Fear is your silent partner through every step of your journey as a founder, entrepreneur, or leader starting a new endeavor, and fear manifests itself in a variety of untold and unexpected ways. Each of the 70 interviewees for the book Beyond Product said that fear played a major role in getting them to where they are now or hindering their forward motion.

Fear starts in three different ways. You can think of it as fear in the beginning, fear in the middle, and fear in the end.  

  •   Fear in the beginning is your fear of failure.
  •   Fear in the middle is your fear to change.
  •   Fear at the end is your fear of success or your fear of an exit.

Each one manifests and takes hold of you in different ways. And each helps you make irrational decisions that you may not even be aware of. Let’s focus on the role of fear in the beginning and on starting something new.

Many people are aware of the fear of failure. But for the founder, fear of failure is really the fear to start. It’s this fear to even take those first couple of steps. If you’re a fan of Paulo Coelho or Joseph Campbell, you understand the journey of a hero. Here, the hero is the founder or business leader, the person going on this journey and trying to make something different of themselves. For founders and entrepreneurs, the journey collides with your compulsion.

Think of it this way: For an entrepreneur — even one within a company — there’s a compulsion to do something different. It’s the same compulsion that an addict or someone in recovery has. It’s a thing that draws them and nags at them time and time again.

For them it’s really a battle between compulsion and fear.

You have to do this thing, but fear is standing in your way. Now, maybe you’re a founder and you’re doing well on your way and have already overcome this fear. But for many people, there’s a compulsion, a desire, a need to do something different, bigger, extraordinary. Something that they have to tackle.

And fear is the thing that’s standing in the way.

There’s really something interesting in Joseph Campbell’s 1949 The Hero of a Thousand Faces and all of his work around myths: this idea of a journey that the entrepreneur has to go on. Campbell think he puts it best in this quote: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” For every leader who’s thinking about this journey, it’s almost always the same thing: a nice, comfortable life that they’ve carved out and created for themselves. No matter what stage they’re in or age they are, things could go along perfectly fine the way they are. But they decided to go off and do something different, something radical.

In the process of doing that, they leave comfort behind and go on this journey. Fear plays in on this idea of I now have to go through this deep, dark jungle.

I don’t know how long that jungle will last, and I don’t know what’s in it. I don’t know what will propel me through it. And going off on my own while I have this compulsion to do it is a scary, fearful place.

What happens across the board with all of these founders and all of these conversations when the leader starts to take this journey is an amazing thing.

Suddenly, in that deep, dark place, a variety of people suddenly appear: advisors, mentors, helpers, other people who are on this journey themselves or have taken this journey before them. They’ve done it multiple times. They advise and help other people along the way. These sage counselors come in and help the founder through that journey, that deep, dark place.

Now, that jungle may last for six days, six weeks, or six years. For each person, the journey that they go through to get to that better, brighter place they’re trying to create can last as long as it needs to. But there are people along the way to help you through that journey.

Once you’re through it and you’re at this place where you’re supposed to be, when you’re living the life you are supposed to live, you look back and see that the jungle is not scary anymore. You wonder why you didn’t leave the safety of your secure environment before. You now have a group of mentors and advisors who are sticking with you and helping to propel you going forward. You never would have found those people had you not taken those first steps and not gone into that proverbial jungle to begin with.

Now, I know we’re starting to sound a little like Nietzsche, looking into the abyss. But there’s certainly something to be said about going in and taking those steps, the first leap into that deep, dark place. You have to realize that this is going to be the thing that helps to propel you forward and gives you the strength, courage, and wisdom to be able to be a successful founder.

Fear of failure is the thing that stops us from even starting in the first place.


This and other great ideas on founding, growing, and leading a great company are explored in the new #1 Hotlist Business Book Beyond Product and on the podcast on foundersplace.co, which also has great resources for leaders and executives looking for ways to grow their business.