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Three Ways Women Can Turn Fear of Failure Into Fearless Action

Three Ways Women Can Turn Fear of Failure Into Fearless Action

I have to admit that I was initially shocked by the following two statistics highlighted the 2017 American Express Open report on the state of women-owned businesses in the U.S.:

  • Close to 90% have zero full-time employees.
  • Only 3% of female founders ever break the million-dollar mark in annual sales.

Given the fact that women are taking the entrepreneurial plunge at twice the rate of men, it surprised me that most of them are not scaling. Are they afraid of the risks associated? Is it outright fear of failure? For many women, the idea of being responsible for both their own livelihood as well as that of others can be daunting. And most of the time it takes employees to be able to scale a business over the million dollar mark.

The answers to these questions partially stems from how we are raised. Girls are often encouraged to be harmonious, be nice, and get along with everyone. This can easily manifest into people pleasing. We want everyone to like us. Because of this, and the media’s portrayal of women, girls are prone to an external locus of control. We learn from a very young age that all eyes are on us - to be very careful in all we do and how we do it.

As a result, women tend to strive for perfection in all things. We often take criticism very personally - we internalize it and marinate on it. We learn to not draw too much attention to ourselves, for fear of what others will think of us. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to fall, fail, and flounder, all for the sake of learning.

I watch hundreds of aspiring female entrepreneurs inch forward slowly, waiting to reveal what they're working on until it’s totally ready…until it’s perfect. In some cases, they never even launch. We must teach girls that their locus of control is “internal” and encourage them to embrace the mantra, “Done is better than perfect.”

Like most girls, I was never taught to think big. I watched my mother focus her energy on guarding and protecting her family - rightfully so, this was her priority. Everything was done in order to give me and my siblings better opportunities. Women business owners with children at home often define risks in terms of family finances, personal time, and personal reputation. Until twenty years ago, women had virtually no high net worth female entrepreneurial role models. This is slowly changing.

Finally, women are taught that we need to do it all to have it all. Within my community, I see women juggling every aspect of their business, reluctant to delegate even basic administrative tasks, or outsource aspects of their business which are outside their core expertise. They will fiddle, struggle, and procrastinate before they will invest in an outside resource. For many, there is a limiting belief or a scarcity mindset which is compromising their business growth potential.

How do we step out of the shadow of public opinion and the need for perfection? We embrace fearlessness, which we develop by practicing making decisions outside of our comfort zone. We can start by finding examples to emulate, owning our achievements and resilience, and confidently pushing ourselves.

1) Find inspiring women to emulate.

Statistically speaking, women at the top of their fields are harder to find than men (only three of the twenty-five wealthiest Americans are women and the percentage of women Fortune 500 CEOs is less than 5%). But they are out there, and finding them is well worth your effort, as it will increase your chances for success.

When you do find them, be sure to check yourself about the intimidation factor. Yes, you can get there! Remember, even Tina Fey, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, and Sigourney Weaver talk about self-doubt and imposter syndrome, so you know you’re not alone.

Make a list of the qualities these women have that make them successful that you need most, and work on developing them. Just make sure you aren’t being too hard on yourself, because there are likely plenty of times you’ve been resilient in the face of great odds and persevered. Your inexperience in these new areas could be your greatest strength.

In her 2015 Harvard Commencement speech, Natalie Portman talks about trusting yourself:

Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path.

[Related: Replace Limiting Beliefs With Success Stories]

2) Recognize your achievements and resilience.

Perspective truly is everything, so what’s yours? Celebrating your milestones along the way is one effective method of honoring your accomplishments. Another is to put yourself out there time and again, understanding that fear is a natural response to pursuing what is worthwhile.

It’s not required that you don’t have fear (because we all do around vulnerability) - you’re simply urged to do it, anyway. You must take risks from a place of purpose so strong that you’re willing to be uncomfortable as you grow. It also means we must face our own biggest critic: ourselves.

In a keynote speech by Brené Brown, she says about human nature: “We’re so self critical, and….there is an ideal of what you’re supposed to be. And what a lot of us end up doing is we orphan the parts of ourselves that don’t fit with that ideal of who we’re supposed to be.”

Oftentimes, embracing those banished parts of ourselves gives us the opportunity to maximize our courage and strength, and deepen our perspective. Self-inventory can do wonders to remind us what our true strengths are - strengths we may have forgotten about when fear got in the way.

[Related: Why You Should Put Your Fears Aside and Act on Your Own Business Ideas]

3) Trust your talents enough to push yourself.

There’s a reason why fewer than 3% of all women entrepreneurs get to $1M in revenue, despite the fact that for past decade, women-owned businesses have grown faster than the national average. The common fear of taking calculated risks is often at the heart of it, especially financial risks.

We have to surround ourselves with people who will challenge us to take our businesses to the next level. People who are willing to check us when they hear us talk about our lack of skills or resources. There are significant resources and infinite possibilities in the world; we have to believe we are good enough to not only claim them, but also to run after them.

We women often have the advantage of heightened intuition, that quieter voice within that already knows what our next best move is. Act on it fearlessly and watch your business take off.

Remember, you have all it takes to take the “less” and turn it into fearless!

[Related: Women Can Use Our Unique Advantages to Advance Our Careers and Shine As Leaders]


Felena Hanson is the founder of Hera Hub, a spa-inspired shared workspace and community for female entrepreneurs. She is the author of "Flight Club - Rebel, Reinvent, and Thrive: How to Launch Your Dream Business," which provides tools and resources to women at every stage of launching their businesses.

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