Scaling Up, Step 1: Fear of Flying

Scaling Up, Step 1: Fear of Flying

In my last post, I wrote about four things that need to be in place in order to scale your business:

  1. Enough self-awareness and vulnerability to face your fears.
  2. A people plan.
  3. Systems – technological & human – that can take you from here to the next level.
  4. Absolute confidence that your revenue model is ready for prime time.

I’ll be working my way through each of these one by one. For today, let’s start with #1: facing your fears.

Did you notice how none of the items in that list up there is “self-confidence?” That’s because, in my experience, times of transition are typically when our confidence dips. When you’re entering a new phase, you encounter new challenges – and by definition, those challenges will stretch you out of your comfort zone. So isn’t it a bit unrealistic to expect ourselves to be at our most self-confident at these moments?

Instead of waiting until we feel a hundred percent confident, I would argue that we must instead dig deep and admit what we’re most afraid of when we look at the path ahead. Only then can we create plans that address and integrate those fears – and if we don’t address them, we are hurtling forward without a seat belt, at risk of getting thrown off-course by the first bump in the road we encounter.

So: What are those butterflies in your stomach really trying to tell you? I suspect you’re afraid of what successful growth might bring:

  • Afraid of losing the soul of the thing you’ve built.
  • Afraid of turning into someone you’re not.
  • Afraid of stepping into a new, unfamiliar role.
  • Afraid of changing your routines & leaving your comfort zone.
  • Afraid that if you slow down, you’ll have to face your neglected relationships – with others & perhaps even with yourself – and rebuild them.
  • Afraid that if you aren’t pushing like crazy, if you’re not working hard all the time, you won’t fit others’ definitions of an entrepreneur.
  • Afraid that when you succeed, the people around you will resent you.

Any of those resonate?

My experience has been that once I have articulated a fear, said it right out loud, it moves from squirming inside of my belly to sitting across from me. It become an external thing, separate from me, and I can see it from different angles.

One of the biggest crossroads I faced as an entrepreneur was deciding to hire my first employee, rather than continuing on as a microbusiness. It took a lot to get me to that place; I had a lot of resistance to it. But once I admitted all of the fears I had around hiring help, I was able to come up with creative ways of addressing those fears. (This took help, by the way. I didn’t go it alone.) Only then could I get on with the task of formulating a job posting, speaking to candidates, and becoming a boss.

I’ve seen many, many entrepreneurs struggle with fear on the edge of a growth spurt. Riding the momentum of a significant upswing in demand triggers all of our oldest habits and beliefs around risk. In the moments when you imagine having to change the structures you’ve built to adapt them to a new reality – whether that’s by hiring new people, systematizing your processes, doubling your prices, or dropping a product from your offerings that no longer serves you – what are the fears that show up? What are you most afraid of?

Approach the fear with curiosity. Ask it to reveal itself fully.

Recognize it? Good. You see it there, now. And now you can ask the next question: ​Why? ​Or ​What’s beneath that? ​Or ​What will happen if ​this thing I’m afraid of takes place?​ Dig deeper. Spiral closer.

You’ll know it in your gut when the deepest fears show up.

And then the inquiry process can begin again: What are the odds of this fear becoming reality? What resources can you bring to bear to lower those odds? Who can you ask for help if you need it?

And here’s the most important bit: ​Know what your fears are, and know what they feel like – and refuse to act from a place of fear.

It’s totally OK to have fears. Fear plays a very helpful role in all of our lives. Respect your fear; just don’t let it rule you. My greatest regret as a business owner is allowing my fears to stop me from bringing on help sooner.

This is the work: Knowing yourself well enough to recognize when you’re at your best, and when you’re not – and learning how to call on your wisest self to make decisions, rather than your reactive old habitual self.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to develop a people plan that will help you scale up.