We all have a fear monster. If we’re honest, we have a closet-full of monsters waiting to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune time. Time and time again, a lot of women have expressed through asking, “Aren’t you afraid? Isn’t that scary? I couldn’t possibly do that.” They have somehow written themselves off and have let entrepreneurship become some huge, hairy, impossible thing. It’s time to dismantle those fears as Amber talks about her fear monster and drop some insights that will help you face yours along the way.
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Facing Your Fear Monster
I promised myself when I started this show that I would do two different things. One, I would talk about the practical side of building a startup. I’m following a lot of human-centered design processes and how many are actually implementing these processes as a company. I also wanted to make sure that I realized that my journey is a little different. I want to acknowledge the other side of things, the tough stuff, the stuff that nobody talks about and it doesn’t make the news articles.
I want to dive right into the heart of some of the tough stuff in this episode. I want to talk about dealing with fear or facing your fear monster. We all have a fear monster. If we’re honest, we have a closet-full of monsters waiting to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune time, whether it be the ugly monster of imposter syndrome or simply hating change. You name it. We’ve all got something. We all have some hang-up. It’s part of the human existence. All along my journey, I have been hearing a phrase that women are saying to me time after time, “Aren’t you afraid? Isn’t that scary? I couldn’t possibly do that.” It breaks my heart when I hear women tell me they simply wouldn’t be capable of starting their own company. They have written themselves off. We’ve let entrepreneurship become some huge, hairy, impossible thing along the way. We’ve raised up these incredible stories of the hero leader that raised millions of dollars in traditional venture capital and then we watched the other side of it. Less than 5% of venture capital raised goes to women.
Things are changing, but it’s a slow process and there can be times when it feels like it might be hopeless for us to do this. If you hadn’t already noticed, I’m a little bit rebellious. It’s time we systematically dismantle this old narrative that has us telling ourselves we can’t do it. We are far braver than we give ourselves credit for. The very fact we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to admit our fear shows our courage. It’s time we recognize that. Once we recognize it, now it’s time to dismantle those fears. How about I go first? How am I dealing with mine? What is mine? Let’s talk about my fear monster. Maybe you’ll find some insights that will help you along the way. First of all, it needs a name. Like any good hero in a story, I need to be doing an epic battle with someone. My fear monster is named Captain Invisibility.The very fact we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to admit our fear shows our courage. Click To Tweet
I want to be invisible. I like being invisible. I’ve always been a little bit like a gopher, like that one in Caddyshack from way back when. I’m working away underground. I’ve got my little nose to the grindstone. I’m digging my little tunnels. I’m getting stuff done. Periodically, I’d lift my head up and blog. I’d present at a conference. I would show up every once in a while, out and about, so people thought I was visible. I knew I was Captain Invisibility. I spent most of my time working away on stuff doing great projects. I was often doing things that were industry leading in the consulting industry. We would pull off the projects and then we move on. A lot of times, we didn’t even necessarily talk about it. Sometimes we did, but often we didn’t. I never thought anything of it. I thought it’s a consulting world. That’s all it is. We move on.
I realized there was a little more going on there. Some that are reading this might be surprised to know that I like being invisible. Some of you are laughing and going, “You did figure that out, didn’t you, Amber?” It’s because I like being invisible doesn’t mean I don’t know how to be visible. I got this other challenge along with that liking to be invisible. I have the heart of a teacher. Those two parts of my personality do battle. There’s the teacher part and she’s blogging, presenting at conferences and talking about how you do all this stuff. Fulfilled with the whole other part of me, those times that the little gopher did pop her head up. For example, presenting at conferences, I’m good at it. I don’t base this on my own ego or some assessment of myself. It’s based on what they told me at conferences and the reviews I would get. Most people tell me I’m funny, irreverent and high energy. They always walk away with something. I’m a practical engineer after all. In the SAP consulting industry, I was steadily working my way up in conferences. I got to the point where I was even a keynote speaker at some conferences.
At one conference, I took the story of a fairy tale and I talked about how our organizations operate like a fairy tale. It was fantastic. I get this incredible crowd response. It was a finance conference and the whole audience was laughing. This was no small feat. That part of me that was a teacher loved this part. Yet, when I was done with these experiences, I wanted to curl up in a little ball. It was exhausting. I want to go home, hideout and the world needs to go and leave me alone for a little while. I always thought it was because I was an introvert and I realized there was something else going on here too.
Now I’m launching a startup. I’ve got a little challenge here. This could be an issue, I wasn’t sure. I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of why do I like being invisible so much? What is going on there? Some people want to be invisible because they feel they’re not worthy or other things or there is other stuff going on. That’s not what it was about for me. For me, invisibility represented safety. I spent years honing a technical skill set and getting good at it. I can hold my own in any technical conversation and I liked that. I was comfortable with that. That felt safe to me. My customers love the work I was doing. The teams I was on always enjoyed working with me and I have a solid knowledge of the solutions and what to do. People that needed my skill set would find me via word of mouth, they would hear me at a conference or get connected to me through my blog. It was a comfortable place to be.
I moved over to the startup world and I’ve been building a startup. In the startup world, visibility is a different animal. A lot of times it can be obnoxious and off-putting, at least that’s what I see. It can be aggressive, posturing, about ego as much as anything else. It can be confrontational. I’m not that way. I knew that the stereotypical viewpoint was not the one I want it to be. I had ruled out this whole being visible thing. I’m collaborative. I’d like to iterate and deliberate in my processes. I’ve been running human-centered design processes for building my product, collecting data, iterating, working with customers and spend a fantastic process. I cherished the time I’ve had to be able to do that with customers.
Every once in a while, this little gopher, Captain Invisibility, would pop up her head and I talk about what I was working on at conferences. I talk about the processes I was following and people would say, “What methodology would you follow?” I’d say, “My gut, I’ve been in tech for many years.” People would look at what I have done and they’re like, “It’s systematic.” I’m an engineer. It’s going to be systematic. That’s who I am. I would get these incredible reactions and it made me realize I needed to talk more about some of these things that I was doing because the responses were fantastic. People would get enthusiastic and that would always make me smile and it felt good.There's a real balance we have to have as entrepreneurs in order to do the thing well. Click To Tweet
As I thought about this whole invisibility versus visibility thing, I decided I needed to give a good old nod to Frank Sinatra and I was going to have to do it my way. First, I needed to neutralize the fear around this whole thing. What is fear? It’s False Evidence Appearing Real. I needed to put a name to it. I needed to look at it. The first thing I did is say thank you to invisibility. I thanked it for its service. That might sound a little silly, but let’s unpack that a little bit more. I recognize that being invisible allowed me to generate this whole new set of skills. It was my choice at that time because it served me well. Even the first several months of the startup journey has been about refining my processes, learning a lot more about human-centered design, structuring things and figuring how to navigate my way through it. It has served me well. Then I needed to consider the role if I continue to choose this. How might this affect wonderly if I choose to continue being invisible, if I give in to my desire to stay invisible?
This is not an exercise in beating myself up. Please don’t beat yourself up when you look at some of these. Don’t make it about making yourself wrong. I didn’t make it about making myself wrong. I made it about more like scenario analysis. What happens if I choose to let this persist or to stay invisible? Let’s play out a couple of scenarios. The first scenario, I choose to stay invisible. That means when I start to staff, I’m probably going to need folks that like to be more visible. It might be sales people, marketing people, operations people, etc. That’s possible. I could stay invisible, keep doing my thing, build my little processes, happy as a clam. If I’m invisible, how’s anybody going to find me? This is where the idea of staying invisible has fallen apart a little bit. How does anybody find my company? How does anybody know me? Food for thought. That’s invisibility.
Visibility, on the other hand, was the whole other end of the spectrum. I’m visible. I’m doing whatever the fireside type chats. I’m doing the PR work. I’m having articles written about my company. All this different stuff they tell us we’re supposed to do that my little inner rebel was refusing to do up to this point, but I knew what all those things are. What if I went to the whole other end of the spectrum? Other than my inner introvert squealing like a pig right now, there are good things that would come with a lot of visibility. If I ever get to a point where I decided to fundraise, being visible help. If I want to get to the point of hiring, it’s good for people to know who you are. It might be easier from a marketing, product market fit, finding the market if you are more visible. More people will recognize your name.
Finally, then there’s the idea of having some balance between the two. This was the idea I decided I wanted to go with. I felt more comfortable with it. I wanted to give myself a way to say, “Amber, what are some practical things you can do that let you take those first steps of visibility?” I started going to meetups. Meeting perfect strangers or I didn’t know anyone and practicing talking about my company. Practice letting them see who am I, what is my company about and take the conversation from there. It’s a small start and a comfortable start. I found that as I’ve had more and more of these conversations, it’s getting easier and easier. I don’t freak out at the conversations. I get comfortable. Usually, by the end of the night, I got a crowd around me, we’re laughing and having a grand old time and I’m getting comfortable. I will keep taking it one step at a time on being more and more visible while also balancing it with those times I want to be a little less visible and work directly with customers and work on refining my processes.
There’s a real balance we have to have as entrepreneurs in order to do the thing well. That’s how I’m moving forward. Hopefully, this was helpful and gave you a little sense of maybe some practical steps to neutralize some of those fears so that you don’t repeat that narrative that tells you, “I couldn’t do it. It’s not possible.” Maybe it is possible with a little more methodology on how you go about doing it. Thanks for joining me. As always, you can find me at WonderlySoftware.com or you can even follow me on Twitter, @BeingWonderly. Thank you for walking this journey with me and now, it’s time to go be wonderly.
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