’ve been mulling the option of starting a company from scratch.
You wouldn’t think it would be a big deal. I’ve done it before, and I’ve had success, as have lots of my friends and colleagues. It’s not like I’m aiming for a drug-free Tour de France victory. But the demons keep yelling at me: You’ll lose track of your family. You’re too old. It’s too much work. It’s not interesting. You’ve done it already.
Anyone who has struggled to pursue challenge because they know it’s the right thing, even if they don’t have to, will recognize the dilemma. It’s like wanting to write a novel, and just staring at a piece of paper in front of you.
Lately my life has been a 12-round cage match with those demons. As my self-imposed deadline for a new gig inches closer every day, I thought I’d save others some trouble and share what I’m learning about taking big leaps.
1. Know why the fear is there
The biggest risk we all face, and the biggest tragedy, is a life unlived – one that fails to reach its potential. Joseph Campbell describes this in The Hero with a Thousand Faces as the tragedy of a hero refusing the “call to adventure” and staying home instead:
“Often … we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim.”
Or as Westley from The Princess Bride says, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
Humans weren’t meant for a life of comfort. It’s the worst plague on our first-world society – the reason we’re a depressed, overweight, over-medicated culture. We’ve lost our purpose. We’re built for walking 10 miles a day to track a small amount of food, and we use that body and mind to get drive-thru on our way home to binge-view Game of Thrones.
Fear should be one of the meters on our dashboard that we’re heading in the right direction in life. If it’s below a certain level, we aren’t living fully. Too high, and life will overwhelm you. But in the right amounts, fear guides us towards what we need. That’s why Eleanor Roosevelt’s “Do something every day that scares you” has become such a rallying cry for modern society. Some part of us wants to be in Game of Thrones. But all the base needs are taken care of, so we must manufacture situations to freak ourselves out.
2. Understand your fears
There are two types of fears that emerge when leaving one path to do something entrepreneurial: fear of doing it, and fear of not doing it.
The fear of doing it is a fear of failure, loss of money, damage to your reputation or image, and a general concern that the process will suck.
The fear of not doing it is potentially much worse, though we may not recognize it at first. Here’s a snapshot of what I see as the entrepreneurial “Fear Spectrum” (sounds like a canceled Fox reality show), ranked from least evolved to most.
Understanding where you fall on this spectrum can help you get a grip on your motivations, and how to harness them.For me, financial success and reputation were my main motivators early in my career. Later, my deepest fear became a life gone by where I wasn’t true to myself, one that didn’t match up to my potential or leave the legacy I had envisioned.
It’s possible to over-invest in a specific, fixed narrative for our lives, which are by nature in constant flux. When the story plays out differently than expected, it can create stress, unhappiness and an inability to be “in the moment” (the deep desire of choice for all of us over-stimulated wannabe spiritual types). That’s why being true to yourself (and not just your legacy) is the final stage of the model.
3. Draw courage from the people you love
If your decision lies within you and you alone, it can fester and result in paralysis. But share it with other people who matter to you, and suddenly you’ve replaced your 89-octane Camry-gas with liquid hydrogen.
In a previous post I mentioned Plato’s Symposium, an ancient philosophical text on the nature of love and desire. One of the characters, Phaedrus, says love is the greatest guide to virtue and courage. By way of example, he describes how soldiers in battle aren’t lacking fear, but rather they do not want to be shamed in front of the comrades they love. The more love, the stronger their ability to get past their fear.
Plato’s idea is succinctly rephrased in the 1943 US Army Officers Guide:
“Physical courage is little more than the ability to control the physical fear which all normal men have, and cowardice does not consist in being afraid but in giving way to fear. What, then, keeps the soldier from giving way to fear? The answer is simply– his desire to retain the good opinion of his friends and associates…his pride smothers his fear.”
Like most challenges in life, finding the courage to make big moves in our lives relies on purpose and love.
As for me, it’s become clear my biggest barrier is that I haven’t brought anyone “into the boat” with me yet. My fear is 95 percent due to a lack of the right people. When there’s no one to be ashamed in front of in battle, we create our own characters in our minds and turn the shame on ourselves. (Watch too much Game of Thrones, and those characters might do some pretty twisted things to you.)
So this next phase is about doing an honest day’s work while finding the right people to join me in the journey. Maybe then I can have fun storming the castle.