On Fear: What Scrooge McDuck and I Have in Common

Sometimes I feel a lot like Scrooge McDuck. In lieu of swimming in a pool of gold cartoon coins, I log into my bank accounts online to pet my digital dollars.

Since I first started my consulting practice, my accounting model has been to spend less than I make. Literally, that’s the whole model. I’d look at my business checking account a couple times a month to confirm that there was still a generally increasing number of dollars. Then I’d take what my accountant calls an “owner’s draw,“ which for my purposes meant shuffling a bunch of cash into the appropriate personal account when it was time to pay the mortgage or it seemed like there was “too much” (totally arbitrary) in my business checking.

In an effort to force myself to upgrade this strategy and actually understand my business’ cash flow, I once attended a workshop at an entrepreneur’s conference called, “Know Your Numbers”. By attended, I mean I watched the first 8 minutes, my eyes glazed over, and I left to check my email in the break room.  

I wanted to write a sassy sarcastic line here, “Clearly, I’m a champion entrepreneur in this regard and have created a surefire path to long-term financial success.” But, I recognize that humor could minimize the reality that my approach is entirely cavalier and born out of fear.  

Being an entrepreneur can be a joyful, liberating experience, but there's a lot that’s terrifying. It’s scary when a client changes the date on an event or doesn’t pay on time when I was counting on the revenue this month. It’s scary when the trademark attorney calls to say that I can do exactly the same thing I’ve already been doing, but now I’m less likely to be sued. Hooray! (As I write yet another check for $1,000.) Perhaps the scariest of all is the largely unfounded fear that new clients will suddenly stop coming -- apparently a universal condition among business owners.

Do It Scared

On Friday, I was invited to deliver a conference keynote speech alongside Kathryn Childers, one of the first female United States Secret Service Agents. Through rich anecdotes about Jackie O. and the Queen of Spain, Kathryn described her experiences protecting the first family and foreign heads of state. When she talked about her success in the service, Kathryn said it wasn't that she wasn't scared -- it’s that she just did it anyway.

I felt like saying, I can relate! I’ve just hired a bookkeeper and am starting to actually use QuickBooks. That’s just like being responsible for the life and wellbeing of JFK Jr. and Caroline Kennedy, right?

Friends and family tell me that they don’t have the constitution for entrepreneurship, that it’s too scary. It’s risky and unpredictable. Let me be clear, while it’s been 4 years since I’ve had a traditional 9-5 and the associated stable paycheck, it remains pretty terrifying. Petting my Chase.com homepage in lieu of doing business forecasting was my way of shutting my eyes to the very real uncertainty that comes with entrepreneurship.

It’s not just accounting that scares me. Right now, I’m developing a major e-learning series focused on supporting y’all in negotiating everything from maternity leave to a promotion. I’m seriously excited to give more people tools to find their authentic negotiating voices. What scares me is that my personality and hands-on approach won’t translate to the online format. So much of what makes me good at my job is empathizing, really listening, and engaging the audience -- whether that’s talking someone through asking for a raise or presenting to hundreds of attorneys. While my colleague, Kate, assures me that my personality and compassion will come through, at 3am as I write in this Houston hotel room, I’m terrified. I’m doing it anyway.

Frankly, success scares me. After Friday’s keynote for the Texas Women Rainmakers, I was so fulfilled and excited by the connection I’d created with this inspiring audience that I just wanted to stand in starfish pose (pictured above), legs and arms spread wide looking up at the sky. Friday’s talk was a reminder that I’ve created a role for myself that perfectly aligns with my skills, interests, and values. I’m wonderfully fortunate to have seen the success I have already, and I was humbled Friday to have multiple women say I’m a natural public speaker and suggest I need a TED talk.

The joyful fulfillment I felt Friday was a powerful juxtaposition to the insecurity and fear that overwhelmed me after my major consulting contract ended on March 15. At my most scared and fragile, I was crying in a ball sitting on the kitchen floor because a chair was too overwhelming. There's a duality to that fear and confidence. In that moment (either that intense kitchen floor fear or Friday’s starfish confidence) I have to remind myself that this is a pinpoint in time. I’m not always going to feel like this.

I'm scared a lot of the time. This business is growing and changing rapidly. Sometimes it feels like I'm blasting off in a rocket with limited control, basically having a seizure as the engines reverberate. Other times, especially while I’m actually giving a speech, I feel totally comfortable and in my element.

Whatever this next adventure may bring -- whether it's more Scrooge McDuck moments nervously petting my bank account, or more conferences with auditoriums full of brilliant women -- I’m scared, but I’m doing it anyway.

What’s scaring you right now? Are you gonna do it anyway?