THE BLOG
08/28/2014 06:20 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

3 Ways to Unlock Opportunity in What Scares You

Four months ago, I told Arianna Huffington that I specialized in heartbeats. She was keynoting at an event hosted by a customer of my former company, and I'd stood up to ask a question.

I took the mic and looked at the audience. Then, I made eye contact with her.

Oh.
My.
God.

I started to straight up quiver.

Hi, I'm an entrepreneur from California. But right now, I specialize in heartbeats.

For a few seconds, all I felt was fear. Hundreds of people were looking at me. She (one of my all-time idols) was looking at me. I froze.

Fear and wonder: My entrepreneurial journey

The moment was not unlike one I spent on the floor four years ago, crying. It was Dec. 24, and I was 24. That day, my divorce was final.

I was terrified. What would I do? Where would I live? Where would I go?

I knew I needed to make some significant life changes -- namely to accept responsibility for behavior patterns that had gotten me where I was. I also had to stop blaming the past (and a number of other common excuses).

I wanted to like myself. To get there, I needed to harness my fear... and re-write my story.

As one expression of that desire, I started a company that specialized in telling stories for a certain subset of technology enterprise. As with my personal narrative, I had an incredible opportunity to participate in big changes in the industry, and I often felt paralyzed.

Just as learning to think for yourself is hard, so is creating cross-channel marketing strategies that unlock emotions and inspire people... to buy business software.

I expected to feel terror along the way. And I did, much of the time:

-- That quarter that I double paid my taxes on accident and couldn't get a refund, even though our biggest customer hadn't paid in months.

-- That week I barely slept because we'd lost a 70-page eBook document two days before it was due.

-- Those days I first raised our prices, let a contractor go, and lost a client.

-- The many nights where I was learning how to not keep myself up with the "what ifs."

What I didn't expect was how much wonder I'd also get to experience:

-- When our customer paid the overdue bill, one day before payroll. (I can't tell you how hard I cried.)

-- When I rewrote that entire damn eBook, myself, and turned it in on time. (And when the client loved it, and scheduled us for a follow-up.)

-- Those days that clients paid higher prices willingly, when team members told me how fulfilling work was, when big name companies joined our customer pool -- and grew.

-- The days I went to sleep early and got up refreshed.

And therein lies the secret to fear.

The truth is: We're all afraid.

We've all had moments like mine on the floor. And it's those moments where terror can become the sandbox for astronomical transformation.

Joy. Amazement. Wonder.

Something happens when we look fear in the face, acknowledge its power, and persist. So the next time you find yourself freaking out, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What exactly feels like a threat here? As an entrepreneur, I learned to develop "worst case strategies," so if that "what if" happened, I'd be ready. (I reminded myself of that any time I started to freak out.)
  2. How can I see this as an opportunity? As humans, we're understandably scared by risk. But behind every risk well-taken is a huge reward. Ruminate on what you stand to gain, if everything worked out. What we obsess over is what most often comes true.
  3. What would happen if I weren't afraid? Just asking that simple phrase -- what would happen if -- sets your brain on an entirely different track.

I had a choice there, in front of Arianna. Would I choose to focus on what freaked me out... or on what I wanted? In my case, you can guess what happened, given where I'm writing this post. (I'll share that story later.)

What could it be in yours?