I was three-quarters of the way up the crag when the inevitable wave of panic slammed into me. My arms were tired, the holds were thin, and I was 80 feet in the air. Breathing in sharp gasps, I looked down at my husband who belayed me. Tears freefell to splatter in the dirt below. We locked eyes and I shook my head.
What the hell am I doing up here? I can’t do this. I’m a scaredy-cat, and it’s stupid to think that I’ll ever be able to overcome this fear and my own limited abilities.
I looked up. The anchor was 20 feet away. In anger, I clenched my teeth, balled my fists, and gave a guttural scream. It cleared my head and shoved my panic aside.
You’re mine. I laughed a harsh “HA” at the fear, the height, and the panic. You’re mine and I’m coming after you.
For years—eight to be exact—I’ve been rock climbing with my husband. You’d think by now I’d be good at it—if not mentally, at least physically.
But for as long as I can remember, rock climbing has been just another battle with my fiercest opponent: Fear. And I’ve always cowered. I’ve dodged and ducked and hid in my corner, letting Fear saunter around the ring. Fear always knocks me back down the crag before I finish the route.
Rarely have I planted my feet and looked Fear in its face. Rarely have I hit back. But that day on the crag, I landed a shattering blow straight into Fear’s chin. I made a choice to stop cowering and to climb.
As people who take risks, who venture out, who try to create new things—as entrepreneurs—self-doubt and fear are our chief opponents. They may knock us out cold before we’ve even warmed up, before we’ve even given our idea a chance.
So we have to be fighters. We have to tap into our passions, dreams, and drive to conquer fear, doubt, and failure.
At what point did I learn to trust myself? How did I finally see myself as able to do things I never thought possible? It didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken months and years, as little changes in my behavior added up over time.
Here are four practices you can add to your life to build up your confidence and put Fear in its place:
1. Start saying "yes"
I began growing in confidence after realizing that I could empower myself by saying “yes”. Yes is the key to attacking things with ferocity instead of cowering in uncertainty.
In a recent interview, Dr. Raffael Kalish, Professor of Human Neuroimaging at Johannes Gutenberg Medical Center, suggests that a “say-yes-to-life” attitude helps to regulate our stress responses, shift our appraisal style to be more realistic, and protect ourselves against future hardships.
By saying yes to smaller challenges, you are training the muscle in your brain to be ready for action when big problems rear their heads. To create a culture of “yes” in your life, start doing little things that are hard or undesirable.
Yes to helping a friend when it’s inconvenient.
Yes to early morning workouts.
Yes to pausing for a daily quiet time.
Yes to being vulnerable and transparent with people.
Yes to climbing higher (even when it scares you).
As the practice of “yes” takes hold in your personal life, extend it to your business:
Yes to taking an honest look at the ideas you’ve shelved for so long.
Yes to learning new things and growing your areas of expertise.
Yes to letting go of control, hiring employees, and avoiding the “I can do that” trap.
As I began to say yes to things that I usually said no to, I found my footing with Fear.
2. Broaden your skill set
As I realized that I should say yes to things, I became acutely aware of how often I had been saying “no”.
I could never be good at that…
I don’t know how to do that…
I’ll just ask someone else…
Confidence has to come from somewhere real. However, learning and improving in the context of work can be difficult, since there’s so much pressure not to fail (chances are, you’re already giving it your best shot). We can create a safe space to experiment and problem-solve by growing our skill set outside of the the workplace.
I began to stop my negative mindset by trying to do things myself.
Change the car’s oil? I asked my husband to teach me.
Build a website? I found a YouTube video.
Set up accounting software? I searched for online forums on the topic.
The confidence you gain figuring it out in your personal life will carry over to your professional life. Eventually, you’ll regain your confidence letting work be a learning space as well, and that’s the key to entrepreneurship. Programs like StartupCamp, which help facilitate “learning as you work” can help you facilitate this mindset, as well.
3. Find a mentor
As entrepreneurs, our profession calls on us to be fighters. But no boxer has ever stepped into the ring alone. When we have people in our corner who believe in us, things change.
Find a mentor or coach who will speak life into you. Seek out someone--usually older--who inspires you with their own example of boldness, self-discipline, and “yes-ness”.
Good mentors aren’t going to fall into your lap (although, I admit, mine did), so it will likely take some hunting. Who do you admire? Approach them and ask if you could meet up regularly. You can use the word “mentorship” to establish the relationship you are looking for, or you can simply let them know that you value what they have to say and the way they do things, and that you’d like their input in your life.
Then, become a mentor yourself. As you learn these important lessons of trusting yourself and facing fears, find a way to encourage others to do the same. Find a mentee, write a blog post, give back through community organizations. You solidify your confidence when you share with others.
4. Give yourself a new name
I am Fierce. But I didn’t always believe that.
I work three full-time jobs and several part-time jobs. Ask any mompreneur, and they’ll say the same. A mom at work is always on-call for her husband and children, and then there is homemaking, social lives, spiritual walks, physical health… And I know this is true for working fathers, too.
It can all swell like a tidal wave sometimes. What if I can’t juggle it all? What if I fail and disappoint the people I care about? It’s hard to be Fierce when you’re constantly overwhelmed.
But eight years of rock climbing taught me that I am Fierce. Not because I was fearless on the crag—far from it, I was always terrified—but every time Fear sent me to the bottom, I tied back in again (eventually).
Rock climbing was only the beginning of my Ferocity. I brought a child into this world. I made a commitment to love a man until the day I die. I get up every morning with too much to do and decide to put on a cup of coffee and enjoy the sunrise.
I am Fierce. And you are, too.
Don’t negate the power of positive self-talk. Give yourself a name and wear it with confidence.
I didn’t finish the route. I got within eight feet and my arms couldn’t hold on any longer. But it was one of the best climbing days I’ve ever had.
I know Fear will be back, whether eighty feet up in the air, at my desk, or lying in bed, wondering if I’m balancing this work-motherhood-marriage thing. It’s a tenacious opponent. But that’s okay; I’ve realized that fear has its place. My fear is part of me, and I’m actually grateful for it. It helps me to be cautious and diligent.
We can’t let Fear stop us. That’s where confidence comes in. Trusting yourself is what helps us keep going, pushing past the paralyzing fear.
I’ll finish the route for fun another day.
Keep climbing. You can do it.