Owning a business is like being a man riding a lion.
“People look at him and think, This guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!” says Thomas. “And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”
~ Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions (No. 188 on the Inc. 500)
When fear is left alone it grows, expanding to fill the spaces between doubt and hope. The more you ignore what you're afraid of, the more it sinks its hold into you until you have no idea of how to live without it. Much like an abusive relationship (and it can be) you learn that fear is a good thing, without it you'd make stupid choices, but fear is there like a good friend to keep you safe. Fear tells you that you don't have the qualifications necessary, that you need more education, that you're not good enough to be a part of whatever you're aiming for, that you aren't from the right circle of friends or weren't born in the right class. And it cuddles you and rocks you back into the lulling boredom of being content with what you have, with a knowing glance back at any of the times you tried and failed.
If I had to pinpoint when I began to pull the holds of fear off, I'd say it came with a random decision to go skydiving years ago. I'd recently come out of a terrifying health issue and made a bold pact to myself that I would begin to say Yes! to anything, after feeling like my mortality was put into question a little too early. Even though I had no interest in skydiving, when the local butcher at the grocery near my mom's house invited me to go (he was in his sixties and had been skydiving since the military), I said yes. It turns out his wife had recently passed away from cancer and skydiving was something they enjoyed together - as a tribute to my recent triumph, he wanted to pass the gift of the sky on to someone else -me! It blew my mind completely. I'd never been so sure I was going to die as I was clinging to that open door staring at the gaping maw of the sky and the vast expanse of the patchwork land below me. I also never felt in such absolute awe as I did that day. The world was suddenly so large, and I (and all my problems) were so miniscule. Fear gave me the gift of perception. What did any of it really matter? The credit card bills, bad dates, self-esteem, what car you drive, what your hair looks like, what job you have - when you've got a few minutes before plastering yourself in the ground? My mind bent, stretched and grew to encompass these new thoughts and I laughed at my pact to say Yes, and kept on saying Yes.
I travelled to the jungle, I rock climbed, I fell pretty bad rock climbing, I fell in love, I fell out of love, I found my true love, I made bad decisions, I made a few good decisions, I contacted my Dad who I hadn't spoken to in about 20 years, I fought for who I wanted to be, I fought against my past crutches, habits and addictions, I did triathlons, and an Ironman, I got married and we started a business. Every single time I've said yes, the world has had many ways of laughing in my face and making me question my willingness to embrace my fear.
Everything else has paled in comparison to the past few years of starting this business with no money, no safety net and no nest egg. We've sunk countless money, time, energy and sanity into what we've created and now we have staff that's counting on us to not only keep it going, but to make it flourish. While on the outside owning this business may look like it's a relatively straightforward process, it's been a constant, never-ending struggle to keep going. You run out of money and you have to either give up or sink more in. You run out of energy and you have to sack up and dig deeper or give in. It's no longer a hobby or a career, and it's no longer just our own livelihoods - we have others who are relying on us to come up with that payroll every two weeks so that they can care for their families and pay their bills too.
With abandoning the little fears have come greater opportunities - some that are clearly not a good move and others that are more in line with our goals. Some that blow your mind entirely and some that with enough regular work and effort may blossom into ongoing streams of business. The lion we're riding clearly, keeps growing and whether we intended to or not, we've become lion-riders and much of our energy goes into not being eaten. More and more I'm reminded that whatever you're currently doing has very little to do with what you're really doing here. And with each passing challenge and triumph, that pledge to say yes tickles the back of my mind and dares me to look past the current struggles and be courageous enough to dream about what else we might create together.