3 Fears I Learned to Dance With as an Entrepreneur

11/15/2016 12:12 pm ET

It was 2014, and I had been rejected by investors for nine months straight. I owed money to my friends, my school, and collection agencies. If I so much as needed something to eat, I’d check my bank balance and wonder, “How am I going to pull this off?”

The moment you decide to build a business, you’re choosing the road less-traveled. You’re walking the harder path, the stranger path: Fear is the price we, as startup founders, have to pay for it. Below are the three doubts I’ve struggled with most, and the ways I’ve learned to move my business forward despite them.

“My friends all have stable jobs and pay their bills on time. Maybe I’m doing this wrong.”

Every day used to be a series of mental calculations: Can I afford this meal? Should I buy a MetroCard or groceries? If I pay this agency, how am I going to pay back the friend I owe? I couldn’t help but look at the people around me and wonder what life would be like if I, too, could simply swipe my debit card, knowing it would just work.

The turning point came when I was offered an interview at a Fortune 500 company. It was at a beautiful office, all glass and steel in the heart of Jersey City—and it instantly reminded me why I became an entrepreneur: My would-be employer wanted me to keep my head down and push papers, but I wanted to walk in and lead.

If you find yourself dreaming of steady paychecks, go ahead—take the job interview. Put on the shirt and tie. Then, when your self-talk shifts from “Maybe I’m doing this wrong” to “I can’t do it any other way,” you’ll have your answer.

“What if my company doesn’t work out? What if I have to start all over again?”

In the startup world, you’ll hear people chant the mantra, “Fail fast, fail often.” It’s easier said than done.

When I first started my business, I spent hours reaching out to potential users, inviting them to try Roomi. If one person turned me down, I’d move on to the next—but every now and again, a terrifying thought would come to mind: “If this doesn’t work out, how can I possibly start over?”

It’s more than a fear of failure. It’s the gut-wrenching thought of beginning again, of scraping together the time, energy, and passion—all those resources we’re constantly running out of as entrepreneurs. There is only one thing we can do to grapple with this fear: Accept it.

If you do have to start over again, know that it will be hard. Know that no matter how many times you swear to “fail fast, fail often,” you’ll still have to wrestle with emotional pain of ending a business, just as you would with a relationship. Give yourself time to wonder, “What went wrong?” and “What could I have done differently?” Eventually, the question will become: “What problem will I solve next?”

“I’ve put so much into this business. I’ve sacrificed everything to get here. Is this life even really worth it?”

As a teenager in New Delhi, I got my start in the phone business, flipping cheap products on the so-called “grey market.” I haven’t stopped working in the decade since.

The reality is, my days are now twelve, sixteen hours long. I don’t see my friends and family nearly as often as I would like—and in my darkest moments, a new fear starts to settle in: “With all this time I spent working, I could have been traveling or learning something new. Am I wasting the little time I have?” Even worse: “What’s the point?”

The answer I keep coming back to is the people around me: My team members, who believe in the problem I’m trying to solve, are the point. The kids I hope to one day mentor in India are the point. The customers I serve are the point. My business is bigger than me now.

As a founder, you’ll question yourself at every turn—but the only question that really matters is this: What do you stand for? Whatever your bigger-than-you reason is, hold onto it. Through the constant struggle that is entrepreneurship, the thing you stand for will be your north star, the lighthouse in the storm, the beacon guiding you onward.

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