When it comes to the obstacles that separate us from our dreams, the impact of fear is hard to overstate. Fifty-seven percent of people in the U.S. are afraid of not having enough money later in life, according to research by Chapman University. More than one-third (33.4%) of people in the U.S. who want to start a business don’t because of their fear of failure.
Those fears can lead us to play it safe and not take the calculated risks we need to take to realize our potential–even measured risks. But not everyone is comfortable with the status quo. Here are three women who overcame their fears and launched remarkable new lives and businesses. They share their advice for those who long for change but are held back by fear.
Broke and far from home
Rachel Walla was a certified safety professional, working in a Montana factory, overseeing around 15 people. It was a nice, stable job, but she had suffered a bad case of burnout and felt unsatisfied. Her travel blog that she launched to document trips she took had started to bring in a trickle of revenue. She launched a plan: She could make $1,500 per month from her blog and live in a less expensive country in order to make a go of being a full-time travel blogger. She had a little savings to help her start. So, despite being “terrified” of being broke, she quit her job and went to Thailand.
But it wasn’t exactly a fairy-tale experience. “I began to bring in an income that was livable before my savings had entirely ran out. Then, my income dropped off a cliff,” she says.
Far from home with no money, she learned to be resourceful, living in cheap places and working nonstop. She scraped together enough to hire a business coach she “couldn’t afford” to help her figure out her next steps. Using her professional expertise and also her love of travel, she runs A Map to Anywhere, a travel coaching and information website, and SnapFox Safety, a safety consulting business, as a digital nomad.
Her advice. Don’t be ashamed of being scared; cultivate belief in yourself. Today, it’s possible to learn almost anything online. “I’m scared all the time. Just do the thing you know you need to do anyway,” she says.
Buying a business
Melissa Villanueva wanted to create “an authentic community space through coffee.” It was a stark vision, and one that might have seemed unrealistic. She was unemployed, in a relatively new relationship with someone who was also unemployed, and had no experience in the coffee industry except as a stint as a barista several years before. While she had a three-year game plan to launch the business, in 2014, she was looking for an espresso maker online one day and discovered a coffee business for sale. The owners were selling after only 10 months.
The concept was intriguing. Buying the shop would give her a head start on making her vision a reality because she wouldn’t be starting from scratch. But Villanueva was fearful of taking on a business she didn’t know and becoming an entrepreneur. After some deliberation, she and her current husband, Angelo, used the little savings they had and money borrowed from family and friends to buy the shop.
“I like figuring things out, and when I know that I’m the only person responsible for making sure if something happens, I usually can find a way,” she says.
Today, Brewpoint Coffee has three cafés in Elmhurst, Illinois, as well as a roastery, event space, and online retail and wholesale distribution. Villanueva admits that her “worst case scenario”–if the business failed–would not have been devastating to her. She had skills and could recover. But the fear of any failure holds too many people back, she says.
Her advice. Balance your optimism with a healthy dose of realism. Entrepreneurs can get carried away by their optimism, but that sometimes blinds you to what’s really going on. A positive outlook is a good thing, but be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses and find ways to strengthen the areas that need it.
Overcoming panic to make her mark
A self-described “risk-averse CPA,” Dena Jalbert landed in the emergency room with a panic attack within a week of starting Align, a mergers and acquisitions and business advisory consultancy. She had left her well-paying job as a chief financial adviser and so much about the move terrified her, including selling, having others depend on her for their livelihood, and the responsibilities of having two young children (ages 5 and 8). She was married and had some savings, but she was walking away from the security she had enjoyed, she says.
Even that level of fear wasn’t enough to make her go back to the “golden handcuffs” that her former job represented, she says. But she saw herself as a numbers person, not the visionary at the helm. With new freedom to use her talents in turning businesses around in a way that wasn’t stifled by others, she soon grew more confident that she did, indeed, have those skills. She began reading nonstop to learn what she didn’t know. Seth Godin’s This Is Marketing and Be a People Person by John Maxwell were two that helped her, she says. As she landed a few clients and had successful results–and revenue–her confidence grew.
Her advice. Break down your self-imposed barriers and get the help you need. One of Jalbert’s first actions was to begin asking for help in the areas she needed it, something she didn’t find easy to do. She asked the salespeople she knew for help to perfect her pitch. Soon, she found that her passion for what she was doing was winning over clients. She also learned to manage the fear she felt through meditation.