Take The Leap: 3 Ways To Harness Fear And Use It To Your Advantage

David Lamer

It’s brisk but sunny on the top of the competition hill at Stowe. The cold air rushing through my goggles, I shake off my nerves and take a little hop closer to the edge of the ramp.

Stoked to be the only woman in this Big Air Freestyle Skiing competition, I glance down at the glistening white lip curved up over the announcer’s stand where a vertically sloped ramp puts the skier almost perpendicular to the slopes.

Between the jump and the landing hill beyond it, spans an intimidating vast gap. If I don’t catch enough air off the jump, I’ll crash in that gap. If I catch too much air, I’ll overshoot the landing and hit the flats in a bone-crushing compression. Both alternatives will send me to the ER.

“Go BIG or go home,” I whisper intensely to myself.

The adrenaline surges and I flip my skis downhill and begin a rapid acceleration toward the jump. With confidence, I approach the curved lip of the jump. I flex, drive my legs and POP!

I’m launched in the air. I’ve got it. Yeah, I’m feeling it! It’s great! The exhilaration, the adrenaline... I’m going BIG!

Then, the eerie stillness of the air manifested itself in an explosion of fear. Did I go too big? I start twisting my body trying to gain control and steadiness, but I can’t seem to.

“SH*T,” I scream in terror, “I went TOO big!”

The ground races toward me, I brace myself for the crash. And I wake up in a cold sweat.

This nightmare has been a common occurrence in my dreams since around three months into starting my company, PreeLine. But it also creeps its way into my daily thoughts and threatens to cause me to lose focus and react frantically by looking for the landing; for the way out.

I can’t see what the landing looks like for PreeLine or when it may come. In becoming an entrepreneur, one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is how to harness this fear that comes along with the uncertainty, and use it as fuel to accelerate me toward my dream of building a successful company rather than allowing it to debilitate me.

Here’s how I’ve learned to harness and use fear to my advantage:

1. Embrace the unknown and control your controllable variables.

When my cofounder and I initially decided to take the big leap and start our company, it was exhilarating.

We had raised the money, signed on our developer team, built out our wireframes and were headed off the “big jump.” It was great! We were going big and accomplishing the goals we had set out for ourselves. This is the honeymoon stage of building a company.

Around three months into building PreeLine, this dream about crashing off the jump started to come.

Our overall goal for the company was to gain predictive insights for brands by connecting them with their consumers pre-season. From consumer engagement with merchandise, we could help brands get smarter about inventory buys, inventory allocation and marketing spend.

We had built our MVP and had presented it to some of the top brands in the fashion industry. It didn’t seem to be working the way our business model had scoped out.

While the brands were excited about the predictive analytics we could provide, they were hesitant to allow us to hook into their APIs in order to pre-sell the merchandise. We had spent real investor money, built a product, and it didn’t seem to be working the way we had originally intended.

We were off the jump, mid-air, and we were unsure of where we would land.

There were a lot of unknowns at this stage.  It was still unknown how we would fix this problem and whether any new solution would even work.

Instead of frantically twisting about looking for answers to the unknowns, we embraced the fact there were unknowns by looking toward what we had control over.

We knew our controllable was our site; it was something we owned and could change in whatever way we saw fit. We couldn’t control how the brands would react, but we could try to change our site into something they would like. This helped us harness the fear of the unknown and use it to focus on our core competencies: the site and our predictive technology.

2. Give yourself space to think and meditate.

While we knew we needed to change the site into a different product the brands would accept, we still weren’t sure what that product was. I sat for several days whacking away at my keyboard and debating with my cofounder about different solutions.

The fear stirred in my stomach.

Finally, that Saturday I decided to pick my head up and give myself a break by attending a TedX conference with a close friend. As the subway car pulled away from the platform heading for Brooklyn, my friend looked over at me and asked, “What’s worrying you?”

I confided in him everything that had been going on with PreeLine. He looked at me and bluntly stated, “You’re focused too much on the revenue, look to connecting with the consumer.” The announcer came on, the subway doors opened and I felt shocked.

Upon returning from the conference, I decided to go for a long run. During that run, I allowed myself to think freely; to open myself up to the possibilities of our platform.

It dawned on me that my friend was right: We didn’t have to sell the merchandise; instead, we could make PreeLine an open discussion forum about coming trends. We could have our members connect with one another and applaud one another’s style.

The next day, my cofounder and I walked out of the office and started heading down the West Side Highway, mulling over what this pivot would mean and how it would change our business model. We allowed ourselves to be open to the possibility of this change.

By building a social platform, we could still gain huge predictive insights and use aspects of the MVP we had already built, while allowing us to hold off on pre-selling the merchandise. This was a big leap, since neither of us had experience in building a social site.

But the fear drove us forward to preserver.

I think that in order to come up with these solutions and harness the fear to your advantage, you have to allow you mind time to wander. Embrace the stillness of floating mid-air and allow yourself the time to calmly scope out the landing hill.

I’ve found that running is an effective way to give myself time to openly think and pontificate. I have a hard time meditating, but that’s also a great way to give yourself space to think.

3. Be confident in the decisions you make.

We’ve now built our social platform and are growing our user base exponentially while also collecting hugely valuable predictive insights for our partner brands.

Yet, the dream of crashing off the jump still seems to creep its way into my slumber: Will we be able to grow fast enough? Will that big brand actually sign on with us? Will we be able to close on our seed round? These are all questions that keep me up at night, doubting whether I have gone “too big.”

Yet, I let these questions drive me by being confident in the decision we made to make the site a social platform rather than e-commerce marketplace. I don’t go back and doubt my decisions; I focus on driving forward and trust I made the right ones.

When you take the leap and launch off the HUGE jump of starting your own company, fear is inevitable. If going big was easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s how you harness that fear that will determine whether you succeed or fail in your journey as an entrepreneur.

Fear can be crippling, if you allow it to be. In the nightmare, it causes me to wildly twist about, trying to gain control, but ultimately causes me to crash.

Conversely, fear can propel you forward. If you harness the fear in the right way, you can embrace the “eerie stillness” of being airborne and drive forward toward the landing hill.

Don’t be scared to go off the jump; let the fear drive you off of it.

To quote Erin Hanson, who has probably shown up on your Instagram news feed,

“But what if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly.”

Take the leap; embrace the fear and propel yourself forward. Go big.