feeling fearHave you ever heard slogans like these?

“Freedom lies on the other side of fear”
“Success lies outside your comfort zone”
“Feel the fear and do it anyway”

Well then, I’ve got a new slogan for you. Try this one on for size:

“Doing something that makes you paralyzed with fear is really, really stupid”

I see this every day as both a small business owner and a psychotherapist. Slogans that urge you to look fear in the eye and spit at it may be good motivation, but they are really bad therapy. And if you follow them, you will probably kill your business. Here’s why:

Bravery is overrated. My specialty is treating fears and phobias, and my experience is that most people lose their fears in small, comfortable baby steps. I feel bravery is as likely to traumatize you as it is to help you. Same with starting or running a business: many if not most truly successful people take small steps, manage their risks, grow their revenue base, and most importantly stay within their comfort zone.

Fear is part of your good judgment. There is a reason most of us don’t scale tall buildings, parachute off high bridges, or invest our life savings in some whacko restaurant concept: fear tells us it would be a Bad Idea. Because it’s trying to protect you from your own stupidity. Deciding to “go for it” or “take the leap” often overrides our judgment and leads to unfortunate consequences.

Fear takes you in the wrong direction. Think of the undercapitalized startup, or the restaurant that isn’t getting enough customers in the door. How many of them ever get better? Most end up in a death spiral because short-term worries can make you blind to long-term solutions.

Natural selection. But wait, you say, what about that brave entrepreneur I just read about who took on the world, risked everything, and struck it big? They exist, of course. So do people who win the lottery. But remember that they don’t write stories about the hundreds of poor schleps who gambled and lost. Basing your business on the nanopercentage of people who win big bets is usually a poor strategy.

In fact, figure this last point out for yourself. Picture in your mind all the people you know who are very successful at what they do, in one bucket. Now picture all the wannabes and failure stories in another bucket. How many in the first bucket were sober and rational about starting their business, and how many in the second bucket were “all in”? I rest my case.

There is this romantic view of entrepreneurs as crazy risk takers who somehow suck it up and overcome their fears. But most of the truly successful ones I know are actually fairly risk-averse people who simply work hard and became really good at something there is a market for. My advice? If fear is a big part of your business plan, run as far as you can in the opposite direction.