How to Turn Fear Into FUEL

The title is one of my mantras and a WOW I’ve implemented in my life and businesses for many years. In fact, the current sweet spot in which I sit in my entrepreneurial career was fueled by fear: the fear of not being able to successfully tackle my biggest business challenge EVER—reinventing myself, and my work, successfully in new ways and for new markets. What if my talents and experience that got me to this level of success were just not enough to get me to my next one?

My biggest challenge in the original creative services business that I’d founded and operated for 30+ years occurred on a rainy Wednesday as I hung up the phone from yet another gruelingly difficult client phone call. In that moment, I fully realized and could finally articulate that, “I loved my work—and hated my job.”

The industry was changing dramatically; commoditization was all the rage, and the industries in which we worked were even trying to commoditize creativity. As the long-time entrepreneur of this vibrant and creative services company that I’d grown to a staff of over 80 in our own seven-story building, I suddenly realized that others couldn’t commoditize our creativity—unless I let them. And in that moment, I decided that I wouldn’t be doing that anymore.

That’s exactly when my biggest, quiet, isolated, tell-no-one, ENTREPRENEURIAL FEAR ever—set in. Resolve and fierce determination to embrace and create change are great and powerful, but they do not ever eclipse this kind of fundamental fear: What if my vision for my next iteration is NOT enough to achieve success doing only the work I adore? What if I’m not enough either? This duet of fears truly kept me awake at night.

Even with this fear—or perhaps because of it—I pushed forward—HARD. I began the intense and difficult three-year process of reshaping my company, moving from full service down to only our team’s unique, core creative offerings and redefining our business in ways that cannot be commoditized. I also set out to learn new skills by starting an entirely new B2C company, Teacher Peach, on a parallel track, an online retail company of teacher gift and student motivation products.

Writing these sentences makes the process sound so organized, clear, and direct; it was anything but.

I sifted, evaluated, made mistakes, and course corrected until I ultimately began to clarify and focus on the only work only WE can do, the creative problem solving services that set us apart. I began to only play to my strengths, reputation, and track record. The results began to signal me that my fears were unfounded or at least able to be addressed.

Each time I tackled a new aspect of my latest reinvention, ma sidekick of late, hovering fear, would enter stage left. I’d need to deliberately face each fear and knock it offstage. This ping pong event happened a lot, especially as I branched out into new markets and new businesses where my past successes were completely unknown. Fear continued to shadow me; it habitually tried to intrude and then would skulk away as I chipped away at each obstacle. Soon, I began to expect the fear. Somehow, knowing it would arrive right on schedule made it much less fearsome. That’s when I decided to put it to good use; if fear was going to show up anyway, it might as well further my progress. So I began to welcome this fear as fuel, as an indicator that I was indeed stretching and reaching into new work in new ways. That’s how I transformed fear into creative fuel. Each time it appears, I recognized it and it served to confirm I was making progress—and my fear was helping me to see it. I even wrote a book as an outgrowth of my transition experience, 99 Creative WOWs: Words of Wisdom for Business.

My biggest fear—and the bumpy process of overcoming it—had changed me. My own creative and business confidence returned. I love both my work and my job now!

My inventive and nimble boutique creative agency, QuaraCORE, is not for every client—and every potential client is not a fit for QuaraCORE and I longer try to make clients fit, either. It works both ways—and it works well.

Yes, there were trade-offs and it was both unnerving and challenging at many turns, yet my clarity of vision and commitment to love both my work and my job pushed me forward. My staff of 80 is now a dynamic dozen. I traded in my car service for a train pass, and I adore my train time. I walk 10-12 miles on a good day and I get to bounce into this eclectic and colorful office on the 19th floor of a buzzing office building every morning.

That little online B2C product company I’d started to learn new skills has more than doubled its sales from just a year ago with many number-one products on Amazon today—and growing.

So yes, because of facing my biggest fear head on, I now know that my vision is more than enough.

What fear is holding you back? Are you ready to face it as I did, and come out stronger, more focused and most importantly, HAPPIER than ever?

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