How to Overcome Fear of Risk

April 15th, 2016
Author: Kathy Heasley

Fear of risk can be the single biggest hurdle entrepreneurs have to overcome. Surprising, since most entrepreneurs consider themselves, first and foremost, risk takers. And the biggest risk isn’t money. It’s the loss of self-confidence. Risks are necessary pre-requisites to growth, so how do you overcome your fear and grow, grow, grow?

I’ve owned HEASLEY&PARTNERS for 20+ years. I’ve been through a lot of business cycles. Building a brand based on the concept of HEART was risky in 1994 when people were telling me, “You’re too sensitive, too nice for business.” I knew what I did worked (in those days it was just me), so I kept going. But I was timid and lacked confidence to put myself out there. I was a silent worker for a decade.

Overcoming that fear of risk for me came unexpectedly on an Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) retreat. I thought I was just going to the mountains. Little did I know I was going on a life-changing Arizona rappelling adventure. Harnessed in, with one foot at the top of the ledge and the other just one step below on the 90-degree, 300-foot vertical drop, rope in hand, I realized I had a choice. I could step back up and feel like a failure, or I could take a leap of faith in myself and the mentor guides around me.

Intellectually, the choice was easy, but letting the rope slide through my gloved hand was so hard. I started to let go, then hesitated. Then looked at the guides and said, “I don’t know,” not wanting to finish the sentence as I put my foot back on top of the ledge.

They looked at me with eyes that said, “You can do it.” Mustering all my courage, at last more fearful of what staying at the top of the cliff represented than the descent itself, I stepped back off the ledge. As I began my descent it was exciting. “I’m doing this!” I thought. Then as I neared the bottom, I felt so happy and a surprise to me, powerful. I had power over me.

From that day forward I began to subconsciously act on this truth. If I could do that, I can do this. Regardless of what this is. Professionally, this has included standing up and speaking about HEART, branding and purpose in rooms of 4,000 people. Putting my ideas out in very public forums, open to ridicule. It’s included meeting and holding my own with leaders and dignitaries. And it has meant advising many people on how to build and run their businesses.

Confidence, no fear, that’s what wins. Without confidence everything feels risky.

So now you know my secret: I seek out and do things in other areas of my life that scare me. As the saying goes, “No one has ever found greatness in their comfort zone.”

For me that has included, yes, rappelling off cliffs, navigating level-4 rapids on the famed Payette River in Idaho, ocean kayaking, cycling through France and the biggest confidence builder of all, my intense, daily P90X work-outs—no exceptions.

I may sound like a daredevil, but I am not at all. That’s the point. Now, when I have to tackle a risky problem I draw on the wisdom that comes from time, business cycles and experience, of course. But I also draw on the courage from doing the things I “was once” afraid of. If I can do those scary things—and I can—I know nothing is out of my reach.

I have a quote that hangs framed in my closet. I see it every day. Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” She was right, and I do.