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Harnessing Your Fears: The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt

May 17, 2024

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can paralyze, but it can also catalyze action and foster growth. For small business owners, understanding and managing fear is crucial to personal and professional success. In this blog, I explore how embracing your fears can lead to empowerment, using insights from various thought leaders and practical strategies for overcoming common fears.

Understanding the Four Fatal Fears

Every small business owner faces a set of common fears at various points in their journey:

  1. Fear of Being Wrong: Many of us are plagued by the need to always be right. This fear can stifle creativity and inhibit innovation by discouraging risk-taking.
  2. Fear of Rejection: The need to be accepted can limit our willingness to stand out from the crowd or propose unconventional solutions.
  3. Fear of Emotional Discomfort: This often manifests as a need to stay in our comfort zones, preventing us from embracing new challenges.
  4. Fear of Failure: Perhaps the most prevalent, this fear can be debilitating, but it is also a crucial part of learning and growth.

Recognizing which of these fears dominate our thoughts and actions is the first step towards overcoming them. Henry Ford captured this sentiment well when he said, “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”

The Impact of Fear and Self-Limiting Beliefs

Fears often manifest themselves through self-limiting beliefs—those nagging thoughts that whisper, “I might fail,” “I could look foolish,” or “It’s just too much work.” These beliefs not only undermine our confidence but can lead to missed opportunities and stunted growth. As Douglas Horton noted, “Action cures fear, inaction creates terror.” By understanding the source of our trepidation, we can start to challenge and reshape these beliefs into something more constructive.

Transforming Fear from Pain to Power

Susan Jeffers, in her wonderful book Feel the Fear, And Do It Anyway, offers a powerful framework for shifting our perspective from pain to power:

  • Replace “I can’t” with “I won’t.”
  • Change “I should” to “I could.”
  • Instead of saying, “It’s not my fault,” take responsibility with, “I’m totally responsible.”
  • View problems as opportunities.
  • Transform “Life’s a struggle” into “Life’s an adventure.”

This shift in vocabulary encourages a mindset that views challenges as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks, leading us to a more proactive and empowered approach.

The Five Truths About Fear

Jeffers also outlines five essential truths about fear that every entrepreneur should remember:

  1. Fear never goes away as long as you continue to grow.
  2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.
  3. The only way to feel better about yourself is to go out… and do it.
  4. You will experience fear whenever you are on unfamiliar territory, but so will everyone else.
  5. Pushing through your fears is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

These truths remind us that fear is a natural and expected part of striving for growth and improvement.

Strategies for Overcoming Fear

To effectively manage and overcome fears, consider the following strategies:

  • Recognize and articulate your fears: Simply writing down what you fear can make it seem less daunting and more manageable.
  • Set small, achievable goals: Breaking down a big challenge into smaller steps can help build confidence and reduce anxiety.
  • Seek feedback and support: Sharing your concerns with trusted advisors or mentors can provide you with new perspectives and encouragement.
  • Celebrate small victories: Recognizing your progress, no matter how minor, can boost your morale and motivate you to keep pushing forward.
  • Reframe your mindset: Focus on what you can learn from each experience, whether you succeed or fail.

Living Beyond Your Fears

As small business owners, we must continually challenge the status quo to innovate and improve. The late great clinical psychologist and author, Dr. Gordon Livingston, once said, “It is always easier to keep doing what we are used to, even if it’s evidently not working for us.” This is a reminder not to fall into complacency but to strive for constant improvement, even when it feels daunting.


Embracing and overcoming fears is essential for any small business owner looking to thrive in today’s competitive environment. By understanding the nature of our fears, transforming our approach from pain to power, and pushing through discomfort, we can unlock our true potential. Nelson Mandela put it best when he described courage not as the absence of fear but the triumph over it. Let his words inspire you to conquer your fears and lead your business toward success.