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070 - Stopping fear from holding you back

How to overcome the fear that is stopping your vegan business from moving forward. If you see a child jump onto a high wall, it’s often accompanied by a panicked parent shouting at that child to get down. We’re conditioned from a young age not to take risks, climb high or to rock the boat. But the feeling that we’ve come to associate as fear is actually a neutral sensation, it’s as much our bodies pumping us up to tackle a problem head-on as it is getting us ready to run away.

In this episode, David explains where these feelings of fear come from and how to control and overcome them so that they don’t hold you back. And why in many cases, the fear you feel is a signpost to where success can be found in your business.

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Episode transcript:

Hello and welcome to episode seventy of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe.  And if you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.
And as always, if you want to go beyond this podcast and connect with an amazing community of vegan business owners then don’t forget that you can also become a full, paid-up member of Vegan Business Tribe!  And, just to pause for a second, our members are the reason Lisa and I do this.  We have been able to help, champion and support so many of our amazing vegan businesses over the last couple of years and we now count many of you as our friends too.  So if you are serious about growing your vegan business, then come and join a community of people who are on the same mission as you are and want you to succeed.  And people do ask how they can help support Vegan Business Tribe, and the answer is just sign-up!  Because not only are you supporting our mission to champion and grow the vegan business scene and allowing us to keep putting out this podcast every week, you also get access to all our content, our online events, our community and even Lisa and myself if you want to ask for our advice and support through our community hub.  So go check out the website at and click on the big ‘join’ button on the homepage to find out more about how you can support us and how we can in return support you.
OK, so in last week’s session, episode 69, we spoke about the idea of failing fast and failing cheap: so as a quick recap of that, if you accept that you don’t have all the answers yet in your business then you are going to take some missteps – and in fact, taking some wrong turns may actually be a really important step in learning what works and doesn’t work.  But that means you have to be comfortable with the idea that some things you try out might fail.  And that fear of failure is enough to stop many of us actually trying in the first place.
And that fear of failure takes lots of different guises: it could be a fear of looking dumb, fear of the unknown, fear of what other people might think, fear of running out of money or fear that you might trigger something to happen that you don’t have the skills to deal with.  Or it might be something in your business that you just see as being too big for you to deal with, you don’t know where to start so you just do nothing instead and let that fear grow bigger and bigger.  Well, let me continue last week’s theme slightly and tell you that you ARE going to fail.  I guarantee it – now this isn’t me taking on some new kind of role as a DE-motivational speaker, but just like we spoke about in the last session, failing is part of business.  And the first thing you need to do to take that sting away is to re-frame what failure actually is.  Failure is an opportunity, it’s a learning experience, it’s only an actual failure if something failing is the end.
Take Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of companies – he’s worth four and a half billion and is regarded as one of the world’s most successful business people.  How would you like to partner up with Richard Branson?  How would you like him to have a hand in your company – of course you would!  But what if I was to tell you that Richard Branson has had as many failed businesses as successful ones?  Do you remember Virgin Cola, Virgin Cosmetics and the very short-lived Virgin Brides, the wedding-dress company that Richard Branson admitted he helped launch simply because he liked the name?  Under Richard Branson, Virgin tried expanding into the alcoholic drinks industry, the tech and fashion sectors and even launched Virgin Cars – they all failed.  Did any of those make Richard Branson a failure?  Do you think that people talk behind his back and say, ‘look there goes the idiot who tried to take on the Apple iPod with the Virgin Pulse’?  Or do they recognise him as someone who built a company that turns over tens of billions of dollars a year with seventy-thousand employees worldwide, and that for every high-profile failure he had an equally explosive success to match it.  In fact, it was the failure of Richard Branson’s very first business that lead him to his first success.  At 16, Richard Branson launched a magazine called ‘Student’.  This magazine didn’t find the success that he was hoping for so he started a business selling records by mail-order and started using the magazine to advertise this company.  This record business proved so popular that he quit the magazine and opened a record shop instead, and from the money he made from the record shop, he launched a music label that would go on to sign the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones.
He could have just kept to the magazine, and seen its demise as a failure.  But he didn’t, it was simply a stepping stone.  When he owned the record shop, he was hit with a seventy-thousand pounds fine after he was questioned in connection with selling records that had been declared as export stock.  That could have been the end of his career but it wasn’t, even though his parents had to re-mortgage the family home to help pay the fine.  The reason that Richard Branson called his company ‘Virgin’ was simply because they were all completely new to doing business, they made mistake after mistake after mistake and it would have been easy to have let the fear of what might happen next stop them.  But if it had, they would not have got to the success.  And this is the same with almost any successful business person.  You go and read any founder’s story, such as Branson’s, and (if they are being honest) you will likely read about failure after failure, each bringing them one step closer to success.
But still, this fear of failing holds many of us back.  We avoid situations where failure is a possibility, or where we might be showed up for our lack of knowledge and experience, and as such we stop pushing forwards beyond the safe zones we’ve built for ourselves.  Our businesses plateau.  And this is a real problem, especially if you have a vegan business.  Because I am guessing that one of the reasons you actually started a vegan business was to make a difference.  You want to have an impact, you want to use your business to bring about a fairer, cruelty-free world – but you are never going to do that hiding behind your sofa.  Avoiding situations where we might be seen to fail is hard-wired into us.  What’s the first thing you say when your child jumps onto a wall?  You tell them to be careful, you shout at them to get down, you tell them it’s dangerous and they are going to hurt themselves if they keep climbing high.  You tell them this because it’s what your parents told you.  We have been conditioned to believe that if you climb high, there is a danger we are going to fall but do you ever see the fear of falling in the eyes of a young child walking along the top of the wall?  Or do you see the pure joy in their faces because they are too young to have developed that fear yet?
And we all remember the Greek myth of Icarus who was warned by his father not to fly too high because the sun would melt the wax in the wings they had built.  That story is quoted as an analogy to not over-reach yourself, to not climb too high, to stay within your comfort zone.  But what people forget is that Icarus’ father also warned him not to fly low, else his wings would get wet and he would crash into the sea – and this idea is explored in a brilliant book called The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin: the world needs the majority of people not to try to climb high, we need people to sit in offices, to do mundane jobs; we need workers to make the things we buy and delivery drivers to bring them to us.  We need a word mainly made up of workers doing as they are told else our society collapses. But that also means that there is a prescribed path that most of us take: we go to school, then to college and maybe to university.  Then we get a job working for a company, keep our heads down, develop a hobby, watch TV, don’t try to get above our station, don’t rock the boat and if we’ve been good and followed the system we’ll be given a few years of relaxing at the end with a pension before we shuffle on.  And pushing against that, trying to branch away from that path and do something different… well, if everyone did that then there would be pandemonium.
If you already have your own business, then you have already rocked the boat, you’re already in a minority and have been braver than 90% of the population and probably already had to push through a lot of social pressure to do that – because if everyone just started up their own businesses then where would all the big companies get all their office workers from?!  But once you realise that you have already taken that step, then you can also realise that in many cases, the fear that we all face in business is mostly constructed.  It’s smoke and mirrors.   Usually, there is no penalty for failing.
We live in an age of multiple safety nets.  If fear of failing is holding you back right now then try this exercise:  imagine what would happen if your main source of income stopped right now.  Now, for most people, this will give you a momentary feeling of dread!  This is where most of our fear comes from, it’s what keeps us in that office job – that fear that you won’t be able to pay your mortgage or rent next week.  The fear that you will let down your family and your dependents, that you will be seen as a failure and you will have the fall from grace that your parent warned you about when you first said you were starting your own business.
But people sadly lose their incomes every day, so what would actually REALLY happen?  Well, let’s do the exercise: how long would it take you, with all the skills and experience you have, to find a job if you had to?  Probably not long, and it might not be doing the work you want to do straight away, but there are always options – and let me tell you that running your own company gives you a unique set of skills that employers find really desirable.  It gives you an accountability that other employees don’t have.  So, you know you can replace the income, it may take some time meaning you might not be able to cover all your bills for a couple of months so let’s take a look at what would actually happen there too.  Well, the first thing you would do is call your letting agent or mortgage company and tell them you’ve lost your income.  Mortgage providers get these calls every day, it’s so routine to them that you might even find it as an option on their automated telephone system and most have a support team dedicated to help people in this situation.  In the very worst-case scenarios, house repossessions take the best part of a year and it is genuinely the last thing your mortgage lender wants to do.  You are unlikely to lose your home because you can’t pay your mortgage for a couple of months, we don’t live in that kind of society.
And we have these multiple safety nets all around us which, to be quite honest, we have become so used to that we don’t even realise they are there.  It would take more than your business not working out for you to end up on the street – and it’s only when you sit down and work out what you would ACTUALLY do if faced with that situation that you start to realise that while it would be unpleasant, it likely wouldn’t be catastrophic.  In fact, they call doing this exercise ‘de-catastrophising’ because once you get the panic out of the way and look at what would actually be the outcome of a situation that you are fearful of, it is rarely anywhere near as bad as your mind has built it up to be.  And you can do this with any of your fears that are holding you back.  What would people ACTUALLY think if you failed at something or got something wrong?  Would there really be any shame?  Are you making out like you’re the centre of other people’s worlds when in reality what you get up to would hardly register with most people in your life and they would soon forget?  Would you rally around a partner, friend, colleague or family member if they had a set-back?  Of course you would, so why do you think your own friends and family would act any differently for you?
So the fear of failure is mostly a construct, and I urge you to do that catastrophic thinking exercise around anything you have fear around, if you can do it with a friend or a partner to give you an external view, and you will show yourself the outcome wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad as you think it would be.
And if it helps then you can start to mitigate some of those fears.  Start putting some money aside to build up a buffer so you’ve got some funds saved away to cover a few month’s bills in case you ever do need to cover a period of job-hunting – it will make you feel better knowing it’s there and it’s a prudent thing to do.  But the reality is, you will probably never need it.  And this is where I want to start turning around the theme of this session, because most of the time you simply will not fail – or rather you won’t fail to the extent that it will feel like a failure.  Too often, we focus on what the outcome of failing would be but what about if we focus instead on what the outcome of succeeding would be?  That thing you are not doing, that process in your business that you are not starting because fear is holding you back, that opportunity you are not following because you don’t know how it’s going to work out or what someone’s response might be.  What difference will it make to both you and your businesses when you achieve it?  We get consumed with the worst-case scenario, but stop to think about the best-case scenario instead.  Because let me tell you, from experience, the best-case scenario is far more likely to happen than the worst.
When you solve a problem that fear was stopping you from tackling, I can guarantee that you will wish you had tackled it sooner and will wonder why you built it up so much in the first place.  The things that we are first scared of doing quickly become routine once we know how to do them. 
So let’s now properly do a 180 with fear.  And I’ll give you a personal example: I have given so many talks and presentations throughout my career – sometimes that’s been on stage in front of hundreds of people or in a boardroom presenting a 100 thousand pound proposal to a management team.  Over this last year alone, myself and Lisa have done hundreds of online sessions and events – and you would think that I’d be pretty relaxed doing them by now, but I still get nervous before every single event or talk.  It doesn’t matter how many people I’m presenting to, how many times I’ve spoken about the topic or how inconsequential the outcome of my presentation, in the hour leading up to any event Lisa knows that I’m going to be stressed.  And I wouldn’t change that.  Because I have learned that the nerves I’m feeling are part of giving a good presentation – and in fact, the occasions where I haven’t had pre-event nerves have been the ones where I’ve messed-up.  That fear I am feeling in that moment is my mind and body getting ready to do something – and you will have heard of the fight or flight response, that feeling when your body is getting you ready to either attack the problem head-on or to run away.  But we’ve got used to running away, we’ve been conditioned to be careful and not take risks so at the first fight or flight feelings we get, we back away from the situation.  But you can learn to really lean into this feeling.  So when I’m doing a talk or an event, I’m looking for that feeling to start creeping in.  I just don’t take it as a signal to run away anymore, I take it as a signal that my body is getting ready for it.  If I’m an hour away from doing an event and I haven’t started to feel it yet then THAT’S when I start to get worried – because that means my mind isn’t focussed on what I’m doing, it’s not doing its subconscious final checks, it’s not making sure everything is set-up right, I’m too complacent.  I take the nerves I feel as a sign that I’m paying proper attention and everything is going to go well.
And I want you to start re-evaluating that feeling of fear when something triggers it, such as being asked to give a presentation or go on a podcast, or to send that message to someone who might be able to help your business but your scared of approaching or to figure out how you are going to tackle something in your business that you feel overwhelmed by.  Is that feeling in your stomach flight, or is it fight?  Is it your mind and body getting you ready to run away because you are facing harm, or is it your body getting you ready to step up to the challenge?  And the reality is, you can choose which it is.  Your body is getting you ready for either – that’s why it’s called fight OR flight – and it’s up to you which option you take.
But if you don’t choose, or you choose to do nothing, then to your mind you chose to flee – and the next time you face the same situation it will remember that and it will feel twice as big.  That’s why it’s imperative that the more fear you are feeling about facing something in your business, the quicker you need to deal with it.  The longer you leave it, the bigger a threat it grows into in your mind and the more of your energy and creativity it will drain from you.  So if you have a fear in your business that you are not tackling, one that you can absolutely put your finger on as you’re listening to this, then as soon as you have finished listening I want you to make that your number one priority. You need to get rid of it because trust me, it will be far simpler than you thought it would be to sort and you will have such a weight lifted off you once you have.
So how do we do that, how do we deal with something that’s generating fear and stopping us from moving forward, well this leads me to my main point – and this is the thing that I really want you to take away from today – and that’s fear shows you the way to success.  If something seems insurmountable in your business, if all your customers have been asking you for a new feature but it fills you with dread because you don’t know how to do it, then that’s the thing to really focus on.  Success lies behind that boulder that is blocking your path, because that boulder is blocking the path for all your competitors too.  Finding the way over it, under it, around it or through it will move your business forwards while everyone else will just sit thinking it’s too big a problem to tackle.
I’ve seen so many businesses who found success by tackling the problem that everyone else had just accepted was too hard, too risky or too scary to deal with.  If you are too nervous to do that first social media video of yourself, then it’s likely that most of your competitors will be too nervous too – meaning that when you do it, you’re the one who will be starting to build a relationship with your customers while they are not.  If you’re scared about scaling up and taking on staff because you’ve never done it before, then that’s the thing that is going to be holding back other companies in the same position – meaning you’re going to be the one that moves ahead of them in your sector.  If you’re worried about doing a funding round to raise twenty grand to buy the new machine that’s going to allow you to start taking on orders from larger distributors, then that’s going to be the same barrier your competitors are facing and why they won’t get the orders you are going to get.  The big problem that you have in your business, the big fear that you are worrying about all the time, is most likely a huge signpost showing you the way to move your business forwards.  And your fear is simply your body recognising that and getting you ready to do something about it.
Have faith in your ability to take that problem on and to resolve it.  Remember, as you will have heard me say so many times before, you do not need to reinvent the wheel.  Sit down with the problem and find out how other people have solved it.  If you don’t have the expertise yet then go talk to someone who has.  A lot of the time, tackling a problem in your business is all about finding someone who has already done it and letting them tell you how – and you will be amazed how small an issue your problem seems to someone who deals with it every day.  Setting up a payment gateway for your website might seem like an insurmountable problem to you, but will take a developer all of twenty minutes to install and set up.
Shining a light on a problem might actually be all you need to do to take that fear away from it, so share your fear with other people.  The amount of times I’ve sat down with Lisa and told her a problem that I’m worrying about and she’s simply stopped me and said – so who are you going to talk to about it?  Who’s going to cut it down to size for you because there must be people who deal with this all the time.  And a phone call later or a chat with some expert and I’m left wondering why I was so worried and why I left it so long to do something about it.
And if it doesn’t work out then nothing is ever really a failure, because something is only ever a failure if it’s an end-point. If failing at one thing leads you to do another, then it wasn’t a failure, it was just the path.
OK, so let’s have a quick round-up of what we’ve covered today in how to stop fear holding you back:
  1. Fear of failing is natural, it’s been drilled into us to be careful ever since we were children.  But you need to re-frame what you think failure is. Your failures are just stepping stones on the path that led to your success.
  2. We live in a safety-net society, and your fears about what might happen if something doesn’t work out are likely hugely exaggerated.  Take some time to do some catastrophic thinking with a friend or partner and you will find that you’ll have more options open to you if the worst happens than you think.
  3. However, stop thinking about the worst-case scenario, and start focusing on the best.  Overcome your fear by thinking about what a difference it will make if you achieve the thing that you are worried about doing.
  4. Recognise that the feeling that you translate as fear is actually neutral.  It’s not positive or negative, it’s your body getting you ready to take action – and you get to choose if that action will be to tackle the problem or to run away!
  5. If you have something creating fear in your business, deal with it straight away.  Don’t let it drain your energy.  Once you have dealt with it and moved forwards, you will wonder why it took you so long or what you were so afraid of!
  6. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Find someone who deals with your problem every day and let them cut it down to size for you.  Something that seems unsurmountable to you might take someone else all of twenty minutes to deal with.
  7. Fear shows you the way to success.  If something is stopping your business from moving forward it’s likely the same thing is stopping your competitors too.  Finding a way past that boulder will really move you ahead of your competitors who haven’t.
And that is it!  So this has been a really interesting subject to cover and one that a lot of our members have raised in our business clinics.  If you’ve had something stopping you from moving forwards then let me know, don’t let fear stop you from reaching out to us at Vegan Business Tribe too.  Because I really believe in you, and I’m not just trying some motivational mind-trick here, because if you have a vegan business then you and I are on the same mission, which means you are not just trying to overcome a problem to make more money, you are looking to overcome a problem so that you can help move the vegan scene forward.  Your business is your activism, and I get that 100% – because Vegan Business Tribe is mine and Lisa’s activism too.
So, if you’ve found this podcast useful please do share it with the people you know, do come and connect with us at Vegan Business Tribe if you’re not already a member and let’s see how we can help you make a bigger impact on the world too.  Just head over to and you can sign up as a fan to get our weekly email, a full member to get access to, well, EVERYTHING we do, or even as a Patron if you really want to help support the Vegan Business Tribe mission. Just like Vegan Accountants, GrowLeady, Zebra Plant-based Marketplace and Peak Business Finance who all give us that little extra a month to help us do what we do.
So thank you for listening, I know I say this every week but Lisa and I hugely appreciate you giving up your time to listen, and I will see you on the next one!

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