One year ago. That’s when I took the leap – transitioning from the corporate world to starting my own Lean leadership training, coaching, and consulting practice. This last year was full of highs, lows, and lots of learning.
People often say that you are most prepared and passionate about teaching the things that you need most. At first, I thought that this was all about my transformation from traditional command and control management to authentic, people-focused leadership. I thought that it was what I needed – past tense – that was the part of my work that applied to this old adage.
But this past year, I actually learned that it’s much deeper than that.
When Fear Creeps In
There’s this Magic Maze game that I use in some of my workshops. It’s pretty amazing and one of the outcomes happens to be that participants realize that the only way to find the path forward is to take wrong steps – to “fail.” The power of understanding gaps, planning experiments, taking action, and then learning through both successes and failures is something that I’ve believed in for years. I was really good at practicing this back in my corporate world – in a role that I was really good at and actually confident in. And, I am really good at coaching others through it.
But on this new entrepreneurial venture, I found myself back at square one. I didn’t know the right way to explain what I do or even how to market my business. I also wasn’t sure how to properly build a community or find new clients. I read books and participated in group training programs, but at the end of the day, I realized that the only way that I was going to figure it out was to set a hypothesis and take action.
And that’s when the paralyzing power of fear would set in. What if my message didn’t resonate? What if the technology didn’t work? What if I sounded like an idiot? What if – *gasp* – people said … No?
Process + Results
The fear ran deep. Despite the core basis of my business – Process + Results, I had fallen back. Back to equating my worth to the results.
Because I tied my worth to results, that’s where I focused. Each result’s win was exhilarating, but each result’s miss was painful. A “No” or “Not now” felt like a personal rejection – as if my human existence was somehow flawed.
The metrics are still important and they continue to help me learn. But because I was so obsessed with the end result of revenue generation, I kept finding myself stuck.
I looked for busy work – stuff that made me “feel” like I was working, but that didn’t require the risk of failure or rejection.
Of course, that’s a crazy mind trick since inaction inevitably leads to failure.
But my mind was trying to protect me. Trying to keep me safe from potential rejection. The problem was that my brain kept trying to set myself up for the deepest of rejection – my rejection of myself. My questioning of myself. My wondering if I was really built for this passion that I had developed.
Paralyzed by fear.
Fear and Change
In How to Ease the Pain of Change, I teach about how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Competency Model, and the Change Curve are all constructs that help us understand our human behavior – particularly as it relates to how we respond to change. I’m great at listening to others so that they can move past their frustrations and fears with change and trying new things. But when it came to myself on this entrepreneurial adventure, I wasn’t prepared for how that fear would push me into a state of inaction.
In the corporate world, I was awesome at my job, I was at the front end of innovation in leadership, and I had unshakeable confidence in taking risks and experimenting through problem solving and innovation. Then, I stepped out into the world of entrepreneurship and things suddenly began to change.
I was vulnerable. I wasn’t the expert. I didn’t know the answers. And all of a sudden, the beliefs, behaviors, and systems that I teach and coach others on, now, were things that I desperately needed in my own work. I see you, universe, playing that big ole’ joke on me! Yes. What I am passionate about and an expert at teaching to others was now something that I also needed to teach myself.
Moving from stable, expected work and income to entrepreneurship was and still is a massive change. On the competency model, I was jolted from Unconsciously Competent to Consciously Incompetent. And, not on some small aspect of my work. It was my entire work. A piece of my identity. My livelihood.
I have a whole new appreciation for how uncomfortable and fearful the Consciously Incompetent quadrant can be.
Overcoming Fear and Inaction
Now, I find myself having to repeatedly reset my focus on the process – the small behaviors and action that would eventually lead to results. Instead of focusing on blog views or open rates, I step back and focus on writing for a certain amount of time each day. Instead of focusing on how many people say yes to my new pilot program, I focus on spending time each day, inviting people to join.
As I continue to find myself in these states of inaction, I also continue to work to break the cycle. I employ the tools that I use with clients to self-coach myself. To bring myself back to purpose. To ask myself good questions. To challenge the false beliefs that are holding me back.
I also get help. I work with my own coach to bring that outside perspective. To challenge me. To inspire me.
And, I practice. I start small and continue to practice taking action so that I can fail more quickly. Learn more quickly. Adapt more quickly.
It’s an ongoing practice.
How Paralyzing Fear Makes Me Better
As I reflect back on this year, I am grateful for this experience. I better understand the emotions and fears that people face when we start asking them to change the way that they lead, to change the way that they think, and to change the way that they work. Because I was so experienced and confident in my corporate world, I hadn’t felt the depths of these fears before. I could empathize with them, but it wasn’t coming from a place of personal experience.
But, now it is.
I know that I’ll better serve my clients because I now have also experienced that paralyzing power of fear.