Fear nearly stopped me setting up my business

In 2006, I had a good job. It was stable, interesting and ‘permanent’. I had long service leave accrued, a network of inspiring colleagues and prospects of promotion. Yet I wanted something more. I craved opportunities to be more creative and to build something exceptional. I was working with a range of external consultants and I began to wish I could be like them.

However, fear and self-doubt held me back. At first, I didn’t even take the idea of setting up my own busines seriously. Fortunately, I had a very wise coach. I’d been working with him for around 6 months. My coaching program began because of staffing problems in my day job. As it evolved, I began exploring the meaning and purpose of my work.

I clearly remember expressing my self-doubt to my coach. “I’d love to set up my own business, but it’s too risky,” I said.

I’d said those words many times before. In conversations with friends and family, they’d usually been met with agreement. Of course, this reinforced my self-doubt and reduced my confidence. By the time I made this statement to my coach, I fully believed that being in business was a risky business. Everything changed when my coach gave me an unexpected response.

“What are you imagining will happen if you set up a business?” he asked.

That made me pause. I’d never fully articulated what I was frightened of. However, it didn’t take me long to list a long set of potential catastrophes that could befall a training consultant. These ranged from being introverted to find clients, through to defaulting on my mortgage and ending up homeless. I think even my coach was surprised at the vivid representation of disaster that I could conjure up. (Yes. There is a downside to combining creativity and anxiety). Then he asked a question that changed the course of my life. “Has it ever occurred to you to imagine that everything might turn out all right?” he queried.


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That was an ‘aha’ moment. My entire physiology changed as I realised, I never had taken time to imagine a bright future. My natural inclination for pessimism and creativity had biased my thinking. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the brain’s negativity bias. Nor did I understand that anyone can learn to challenge pessimistic thinking and shift into learned optimism mode. Thus, my coach’s question had a huge impact. It not only solved the problem at hand, it changed the way I faced future fears.

From that moment, I was able to envision a hopeful and inspiring future. My coach encouraged me to express the ideal future I would like to experience. I imagined a dynamic, vibrant lifestyle. Days spent helping talented people overcoming blocks and barriers to success. Having time to taking on creative projects. Living my passion for inspiring excellence. Most importantly, being in charge of my own destiny.

Three months after that session, I left my day job. I stepped full time into the business I’d inadvertently already been running for the past three years. Yes, I encountered setbacks and challenges. I now realise that’s a normal part of life, not simply a part of running a business.

However, that single question has remained my mantra whenever I hit tough times. I still have an ingrained tendency for pessimistic thinking. That’s probably what makes me such a good positive psychology trainer. I genuinely ‘get’ anyone who suffers low confidence or low self-esteem. And I see it as my life’s work to inspire others to tap into the potential of the human capacity for hope and optimism. That’s why I teach positive psychology. And it is also why I’ll always find a way to stay in business despite self-doubt.


About the author: Eleanor Shakiba

Eleanor is a consultant in the areas of positive psychology training and solution focused coaching. She partners with HR and L&D teams to build vibrant cultures where ‘positive deviants’ thrive. Areas she specialises in include positive mindset, proactive communication and purposeful leadership. Eleanor is qualified in Social Anthropology, Positive Psychology, Counselling, Coaching, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming. Her passion is working with positive deviants to build success. Download a copy of her free ebook Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D Practitioners.