Confidence Trumps All: How Losing Fear Will Move You Forward

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Our May 2015 New York City Meetup speaker shares her “secret” to beating crippling startup fear. By Susan Taing (Founder, Bhold)

Whether starting a new business or moving forward in your career, or even starting a new relationship or friendship, there are many obstacles and how you get through these obstacles is what determines success.

If there were to be just one secret to it all, it's confidence, both in what you know and what you don't know, and building confidence requires confronting and dealing with your fears. If you know your fears, then you know that some of them have been holding you back.

1. Identify Your Fears

Sit quietly with yourself and ask yourself this question: "What are my fears?"

2. Determine Which Fear is Holding You Back

Figure out which one is holding you back the most, and focus on this one first. What is the best case scenario and how might you work to get there? Loop in your friends or those who don't seem to have your fear to ask their advice.

I try to approach life with the same attitude I've always had since I was young. Let me share two stories from back then.

One of the first fears that paralyzed me was a fear of water. As a child, I would panic as soon as you dip me in water and scream if you let go of me in deep water. I didn't like the feeling which was a wall and a barrier to me, so I decided I had to learn.

In high school, I heard that if you signed up to be admin manager of the swim team you would get to practice with the swim team every day for free. You only needed to organize their meet schedule and their equipment and did not have to compete. So I signed up, despite not knowing how to do a single stroke.

Every day that sophomore year, the rest of the team would practice in their fast lanes, and I was either solo or with one other friend in the slow lane, learning from the coach, the swim team's coach! Eventually I was able to do the same exact practice as the team, only it would take much more time and I'd always be the last to leave the pool, but it didn't matter to me.

I learned how to swim. I also was never in better shape and loved how it felt, so that had a lasting impact on my prioritizing fitness in life.

3. Take That Leap and Commit

Don't just talk through the fear with friends or read about it. A baby learns to walk by getting up that first time even though he or she might fall. And you might fall, but if you don't commit, especially as an adult, we know that we are all really good at getting too busy for even the most important things in life. So commit.

Another fear I identified early on was fear of public speaking. My high school required a half-year public speaking class, something a high school student would never sign up for if it weren't required. I was told that fear of public speaking is the number one biggest fear, even bigger than the fear of death. That didn't make sense.

After some not-so-great memories in the public speaking class, I knew I had to do something about it so in my very first semester at college, I joined what I thought would be the most terrifying thing, an improv group. Turns out after a few terrifying performances, if you keep at it, the fear can be beaten. Since then, I've taken several series of acting and improv classes which have had a wonderfully positive impact on my life.

4. Keep At It

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Many fears are lifelong, including my fear of water.

I continued to learn as many water sports as I had the opportunity to – sailing, windsurfing, snorkeling and most recently, scuba diving – and every time I had to fight all over again, but it gets just a bit easier each time.

I never fully lost that fear of water. My first open dive after my PADI scuba certification was only two and a half years ago in Cozumel, Mexico. As everyone gave the thumbs down signal and started to descend, I froze up and could not move. I couldn't breathe. My diving buddy Ariel kept trying to convince me otherwise but I told him I'm sorry, I didn't think I could.

He asked me to look down and see how clear the water was. I looked down and panicked even more because I actually saw the bottom of the ocean floor.

In the end, I forced myself to put my meditation practice and breathing exercises to good use so that Ariel wouldn’t miss his dive as you can only dive with a buddy.

(By the way, the photo above is me in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, just one arm's length away from a moray eel. I was actually unaware at the time due to my fogged up goggles and thought I was just posing for a picture with the reef. Being this close to a moray eel is really not recommended…!)

Only Then Can You Realize Your Dreams

Starting a company or going for your dreams is a lot about conquering fear. Usually you're the one holding yourself back.

Susan NYCEach stage of decision making for me, from that first decision of starting Bhold to which products to design and what the company and brand stand for, has required me to know what I'm good at, what I still have to learn and what I have to fight to overcome.

The fear of appearing over-confident or arrogant is yet another fear, so don't worry about it, move past it and become more you.

Remember that success is an internalized and individualized concept, different per person, but do wholeheartedly pursue happiness while balancing the needs and responsibilities in your life.

So keep at it, and blaze ahead by building up your confidence overcoming one fear at a time.

What are your strategies for managing your fears?

Photo credit: Alyssa Kirsten Photography


About the guest blogger: Susan Taing is the Founder at Bhold, a design house that creates beautiful and highly functional designs that solve a problem in your daily life. Each product is rapid prototyped with 3D printing and beta tested by Bhold Labs to ensure the best usability. Susan graduated from MIT and Stanford and worked in in Product Marketing at Google.