Sep 172010

Most people end up settling and never follow their dreams.  It’s sad, but true.  What is the main reason for this?  Well, there are many theories and some hard evidence, but in my opinion, the main reason people never pursue their dreams is that they are afraid of failure.  Why are they afraid?  I’m not sure, but it seems to be very deep-seated, as it affects almost every human being I have met.  Everyone has some fear of failure, even those that claim they don’t.  But the difference between those that let inertia take over and end up doing nothing and those that “go for it”, is the ability to take that first step.

Nowhere was this ever more apparent to me than in a recent trip to Central America, where my youngest son, who (I thought) was deathly afraid of heights, went with us to a ziplining adventure park, where you’re strapped onto a cable and sail through the rainforest like a bird, sometimes at heights of 300 feet plus, speeds of 40 miles per hour plus and distances of up to 1 kilometer.  My previous experience with my son and heights had been trying to put him on my shoulders and having him end up crying for 15 minutes because he thought I was being mean and exposing him to grave danger, or throwing him up in the air and causing similar hysteria.  I thought to myself, there is NO WAY this kid is going to do this circuit of ziplining, but to humor him, we had him strap on all the equipment, go through the orientation and go to the starting point with us.

Wow, was I wrong!  He was literally the first person of thirty on the first cable, with a professional guide who did not give him even one second to react or become scared.  He was literally whisked away from us before we were given the opportunity to say “good luck” or inadvertently show him the fear we felt for him — and for ourselves — let’s be real, this whole concept is crazy.  As it turned out, I think he enjoyed the experience more than anyone on the trip.  That trip he also rode a horse solo for the first time (in the mountains, to boot), again with the help and guidance of an experienced guide.  He also climbed to the top of some amazing waterfalls, daring some pretty scary cliffs in the process.  On this trip, he kind of came into his own as a member of our adventurous family.  By the way, he is five years old.

Ok, now let’s transition to starting your own business, to becoming an entrepreneur and pursing your dreams.  Does it feel a little like stepping off a perfectly safe platform and trying to “fly” to places where you suspect no sane person has ever gone?  Does it feel a little like getting on a horse for the first time, where you don’t know if this beast is going to give you the best and most exciting and rewarding experience of your life, or throw you to your iminient death or paralysis?  Is it a bit like trying to reach the most beautiful waterfalls and natural swimming pools you’ve ever seen, where few have ever visited, but in the meantime having to brave cliffs and a tortuous climb, the likes of which you have never even come close to?  I would say the answers to these questions are an unequivocal yes, but then again, I took that plunge into entrepreneurship so long ago — 30 plus years now — that it’s a bit hard for me to remember.  Fortunately though, I stay in touch with a lot of startup and early stage entrepreneurs, so I’m quite sure the answers to these questions are YES, YES, and YES.

So what does all this mean to you as a first time entrepreneur or even as a veteran entrepreneur?  NEVER lose the spirit of adventure or the willingness to try new things.  That being said, do not approach your entrepreneurial adventures in a foolhardy manner.  Just as you wouldn’t climb a tough mountain without some quality planning and depending just how tough a mountain, an experienced guide and some equipment, DO NOT do so with your entrepreneurial ventures either.  One article I wrote relatively recently, which is a good guide if you’re at the very beginning of your journey, trying to distinguish between ideas and real opportunities, can be found here.  It includes a free tool you can use to screen your business ideas.

Pursue your dreams as an entrepreneur.  You will then not have to wonder what could have been.

If you found this article helpful, please leave comments below and send it out to your Twitter and Facebook friends.

Yours in entrepreneurship,

Paul Morin


  • Paul, you have hit the nail on the head. Fear will paralyze you from reaching your dreams. But the thing I fear most is looking back on my life with regrets that I never took the leap to do what I really wanted to do. So the question is, what do you fear most? Taking a chance, or a lifetime of regrets?

  • kelsey

    I think people are afraid to fail at their dream because dreams are what they invest themselves in. If you have a dream you put all your faith into every aspect of it and you associate your identity with it, so a failure would deem you incapable at the very least. To even greater dismay you’d lose hope since you based everything in your life around that dream you find yourself with nothing left. So it’s seen as better to never chance it. The story of your son is so touching but brings up a great point. Your son you mentioned was able to do all these great things because he had an experienced guide. I think if you are to be a successful entrepreneur you need to have someone to help guide you through the steps, someone to encourage you who has been there and done that.

  • I could not agree with you more, on a couple of things. First, I strongly believe that most people don’t venture out as entrepreneurs because they are afraid of failure. I also believe that many who do venture out don’t really give it there all, so that they’ll have an excuse if it doesn’t work out. “I was too busy with other things,” for example. It’s a pity that fear of failure is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, you need to look at failure as an opportunity to learn, then move no quickly toward your objectives. Second, I also agree with you that it’s very important to have an experienced guide. That guide could be a mentor, a coach, or just a friend or acquaintance who have “been there and done that” and is willing to help you leverage their experience to be successful in your ventures. Thanks for your comment.

  • Great article and I’m right there with Laurie. My decision process is simple – “will I ever look back and regret something?” – and thankfully that question has encouraged me to take my professional career experiences to places I would have never even dreamed of 10 years ago. Reading this post inspired a question to anyone: “Do you know anyone that gave entrepreneurialism a legitimate shot and regretted it – even if they failed?” I don’t…

  • Thanks for your comments, Patrick. I could not agree with you more — I never want to look back and regret anything, particularly NOT doing something I should have done. I think the key nuance in answering the question you posed is to zero in on the words “legitimate shot”. Everyone has a different definition of this term. In my experience, those who are ultimately successful, even if they’re not a first, tend to stick with their endeavors longer before “calling it quits”. There’s now a lot of research out there that says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at most anything. Many people define a “legitimate shot” far short of that benchmark. Paul