Fear is real. It may instinctively paralyze you or prompt you to fight or run away. In some situations, none of these reactions will get you very far.
Being an executive involves making decisions that are not for the faint of heart. I’m constantly evaluating competitive threats, technological challenges and partnership risks. Some of the findings are frightening. Needless to say, freezing up or fleeing away are not viable options. Fighting isn’t necessarily a perfect one either. In most cases, simply hanging on is the right strategy. You have to learn to live with panic-inducing situations that can break (or make) the business. You must resist the fight or flight instinct and learn to tolerate the risk.
Andy Grove, Intel’s ex-CEO, titled one of his books “Only the Paranoid Survive.” This summarizes a management philosophy that helped him turn the company into what it is today. There’s no doubt that healthy paranoia is an essential ingredient in running a successful business. The question is how to deal with the strong feelings it evokes and avoid getting scarred by it.
If you succumb to the fear, you end up making regrettable mistakes that can kill your business and/or derail your career. Accept the fear as an important ally in your route to success. It helps you stay the course by keeping you alert. Fear is a strong natural urge, and like many other evolutionary artifacts meant to keep us alive, it can be controlled. In fact, learning to keep it under check is essential for building a successful career while maintaining your sanity.
Some people deal with fear-induced stress through yoga, meditation, boxing, running, or cocooning. I prefer to not lose touch with reality and try to stay on top of things, risking an emotional overload. After many years of dealing with this kind of fear, I learned to embrace it. For the most part, I sequester it and don’t let it interfere with the rest of my psyche. This approach is working for me so far, but I still have many working years ahead of me. Time will tell if I get a nervous breakdown or retire rich and content. I’d put my money on the latter.