The truth about fears is that it’s hard for people to admit to having them. This is especially true of the seemingly impenetrable and infallible people who become senior leaders and CEOs. So, we instead look for other reasons to explain our hesitations. “I’m passing up on this merger because the corporate cultures won’t merge well”, or “We’re going to wait another year or so on the IPO because the timing just isn’t right,” may appear like the sound, risk-avoiding logic of someone who has the organization’s best interests at heart; but what if it’s not?
What if the hesitations you’ve been crediting to risk aversion are just a mask for your fear of failure…for a fear of being involved in something that could potentially bring about something negative for you, the organization, and everyone within it?
But, what if it brought about something wonderful? What if your fear is actually keeping you from doing more, helping more, becoming more, earning more, and living more?
There was a movie released back in 1991 called “Defending Your Life” with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. If you haven’t seen it, the storyline is about these two characters who have perished and meet each other for the first time while living in Judgment City, a place of transition where people go to “defend their lives” and determine whether they have earned the ability to move on or must go back to Earth and try it all again. In the courtroom, it all comes down to one question: “Did you live or did you allow lifelong fears to control your actions?”
What is your aversion really toward? Are you masking a fear of failure? If so, the result includes lost opportunities, an erosion in confidence, and worse. But you can stop the spiral with these tips:
- Come to terms. To be where you’re at professionally, you must accept that risks are part of the job. Things that may seem frightening are going to come your way, but must not be discounted simply because of fear. You must accept and move forward with giving it a fair consideration.
- Get real. With every potentially risky opportunity, you must perform due diligence. Get as much information as possible so your decision is always an informed one. Minimize the tendency to imagine the worst which often comes from ignorance based on a lack of sound evidence and information.
- Surround yourself. Do you have trusted advisors? If not, it’s time to consider getting some. Having people around you with whom you share mutual support for each other and the organization will help ease the burden on you while increasing the odds of a more balanced and thought-out strategy.
- Bounce back. Failure comes. It’s what teaches us and gives us character. Don’t resist it so much that you risk missing out on the potential for wonderful opportunities and rewards. When it affects you, get right back in the game. You will very quickly see that any failure makes you that much better at detecting the real risks—a truly invaluable lesson.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, said, “Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”