Fear Is A Four-Letter Word for Entrepreneurs

By Patti Villalobos


Growing up, my father helped people get loans to start small businesses. I remember friends whose fathers were doctors. That sounded cool. Or worked for the post office. I knew what the postman did. What does an 8-year old know about consulting?

My siblings and I used to visit my dad’s office on weekends. So, although it’s 40 something years later, may I sincerely apologize to his co-workers for having to put up with our odd paper-clip statues, pencil forts, and copies of body parts we left strewn on your desks. Oh, and I hope you found your family photographs we stashed in random file cabinets. Yeah, um, really sorry…See, watching dad work with his endless papers and forms was b.o.r.i.n.g.

But then, there was this other part – the times our family walked into one of the businesses he had helped in some way. There was a Chinese restaurant that was so beautiful and exotic, with its large wooden Buddha adorning a circular booth. My sister said she loved that statue, and all of a sudden, the grateful proprietor was thrusting it into my father’s hands despite his protests of, “no, no!” There was the Mexican restaurant in New Mexico where we were treated like royalty, and we couldn’t pay a check if we tried. There was the ski rental shop owner who had the added mystique of skiing on one leg. Dozens and dozens of business owners so appreciative to the man with the magic touch who helped them navigate the labyrinth of bureaucracy to get the bank loans or credit they needed. It was quite surreal to be in the spillover of their indebted appreciation.

Patti and Dad

Patti and her Dad

What I didn’t realize, until many years later, was that the real heroes were the lady who actually owned the Chinese restaurant; the family who ran the Mexican restaurant; the ski rental shop owner. It was the men and women who lived and breathed their businesses. See, to us it was an adventure to visit; to them, it was putting everything on the line. It was their survival, their mortgage, their children’s college fund, or a springboard to better life.

What I know now, not only from personal experience but also from having worked with people who run their own business, is it takes courage. You step out with some genius idea, a magic touch with people, a brilliant patent, or a talent in an arena where talented people are a dime a dozen. Sometimes destiny encourages you out on your own via downsizing; sometimes, it’s a run-in with people of small mind who can’t understand your vision. Whatever the motivation, I guarantee you also bring some FEAR.

“What if I can’t make it?”

“What if I step out and I’m judged.”

“What if I expose myself, my family, my dream, and I fail.”

More and more courageous people are launching bold ideas in creative and unprecedented ways. The old order is crumbling, and yet there are people driven to do something different. Can’t get credit? Don’t have the money for a brick-and-mortar store? Publisher won’t talk to you? Launching a business so cutting-edge, or off-the-grid, you’re not sure even how to market it? FEAR says you can’t succeed. Fear covers her ears and eyes and burrows deeper into your soul until you vibrate with unease, finding it hard to breathe.

COURAGE, instead, says “enough.” She lifts your head, so that with unflinching gaze you can look clear-eyed into the depths of fear, recognizing it for what it is: the clenching against the unknown. So with deep breath and even deeper trust, you just move forward. It may not be comfortable at times, but I for one would rather embrace courage and be propelled forward, alive and afraid, rather than to simply survive, stifled and numb.

Because after that, fear is simply a 4-letter word.