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The language of fear

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I learned a new phrase the other day.

I was writing an answer on Quora about how to turn a blog into business, and I wrote:

First, let me say that I think there should be a word to describe industries where people who have spent years doing it try to dissuade everyone else from getting in the industry because they know how horrible it really is. For example, musicians, lawyers, and authors will all tell you, straight up, “Dude, this sucks. Do something else. Anything else. But for the love of god, not this.”

For 99% of people, starting a blog is a terrible way to make money. You might as well take your money, shred it, spend a year sewing it back together by hand, and then light it on fire. You will still have saved time and heartache.

Interestingly, a commenter told me to look up “entry deterrence” and I learned that, indeed, my home-grown rant has actual academic backing.

I was thinking about an interesting chat with a friend a while back. He wanted to start a business, so he took me out to coffee to ask a few questions. See if you can guess where the conversation went:

  • “I was thinking of doing XXXX, but there are already 5 sites doing it…”
  • “Where would I even find out how to do a business plan?”
  • “I think I should wait until I figure out how to redesign my website.”

You know when you have a conversation with someone and they just want you to agree with them? By the end, I just wanted to say, “Yeah…I see what you mean.”

Each of these questions is very real to this person — but they’re also masking deep fears beneath each. For example, “There are already 5 sites doing it” = why would anyone choose me? (And if they can’t articulate the question, they can’t articulate the answer.)

What would you do in this situation? You can’t be rude and say, “Yeah, you’re right — you can’t do it. All your doubts are correct.” The truth is, they probably COULD succeed if they confronted and handled these barriers.

Remember, they don’t feel their fears are irrational. To them, these are perfectly logical and reasonable concerns. But these untested fears are paralyzing them from taking action. And the language they use allows them to continue being paralyzed (“I think I should wait until I get a website” = “It has to be perfect or the world will laugh at me”).

What’s an UNTESTED fear you had and how did you describe it? Was it taking an advanced workout class (“I need to get in shape before I take that”)…going to a cocktail party where you didn’t know anyone (“Why would anyone want to talk to me?”)…or applying for a job above your skillset (“They need 5 years of experience…I only have 4”).

Share your thoughts below.


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  1. My untested fear is to do a MSc in education studies on my own funds without any academic scholarship. I’m worried that I will run out of money, and starve in London.

    • Brina, I feel for you. Academia can be a touch world sometimes. But if you have the right motivation, I think you’re half way there already – cause it will get you through a lot.

      I love what you say here:
      “For 99% of people, starting a blog is a terrible way to make money. You might as well take your money, shred it, spend a year sewing it back together by hand, and then light it on fire. You will still have saved time and heartache.”

      It’s so true!

    • As Ramit says, do the homework to tame those fears. How much will it cost for school and living? How much do you have? If you’re short, how will you make more? If you get partway through and need to take a break and earn for awhile, how can you do so? If you map it out on paper, you may rid yourself of the fears.

      It’s impossible to live a risk-free life (no fun, either!). In my experience, often students paying out of pocket apply themselves and work harder for success than those taking handouts. In self-paced classes, I’ve seen the self-pay folks working to get through the most material, while those on government aid had lousy attitudes, were disrespectful, and did the least work necessary to get by. This is not to stereotype that this applies to everyone in these situations, but to say that if you care enough to pay for it, you are probably more motivated to be successful. (I’d be interested in Ramit’s comments, as with his knowledge, he probably has examples of the opposite, and can tell us, psychology, why this is.) Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud because I think financial aid is more than it’s cracked up to be. I’d rather be self-pay any day.

    • Thank you for the encouragement 🙂 Unfortunately I do not qualify for any financial aid whatsoever (international student and all that) but I have taken the plunge and placed my deposit. I’ll be starting my MSc this October in London.

      Happy? Yes, I’m glad I took the plunge- the course looks amazing and it’ll be very relevant to my work helping kids with special needs in the future. Terrified? Yes, I’m still worried that I’ll run out of money. However, I intend to cut down on unnecessary spending, and optimize my necessary spending (one of Ramit’s tips in his book). I’m also starting the groundwork to advertise my skills as a personal academic tutor.

      Fingers crossed I’ll make it and graduate. I’m excited 🙂

    • I got my MSc in London last year and totally ran out of money. However, I kept thinking I shouldn’t get a crappy job so I could optimize my time. Unfortunately I’m one of those people who can’t get anything done when I only have one thing to do (study). If I could go back in time, I would get any old job, no matter how bad, and use the busy-ness as a motivator to get other things done (actually study, find a good job, etc). As a result of a lot of feet-dragging and general stupidness, I’m now working in a crap job, even with my degree. Funny thing is I’m happier than I was without the crap job! I’m fortunate to be staying in London because I have dual citizenship, otherwise I’d be back in the US. Good luck with your adventure! It’s worth it no matter what happens!

    • Actually, you can live in a hostel for long term residents. Look up the LHA association, they aren’t backpackers but long term residents such as students and working visa types, all ages so you can avoid the 19 year old drunk all the time and there are 70 year olds there too so you find your vibe. I lived in there and shared a room. If you do 10-20 hours a week work at the hostel as a cleaner or receptionist or night porter, you get free rent and two meals a day free. My room mate from Columbia was studying english . masters students can work 20 hours a week still, I believe. David Cameron cut back international students studying english working hours and my roommate from a poorer country did 10 legal hours at Pret cafe and 50 hours 5pound an hour cash + free food in a cafe.
      Loads of people from Eastern Europe and poorer countries that aren’t in EU working there, and the EU East and West Europeans as well as even though GFC bad, in London there are jobs, not the best jobs, but waiting jobs etc. Teaching assistants pay okay there, and in the rich neighbourhoods where LHAs are located, lots of nanny work. SO, if you got your fees together and say, a few grand to set yourself up as London is a wonder ful city, you’ll be sweet, I arrived with no money, and knocked on doors until I got work. It annoys you seeing non english people on gov benefits – somehow EU passport holders, can get the dole and the government pays their rent so they are living in Kensington or Notting Hill and get a small cash benefit – but have their own room!!! If they got a waiting job, they would be the same or even worse off. But someone at the hostel always works at a bakery so you find yourself worrying about getting fat from leftover designer bakery treats!!! At worst case scenario, and I almost got this bad – you can hand out leaflets same day as you ask for 3 quid an hour – it’s a meal. So, unless you are lazy or don’t like knocking on doors, you’ll be right. Liquor off liscence store cheap. Bus cheaper than tube…

  2. My most present untested fear is that I don’t think I’m attractive enough to talk to a pretty girl. (Not that I believe I’m ugly, necessarily. Just that I’ll tend to think she’s out of my league.)

    • So many sweet, interesting men feel the same way as you do. It seems as if only arrogant pricks have the nerve to approach a beautiful woman. As a result, many beautiful women are lonely and bored. If you tried just introducing yourself you might be pleasantly surprised.

    • Talk to a pretty girl you are NOT attracted to first. Like a way to old one or nice to look at but not your type kind. Or a lesbian. Someone you think of as a sister. Get some female mates first. Then date their friends, but first just get some female friends so you can think of girls as just people you talk to about stuff you have in common.

  3. Mine is similar to the coffee guy:

    Why would anyone want to hire me as a coach when there are so many others out there?

    I don’t have enough money to make a better website, people aren’t going to take me seriously until I do.

    Can I really make a career out if this? Seems like a fantasy, maybe I should just suck it up and stick to management consulting like everyone else…

    • As one coach to another, what one thing would you be ale to do that would make you stand out? How could you use, what you believe, to differentiate yourself from the rest? Have you heard Simon Sinek do his TED talk the Golden Circle?

    • Aditi,

      A website is not gonna help, but referrals will help a lot more so, start with three clients and focus on a specialty or niche coaching gig that makes you stand out from all the others. An Earn 1k student, and I’ve had some success and some not. So, Fears is going to be always with me, and just got to keep on attacking. I wanted to do website work, I didn’t know enough. Now I do know a lot more, and now I am confident more than before in my work. I still have not made “it” or anything but I still keep learning about coding and getting that skill. Managing my clients and communicating with them.

      So, untested fear for me? I am too busy to work on an video project which could potentially increase my income quite a bit, and I have not moved forward on that.


    • Thanks so much Maureen and Guro.

      Maureen- I looked up that video, it is really and I like that approach. I am going to brainstorm my WHY and start with that. Hopefully that could help me figure out my “stand out.” What I really want to do is help people get unstuck, similar to Ramit’s Invisible Scripts. I want to help people figure out what their invisible scripts are and help them forgive, release, and re-write them, and help them get on a track that gets them moving 85% at minimum. I appreciate you replying!

      Guro- Good point, I should just focus on getting my 3. I do have 2 people already interested but instead of following up with them I was basking in my excuses. Thanks for the reminder, I am going to follow up with them and see how I can help them. Appreciate it!

  4. I have a huge desire to have a great youtube channel, and people like my channel so far and I have a few hundred subscribers even though it is very poorly produced.
    I want to have more video editing and make it more like Davey Wavey or Jenna Marbles, but it feels like since so many people already have good youtube channels, there is some barrier (irrational, I know) to my having one.
    Also the barrier is that if I were going to do this, I’d have to be more disciplined and actually record videos with a camera, edit each one, etc. – all stuff I like doing but I don’t make the time for it.

    • editing absolutely will be the bottleneck in your video production and (likely) will be the thing you least enjoy doing.

      find a student in film school who is looking for some experience & some pay on the side or someone on elance, odesk, or some other freelancing site who can edit & produce your videos.

      if you can afford it (and with those methods, it shouldn’t be too expensive) then your time burden will be a lot less & the videos will look a lot better.

    • I have this desire too! I actually made a channel and filmed a couple of videos. I was too afraid to show my face and my voice sounds really nervous, but you should try it anyway. Go to some of your favorite vloggers’ channels and watch their very first videos (you can sort them by date). They’re nervous too. I think this is one of those things you just have to start doing and whether or not you have a fan base right away won’t matter because you’re just practicing. You don’t need a great camera or editing at first. Just don’t worry about making it perfect and get your ideas out there.

  5. My untested fear is starting my own creative business in an area where most people say “oh, people won’t pay for that”. I *think* it’s not true, but am afraid to try it, and fail, though I honestly don’t have much to lose. So I hide behind stuff like “but I haven’t finished my website” and “I don’t have a good supplier”, etc., when really those are all just minor details.

    Thanks for this post today.

  6. My fear is, I have a online business idea but not sure if it will succeed. This is much like the example in the article above

  7. So what do you suggest to overcome fears but in a calculated way not just get over it without having a well thought about it.

    Remit this could be a topic for an article

  8. This seems shallow, but it’s the most obvious one – for the past 5 years, I had flirted with the idea of cutting off all of my hair. But I’m also significantly overweight and thought that going short would make me look old and/or butch (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I already have some insecurities about being judged for being an open lesbian and that just compounds it). I told myself I couldn’t do it until I lost a certain amount of weight, but then realized I was going to continue putting barriers in front of things I want until I didn’t.

    So, I cut it all off in June. I love it. It’s higher maintenance than my old hair, but it feels very me and very chic.

  9. My biggest fear is that I will let “feeling overwhelmed” keep me from getting shit done.

  10. I recently had an opportunity to perform some freelance IT work. I’ve never implemented this software and the project is my first without any assistance. I initially tried to refer to contacts I have. No one was interested. The client knows I’m untested and was hesitant. I offered to try and do it for free. If I’m successful, then they pay me as they see fit. I don’t know if I can accomplish this but I have a meeting to discuss details on Friday!