When was the last time you took a risk? Not something major and life-threatening, but something that represented a step outside your comfort zone. Can you recall a time recently when you did something that felt uncomfortable for you? If not, get ready to take a major step forward.

Frequently, in business and in life, we get too comfortable. We find solid ground – a place that feels safe – we get comfortable, and we settle in. We’re programmed to do it. It’s how we operate. Look for safety and stay there. But these days, it’s imperative that we act against our programming to truly succeed and find our own greatness.

What’s holding us back? Ultimately, it’s fear. It’s almost always fear. Fear is the number one reason why people stay in their safety zones. It’s why people don’t start new businesses. It’s why people stop looking for love. But what are we afraid of? After studying fear for several years and working with countless clients who were letting fear hold them back, I’ve become convinced that when it comes down to stepping outside one’s comfort zone, there are really two things at work for most people: fear of success and fear of failure.

Fear of Success

Many people say they have a fear of success. What does this mean? It means that when these folks envision their success, they see the ways in which they’ll disappoint people, the ways they won’t be able to handle the success, the ways they’ll mess up their success… ultimately, I actually believe that a fear of success is a fear of failure in disguise. In my experience, most people aren’t actually afraid of success, but rather of failing after the success. They’re afraid they can’t handle it and they’ll fall much farther than if they’d never tried at all. It’s much more painful to fall from, say, a 20-story building, than it is to fall from a sidewalk curb. It’s the fall from the height of success that we fear, not the success itself.

Fear of Failure

Let’s look at fear of failure, since that’s at the core of what’s holding people back. I’ve recently updated my thoughts about fear of failure. I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, and Godin has some absolutely profound and brilliant thoughts on the fear that keeps us in our comfort zones. In Tribes, Godin says that there’s a common misconception about a fear of failure. He says that the fear of failure isn’t actually fear of failure at all – it’s a fear of criticism. We’re more afraid of being judged for our failures than anything else.
So now that we’ve isolated this fear of criticism, what does one do about it? How do you conquer the one thing that gets in the way more than anything else- more than lack of skills, more than lack of knowledge, more than bad luck or anything else you might think of – how do you conquer fear?

How Do You Conquer Fear?

It would be easy for me to say that you just shouldn’t care what others think about you. What they say doesn’t matter, doesn’t define you, has nothing to do with you. I could easily say that. But the problem is that we’re not just subject to the criticism of others when we fail. We still have to face our harshest critic: ourselves.
But here’s the secret most people don’t know. It’s a secret that most successful people know. You don’t actually have to “conquer” fear. You have to master it. Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” Successful people aren’t people who conquered fear, they’re people who faced fear. They’re people who were afraid and did it anyway.
For example, one of the most prevalent, persistent fears people have is public speaking. It’s something most of us don’t do very often and it’s something most of us don’t particularly care for. I’m one of the oddities – I actually love speaking to groups. But like many others I know who enjoy public speaking, I get nervous before I go on stage. My palms sweat, I think about how I wish I’d never agreed to do the gig, and I think of all the ways I can get out of doing it. And then I step on stage anyway, and within a few moments, I’m actually having so much fun connecting to the crowd that I forget all the fear and just live in that moment. That’s mastering fear, folks. That’s what it’s all about.
A part of it is doing something over and over and showing yourself that you can do that thing. That builds confidence and confidence is a formidable tool against fear. Usually we’re afraid of the stuff we’re not very good at. What are you afraid of? Think about that for a minute and then when you have the answer, ask yourself how often you do that thing. If you’re not very good at something, you tend to fear it. If you make a decision to face the fear and forge ahead with courage, you’ll eventually make courage a habit- and you’ll master that fear.

So what’s holding you back right now? What are you afraid of, and how can you face that fear with courage? Here’s an exercise I give to my clients to help them face their fears:
Take out a piece of paper and a pen and turn the paper on its side so you’re writing across the long side. Make five columns on your paper. In the first column, make a list of the things that scare you the most. Then in the second column, for each of those fears, write down what is the absolute worst thing that could happen if your fears came true. In the third column, write down how likely the worst thing is to happen. Then in the fourth column, write down how that fear is holding you back. In the last column, for at least one of the fears you’ve listed, write down how you are going to face that fear. Make it tangible- give yourself an action to take and a date by which you will take that action. And follow through!
Look, everybody is afraid of something. The most successful people have mastered fear with courage and learned to forge ahead. Today, make a decision to forge ahead with something in your life or in your business. Make a decision to face at least one of your fears. Take a risk and get better at something you’re afraid of. Face a fear with courage and you’ll see payoffs emerging faster than you ever could have imagined.