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After somewhat accidentally entering the startup world a little over a year ago, one of the things that has blown me away again and again is the way startup entrepreneurs are willing to try anything. There is an openness to just having an idea, throwing it against the wall, and seeing what sticks, that I still sometimes find completely surprising and unnerving.

Don’t get me wrong; I love that about the startup world. It thrills me, and makes me feel giddy when I see it in action. I just didn’t think that’s how things were done, anywhere. The boldness of having an idea and then seeing what would happen if you tried to execute it is something I thought was reserved for…well I don’t know who I thought it was for, but it definitely wasn’t for you or me or anyone we know.

But then it turned out that there was this whole world of people, having ideas and then just *doing* them. Taking their ideas as far as they could, changing them halfway through if something wasn’t working, and then just continuing on.

And I realized, it wasn’t that there was a certain set of people who were allowed to dream big and start companies and do whatever they thought was best with their lives and careers. It was just people — any people — who decided to do that thing they thought of doing. People who weren’t afraid to just try an idea or pursue a dream.

And try is all they did. Starting a company is really just a long series of small steps. So is achieving the job of your dreams, or starting that painting or novel or artisanal soap store that’s been floating around in the back of your mind. There’s no secret; it’s just about taking that first step, and all the ones that come after.

Nothing is impossible to someone who just takes action. All you have to do is start.

Will you start?

Why we’re afraid to try

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten in my life was this: “There are always a million reasons not to do something.”

In other words, you’ll always be able to find a good reason not to do something if you’re looking for one. Doing *anything* comes with risks, and doing anything you really care about comes with many more. Risk of failure, risk of losing money, risk of looking stupid, risk of hurting relationships, risk of realizing you weren’t actually able to do that one thing you always wanted to do.

Kate M got an email this week from one of our first Leadership Sparks users. He wrote us to ask how you get up the nerve to share something you’ve written with the world. How do you overcome that fear that tells you publishing this blog post could be a huge mistake?

This kind of thought comes to so many of us when we’re gathering up the nerve to try something new. We tend to try to talk ourselves out of doing something new, whereas the most successful and happiest people are those who find reasons to talk themselves into doing something new. So how can we — the nervous, the onlookers, the timid — get up the nerve to be bold and try something new?

I think it happens when you realize that the really scary thing is *not* trying.


Why we should be afraid *not* to try

As the saying goes: if you keep doing the same thing you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

When you’re shaken by fear of pursuing a new idea, try thinking of it inversely than you have before. Instead of thinking of all the ways that failure would hurt you, try thinking of all the ways that *not* trying will hurt you. Think of the disappointment that will come from not trying, and the pain of staying stuck in the same place when you’re yearning for something more.

If you hate your job today, think of how much you’ll hate it when you’re still doing it in ten years. Remember that business idea you had a year ago? If it’s still nagging at you today, making you feel guilty, how much longer will you let that go on?


(If you need a little extra push for motivation, try figuring out how many days you have left on Earth. Take your current age and multiply it by 365. Then subtract that number from 27,375, the average lifespan in days, and take a look at how little time you have left to waste!)


Inverting your fearful ideas is a great trick for getting over many of the biggest hurdles in the way of achieving our dreams. It’s even a helpful way to pinpoint what exactly your dream is, if you don’t know it yet.

For example, you may know that you don’t like your current job. You know you want to leave, because you don’t like what you do all day and you don’t like the people you work with. But with that information, all you know is what you don’t want. That’s not helpful for deciding where you’re going or what you want to be doing when you get there.

Instead, try thinking about what you *do* want. Think in the affirmative, and instead of crossing off things you don’t want, focus on adding things you do want.

Ask yourself, what does my ideal team look like? Who is my ideal boss? How often do I collaborate, and how often do I work alone? What am I most proud of? What do I get excited to tell people about that I’m working on?

Don’t be afraid to write it down. Not only will that make it more real (and that’s a good thing! think of it as a small first step down the path towards your dreams) but then you will have a concrete thing to return to when you need inspiration or a reminder of why you’re working so hard.


Reset your bar for what’s possible

How many times have you had a great idea, and then almost immediately laughed it off or pushed it aside, because there’s no way to you have the time, or money, or brains, or connections to do something like that?

I have a very low bar for what’s possible (it’s something that I’m working on, so this blog post is as much for me as it is for you!). This means that my biggest problem is that when I have an idea, a light comes on in my head that signals to me: “That’s not something that’s possible. Next!” and it gets quickly disregarded.

My default option has been to assume that something isn’t possible, and not worth further research. This is a bad instinct, if you want to live the kind of life where you make things happen.

One way I’ve been trying to combat this is to force myself to examine every idea that comes my way, to pursue every potential friendship or connection that crosses my path, and to focus on the reasons why something could work over the reasons why it couldn’t.

How often are you shooting down your own ideas? Make a conscious effort this week to ask questions, rather than dismissing an idea. Even if it turns out to be a crazy idea, the act of forcing yourself to consider the ways in which it could work will do wonders for your ability to consider better ideas down the road when they come to you.

Encourage yourself to dream. And take yourself and your dreams seriously enough to try.


“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” — John Wayne

Make this week the week you finally take a step towards achieving your dreams. It’s not something you weren’t meant to do — it’s just something you haven’t decided to do yet.

So get moving, and take a small step forward this week.

Tags: fear, goals, growth, improvement, opportunity, sparks, startups,

4 Responses to “How To Stop Being Afraid and Take a Leap: Raise Your Bar For What’s Possible”

    • Kate Stull

      I love that. And it’s actually not bad advice; if you really put it into practice, I bet you’d be surprised how quickly your horizons expand… Thanks Todd!

  1. Samuel Anderson

    This is such a great post! Too often in life we get blinded by our fears and think that we are not meant for greatness. Anyone in life who has achieved any level of success has had to face these same fears. The only difference between them and someone who has not reached their goals, is the desire to want the thing more than they are afraid.

    • Kate Stull

      Exactly! Couldn’t have said it better myself. :) The only difference between you and someone who’s doing that thing that you want to do, is that they started doing it. Pretty empowering idea…

      Thanks Samuel!