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How Social Entrepreneurs Overcome Fear

“Failure is okay and sometimes, is inevitable. However, I believe that to care enough not to want to fail is vital – because it’s cementing why exactly it is that you’re doing what you’re doing…every single day. For me, I feel like I can’t fail because my little sister, Gayana who has Down Syndrome, is relying on me. We’ve also employed over ten people with special needs – and I know how much they rely on me to keep them employed and (paid!). Having a motivation, a commitment and another human being behind you, helps overcome that fear because you know you’ve just got to do it and kick some serious goals.”
Nip Wijewickrema, Co-Founder at GG’s Flowers

Do you fear failure? If you are a social entrepreneur, chances are you do. What is not to fear? When you fail you not only let yourself down, you also let down the very people you set out to help in the first place. However, if you are constantly afraid of failure, odds are you will be too paralysed to take the risks needed to run a successful social enterprise.

There is good news, though. We are here to tell you that you are not the only one who experiences fear, and you can overcome it. With our four key points and advice from numerous Australian social entrepreneurs, we will help you push that fear away for good.

“I remember that my greater fear is to end up in an office job following instructions dictated by someone else. And besides, I kind of accept failure as part of the game. I’m not sure I’d describe anything I’ve ever done as a success, but I’ve never regretted trying ambitious things and so long as I learned something and hopefully had fun along the way nothing is ever really a failure. To get to pursue your dream is a privilege so you’re already winning.”
Tom Dawkins, CEO and Co-Founder at StartSomeGood

Step One: Reframe Your Fear

When you feel that fear gurgling around in your stomach or spinning around inside your head, remember this: These feelings are only your body’s natural response to what it perceives as a threat. How do you conquer that threat? With the very adrenaline that fear produces.

When you look at it in that light, that’s when you can write that guest blog post that’s staring you in the face. That’s when you can stand in front of an investor and pour out an impassioned slew of reasons why your product or service deserves his or her backing. Don’t take the safe path. Push yourself through every challenge. That’s how you gain the courage to tackle even tougher challenges.

“Despite what I learnt in school, success isn’t linear. There is no single path to achieving your goal. The day I realised this was the day failure became less scary. Leading social innovation or positive change means that you are creating new paths, not following old ones. Being out there at the helm of it with no map to follow can be scary. It’s simple but powerful to remember that if the path you’re on leads to failure, you can simply create a new one. With every new path, you’re stronger, wiser and even more determined. That’s true pioneering at its best. As a social entrepreneur, it’s not about you, it’s about your impact. This helps take the ego out of failure (and success) and allows you to be humble and put your work first. When we do this, we realise how necessary failure is in truly stretching and testing out an idea to its fullest capacity. So, wear those failures like a badge of honour because it means you’re out there being vulnerable, being courageous and taking the necessary risks to realise the biggest rewards.”
Rosie Thomas, Co-Founder and Co-CEO at PROJECT ROCKIT

Step Two: Think Like a Tot Again

One of the biggest drawbacks Australians face is that fear of failure which originates from the very first time they stepped into a regimented classroom and missed a question in class. Ann Parker, Telstra’s MuruD co-founder, calls it “a learning curve we need to overcome,” one that we’re taught from an early age.

To overcome that fear, step back into an earlier time. A genie has just appeared to grant you three wishes. What would you do in life with those wishes? Sketch out those dreams on paper. When social entrepreneurs can get out of their adult skin and think like a child does, their imagination comes to life again. Those dreams of helping others, then become goals that help social entrepreneurs surpass their fear.

Don’t stop with the sketch, though. Consider the challenges that may make achieving that dream difficult to overcome. Work backwards to find steps that will allow you to overcome those hurdles, using career maps and project management cycle maps to plot your road to success.

“As a social entrepreneur, the journey is definitely not for the faint hearted. The Fear of failure which haunts us all is one of dealing with your mind and old belief systems. I ensure I have a trusted tribe of positive people around me, and ensure some of these are entrepreneurs too. This inner sanctum, together with a couple of mentors are my go-to’s whenever I’m feeling down on myself and start doubting my abilities. Having a system that allows me to check in regularly is very grounding and comforting. I have a daily practice, well not always, however when I am consistent that is of meditation and journaling that I start my day with in the mornings. I also surround myself with positive affirmations and messages too all over my office. After that practice, I exercise before starting my day in the office. When I am in a good place mentally, emotionally, physically then I find the fear of failure does not really arise. If my fear becomes overwhelming, firstly I do a deep breathing exercise. After this when I’m calmer, I will then investigate that feeling and question this fear and break it down. Finally, I will go back to my ‘why’ to remind myself why I am doing what I am doing so that positive feeling takes over the fear.”
Kathy Wong, Founder at Moeloco

Step Three: Take Small Steps Toward Your Goals

Taking small steps is better than taking no steps. Do what you can to learn new skills, connect with more supporters and build your business. Think through and act on various solutions to the challenges that face you. Celebrate the doing, not just the result. The most important thing you can do is to keep moving forward.

Through your work—sometimes trial-and-error, big ideas emerge. When you start to create, the big idea will come to you.

“As a social entrepreneur, I overcome the fear of failure by recognising that failure is an unavoidable and ever-present obstacle that every person on earth encounters. Failure, and how we deal with it, is what defines us, teaches us, and what challenges us to move forward. As Winston Churchill said, ‘success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm’.”
Natalie Kyriacou, Founding Director at My Green World

Step Four: Realise that Challenges Help You Get Ahead in the Long Run

It is impossible to jump over a wide ditch from a standstill. Yet, when you step back and get a running start, the jump is easy. Look at challenges as the steps back you’d need to jump over a wide ditch.

Similarly, when challenges beset you, see them as an opportunity to gain added perspective to help you go further than you could have without the challenges. Challenges, it turns out, have some hidden lessons that help social entrepreneurs conquer fear and move beyond the roadblocks to success.

Australian entrepreneur Aaron Birkby advises embracing one’s failures. In an interview with StartupSmart, Birkby elaborates, “…Australia has [a] fear of failure…causing so many lost opportunities.” Instead, he advocates for successful entrepreneurs to share their failures with others, looking at them as opportunities for themselves to grow—and to share those growth stories with others. Birkby believes the key to creating a more robust culture is for successful entrepreneurs to share candidly about their failures.

 “I think the failures I’ve been most affected by are the garden variety type: the fears that arise often, and mostly because the work you’re doing matters to you and you want a good outcome. These could include fearing you’ll forget your lines during a pitch or that your customer won’t engage with your product. I think it’s useful to recognise that these fears may be rational, but if you allow yourself to be consumed by them, they will stop you from having the impact you want to as a social entrepreneur. They’ll prevent you from taking action. I found it helpful to firstly reframe my thoughts on everyday failure. I like Nassim Taleb’s idea of antifragility here – that you can train your mind to welcome failure as an opportunity to learn what went wrong and subsequently grow from it. Secondly, I have a morning ritual which helps to keep fear at bay, even on chaotic days when the stakes are high. When I wake, I exercise for 10 minutes, which gets the endorphins pumping.  I then meditate for 10 minutes, which calms my mind and finally journal for 10 minutes in order to externalise any other stray thoughts along with planning my day ahead. The third thing I’ll offer is that there is no substitute for experience. Once living through failures; and not just one or two, but dozens, maybe even hundreds over the past few years, I came to realise that challenges are almost never as detrimental to your success as they may initially seem. From that, I came to see them not as ‘failures’, but just another bump on a long, winding road, with plenty of tar ahead.”
Jacob Muller, Co-Founder and CEO at Catalysr

By grasping these tips and learning from the advice of these successful entrepreneurs, you can overcome your own fears. Be confident, be positive and be brave. The rest will follow.

Do you have any wisdom to share about overcoming fears as a social entrepreneur? We would love to hear from you! Comment below or tweet us on Twitter.

Social Change Central
Social Change Central

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