Entrepreneurs like to embrace an aura of fearlessness. However, humans possess the ability to fear because it is a useful emotion. Fear helped us avoid lightning, and sabretooth tigers, and that same instinct exists within us today, and can help us avoid modern dangers (like human predators).

The problem comes when the fear instinct attaches itself to something which cannot literally hurt us, but which may “only” carry the risk of psychological harm. (Even then, the harm is likely overstated in our minds.)

sad man with head in handsThe instinct may exhibit itself as a fear of public speaking, or firing an employee, or submitting a sales proposal. These are all things that, in general, entrepreneurs need to be able to do. We need to be able to talk to strangers, or rid ourselves of problem staff, or ask clients to hire us. These things are necessary for the well-being of our business. Our fear instinct is actively working against our financial survival.

Of course, being entrepreneurs and, by nature, often people of extremes, our subculture has encouraged us to take a disproportionate response. We are told to “live fearlessly” and to “step outside our comfort zone”. The narrative envisions the wallflower inventor wiping off their sweaty palms, calming their shaking voice, and pitching in front of the “Shark Tank” investors for millions of dollars.

sad face drawingI believe that our comfort zone exists for a reason. Often, within our comfort zone is where we work best and most efficiently, and it should be where we spend the majority of our workday: doing what we do best, and what we’re comfortable with. The comfort zone is only a problem when it is restricting.

My proposal then is that, instead of leaving our comfort zone, we expand it.

Visualize your comfort zone not as a chalk-lined circle which you can easily step out of via sheer will, but as a protective bubble. If you gently push the walls of that bubble, you can stretch it in any direction which you choose, while still remaining safely inside.

woman giving presentationFor practical purposes, this means, for example, starting with a Toastmasters Club visit before you agree to speak in front of a large auditorium. If you’ve never had the displeasure of leading a termination meeting with a non-performing staff member, start with leading employee performance reviews. Practice your sales proposal on a friend before you present it to a prospective client.

Don’t feel pressured to be “fearless”; just start making yourself more comfortable with small steps. You’ll still reach your goal, but will avoid the pain and risks which your fear exists to protect you from.