How to Push through Fear by Taking Baby Steps

May 8, 2014

10:43 am

This post includes extra content from Startup Mixology, my upcoming book on starting up – including how to prepare yourself for the harsh reality and celebrate positive moments along the way. Go here to pre-order the book (due July 8) and subscribe to updates. 

The 1991 film What About Bob? stars Bill Murray as Bob Wiley, a highly manipulative obsessive-compulsive personality, and Richard Dreyfuss as Dr. Leo Martin, his psychiatrist. Dr. Martin has written a book titled Baby Steps and explains the concept to Bob, who follows the advice, literally, to take teeny-tiny baby steps out of the office, baby steps to the elevator, baby steps through life.

It’s the same thing with entrepreneurship: while you need to keep your eye on the prize, you still have to take baby steps every day to get there. Facebook, Twitter, and Google were not built overnight. And along the way, you’ll probably be terrified.

Jamie Walker, founder and CEO of SweatGuru, explains, “To think like an entrepreneur, you always have to put one foot in front of the other and be ready to bust out in a handstand at any given time. What I really mean is that you need to be nimble, forward-thinking, amenable, flexible, and unafraid. You need to have a healthy amount of fear that gets you moving but just enough fearlessness to really push the boundaries and rock your own metaphorical handstand, whatever that may be.”

I’m introverted when it comes to handling fear, but everyone has their own way of dealing with it. I use it to motivate me from the inside, like a burning fire (probably not the healthiest approach). Others advocate sharing your fears with others. For example, At-Hand Apps executive director Robert Gray shares, “When things are not going to plan, it eventually gets ‘lonely’ at the top. You need peers to talk with and disclose the fears and uncertainties, and be able to say the things you cannot say as the ‘leader.’”

Or you could try a more extreme approach. Jason Comely created the Rejection Therapy 30-Day Challenge (available as an iPhone app), which requires you to get rejected once a day for 30 days. The $10 entrepreneur edition of the game consists of a pack of playing cards with different ways to get rejected. Part of the point is numbing yourself to rejection (thus reducing fear), and part of the point is realizing just how much you can get when you ask for it – that is, when you try to get rejected, but get a yes instead.

Jessica Kim, the co-founder of BabbaCo, learned how to deal with fear the hard way. She was all set for a segment on Fox Business News Live to talk about her company, which delivers a box of activities for parents to do with their kids every month. But the day before, she found out that her mother had pancreatic cancer and only a few months to live. She was completely devastated, but she knew what she had to do. “[My mom] said, ‘You just gotta do it. That’s what I would want you to do,’” Kim recalls. “And so the next day even though I’m all puffy-faced and you think your whole world is changing, you gotta go out there and for those 20 minutes that you’re on, you have to be on.”

Kim probably had had a certain amount of fear about going on Fox News, but her mother’s news put that fear in perspective. Startup failure is devastating, but there are worse things in life. So start taking some baby steps and, soon, you’ll be on a roll.


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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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