Taking Chances to Drive Change:
Five Steps for Moving from Fear to Action
By Julie Benezet
You have a dream, something you want to do that holds meaning for you and could create positive change for others. It might be anything:
- A training program that helps women in transition create and market products that lead to self-sufficiency.
- A political action organization that focuses on local housing issues and reaches out to other communities to leverage best practices.
- An advisory group for women entrepreneurs to teach them how to raise capital and then develop strong relationships with their investors.
- A new line of skin care products that uses formulas and ingredients from a remote region you would love to support.
Then come the voices.
You’ve been thinking hard about your dream, but each time you do, the voices start up in your head . . .
“People will laugh at me if I try this.”
“The idea could fail and hurt my reputation.”
“My peers will see me as too ambitious or a competitor.”
“It could succeed, then what?”
You pace the floor, stare out the window, dose yourself with strong coffee as you share your idea and fears with close friends. Beyond worrying, you aren’t taking any action. In short, you’re stuck.
Sound familiar? Coming up with a new idea can bring on a rush of excitement about the possibility of improving lives. The hitch is that until you try out a new idea, you won’t know how it will turn out, much less whether it will succeed. That is scary.
Scariness is a key ingredient of entrepreneurship. When something is new and untested, it comes with no guarantees. The risk of failure looms large. It also might succeed and make you proud.
In short, driving change requires diving into the unknown and taking chances.
However, you won’t get there unless you try, and that means starting somewhere.
Five Steps to Move You Forward
Here are five steps to become unstuck and move your dream forward:
1. Embrace your fear.
Risk travels in the background of any new idea. It goes with the territory of not knowing whether your idea will succeed. Without taking on the risky business of trying, however, you won’t learn whether your idea will work.
Become familiar with how you react to risk. You might find yourself having conversations with yourself about the many ways you might fail or all the criticism you will hear, even when they have no basis in reality. Nevertheless, old tapes can play loudly and add to your anxiety.
Risk also shows up in physical symptoms. They vary by the person. Some feel their muscles tighten and hearts race. Others get a headache or feel shaky.
No doubt, risk feels uncomfortable. Strange as it might sound, rather than focusing your energy on overcoming your discomfort, pay attention to what it is telling you. Treat it as a normal part of chasing a new idea.
Understand its message that you are up to something new, different and good. It also is a reminder to learn what you need to know to crystallize and test your new idea.
2. Launch a learning expedition.
Once you have chosen a dream, the detective work begins. Your job is to learn whether your idea will meet the needs of the people you want to benefit. That means asking them questions, lots of them, about how things are working, or not, and what they would like done about them.
“Oh,” you say, “that could be awkward.”
Possibly, but if you focus on shaping a successful idea, it will help steer you past those feelings.
To launch your investigation, contact a cross section of people from your target group. Tell them that you are working on a new idea and value their input. Once you have their attention, ask about their experience of the issue you want to solve with your new idea. Then shift to questions specific to the idea itself. If you are launching a new product, find out what they’d like to see in that product.
- Listen with an open mind.
- Ask follow-on questions.
- Avoid debating. If you don’t understand an answer, ask for clarification.
- Give them heartfelt thanks.
3. Make the call and jump in.
You might not know when, and worry about it, but the time will come to move from thinking to action. Some people set deadlines for themselves. Others can’t afford to wait because of money. Still others arrive at the decision point intuitively when they feel they’ve heard enough and want to rev up the engine.
The best decisions are made with a clear and calm mind. It does not mean you will know everything, but you will have learned enough to feel the risk of not going forward is less than the risk of staying stuck in place, going nowhere.
Awkwardness will not disappear. You might continue to feel a nagging sense of doubt. People could challenge you. “What are you doing?” or “Why are you doing that?” Often, it is their own fear speaking. Or, they might have valuable advice.
The important thing is that once you start, keep going on your path. Persist. Keep trying, learning and adjusting your idea as needed.
4. Watch out for self-sabotaging behaviors.
When you try something new and untested, the walls of resistance will rise. People react defensively to cope with their fear of uncertainty. While it gives them short term comfort, it will prevent achieving bigger things. The biggest resistance, however, might come from you and stand in the way of your dreams.
Defenses appear in many well-known forms: Micromanagement, personalizing, and conflict avoidance top the list. Learn to recognize when you are triggered by something that is making you react defensively. Pause to reflect on what is going on for you, then shift gears to a more effective solution. Consider brainstorming strategies with a friend, trusted colleague, or mentor.
Defensive behaviors are normal. There is nothing wrong with them, unless they stop you from realizing your dream. For example, if you catch yourself endlessly nitpicking the wording of the promotional materials for your new program rather than sending them out, it may be time to stop and reflect. If you are stuck due to your fear of not knowing what could come next, gather your courage and hit the “send” button.
5. Find a powerful motivator.
For dreams to come true, you need a good reason to endure the discomfort of pursuing them. Choose a purpose that will motivate you to push through your discomfort. It could include anything from wanting to beat out a loathed competitor to honoring the confidence placed in you by a revered relative. Whatever works, works!
The road to driving change contains many bumps that come with the new. While navigating around them can be hard, hang on to your belief that something wonderful lies at the end of it.
Dare to dream. Embrace your fear and go for it!
©2019, Julie Benezet. All rights reserved.