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How Addiction Recovery Helped Conquer My Fears of Entrepreneurship

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Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.
If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it.
Go out and get busy

Dale Carnegie, U.S. writer and lecturer


Those people lucky enough to even reach the actual start of the road to addiction recovery (many, sadly, never get that far) basically fall into three categories. Firstly, there are those who predominantly sit at home fearing what they consider the inevitable relapse. Secondly, there are those who try to live a more meaningful life, do get out and do stuff, yet still fear the seemingly inevitable relapse. Lastly, there are those who aren't in the first two categories. And that, dear reader, would be me.

As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict approaching a decade of sobriety through abstinence, I now have a far more meaningful life to the one I lived before, and I no longer live in fear. Part of this new life, not its entirety, is that of entrepreneurship – I co-own a highly successful digital marketing agency, employ a host of talented individuals, and together, we keep a smile on the face of our global client list.

Yes, I know about fear. How? Addiction taught me. It was the teacher and the subject combined. Addiction, best studied after the fact, is a halogen lamp shone on a person's soul, where every crack or weak point can be seen in all its imperfection, from your darkest fears to your seemingly elusive hopes, and to what lives inside your true nature and character.

In other words, you learn a lot about yourself. The good and the bad, your hopes and fears, and how they co-exist in all of us. Alcohol and drug rehab was, by far, a damn sight better education than my first time around a college campus, that's for sure.

I'm back where I started now, back in the city of my birth – Medellin, Colombia. You'll have heard of it for sure if you have a Netflix subscription. My parents managed to get us over to southern California when the violence from all sides became even too bad for the average Colombian on the street, and just walking to school felt like you were one of a line of metal ducks at a carnival shooting sideshow.

California was where I grew up, found alcohol (liked it too much), found marijuana (same response from me), ended up addicted to meth and liquor, soon to go on vacation in the biggest hotel (free meals included) they had in the next state over. If you get what I mean. Yes, I've served my time in more ways than one.

We have a lot in common, this city of Medellin and I, like brothers. We have both known fear, we've both grown up considerably in recent years, we're a lot safer to be around, and we've learned. We've learned that you can make fundamental changes for a better way, and you can change your direction with hard work and a new attitude, without fear.

So what did I learn in rehab that taught me to accept my fears, acknowledge them, and then just basically ignore them? Yes, they exist, but so do I, and I will not go back to what I was before. The lessons I learnt there I wish to share with you (recovering addicts are Olympic-standard when it comes to sharing – we'd walk off with the gold every time, and drug-free too!), so here they are. Hopefully, like me, you'll find something to put your entrepreneurial fears into a truer perspective.

Welcome to rehab.

Fear & Anxiety in Entrepreneurship

What exactly is fear? One of our most powerful emotions, fear can strike us either when we are in immediate physical danger, invoking uncontrollable chemical reactions within our bodies, and when there is absolutely no physical danger whatsoever, such as exams, public speaking, a date, or a simple social engagement. Fear is an animal response to a threat that is real or perceived.

Is anxiety different to fear? Yes, in a word. Anxiety is a type of fear generated by the thought of a future threat, rather than in the present moment. We feel fear at certain situations – we feel anxiety as those situations get closer to actually happening. Anxiety is a term used by health professionals to describe a persistent fear that is impacting upon your physical and mental health.

For entrepreneurs like you and me, fear and anxiety normally reside in the act of failing or the prospect of failure. If you feel fearful or seriously anxious, you will experience a number of the following:

  • Rapid heartbeat, often feeling irregular
  • Rapid breathing
  • Physical weakness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to move freely
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension

Now, for those of you who think rehab and entrepreneurship are worlds apart, let me tell you this. Even though you embark on both with the hope that you'll be successful, there are some people around you that are concerned you will fail. Firstly, it's human nature, and secondly, those people are usually your loved ones. Fact.

However, you must always remember:

People who avoid failure also avoid success

– Robert Kiyosaki, U.S. businessman and author

It's also a little ironic that the symptoms of fear listed above are very similar to a mild case of substance withdrawal.

Conquering Your Fear & Anxiety

Rehab provides you with a number of ways to address these feelings of fear and anxiety. Whether they are actually successful or not is pretty much dependent upon the willingness of the individual to be diligent enough in following them. Additionally, some work better than others for different people, so it's definitely worth taking the time to find out what works best for you. You can also keep a record, a diary if you like, of when you are confronted with fearful situations, what they are, the result, things like that, to refer to later.

Please note (and it's not just because I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict): Alcohol and other substances used to get you through any fearful situation are not resolving the actual issue at hand. You will come to rely on them constantly, and I don't need to tell you where that leads. You may also be presenting an unfavorable image to others, ie. clients and staff.

  • Exercise: Part of the holistic approach to addiction rehabilitation, exercise is a proven way of releasing stressful tension in the body. The stronger and fitter you are, the more resilient your body is to the physical symptoms of fear and anxiety.
  • Nutrition: A healthy diet, full of nutritious foods, creates a healthy mind and a healthy body. As one therapist at rehab used to say, Eat well, feel well. Eat c**p, feel c**p. A nutritious diet improves both your mood and your energy levels, essential for the successful entrepreneur.
  • Relaxation: Learn to relax properly. Personally, I practice both yoga and mindfulness, with have proven to be an excellent way of dealing with anything that flies my way after something's hit the fan. The breathing techniques you learn can ground you right in the middle of a situation that is making you fearful. Well worth your time.
  • Freetime: Talking of time, how you make use of yours, away from your entrepreneurial field, is vital in reducing those fearful or anxious feelings. It is another form of relaxation. You may be running around a basketball court at 100mph (my personal favorite use of freetime), or reading your favorite author, it's the same thing. It's using your time exactly how you want to.
  • Support: Never, ever be afraid to ask for help if your fear or anxiety are becoming too much of a problem. Seriously, thinking you can soldier on will, like substance misuse, not resolve the issue at hand. Speak to your physician – it is your physical and mental health, and yours alone.

So, my story, with some helpful advice for other entrepreneurs thrown in – a drug addict and alcoholic, a Colombian immigrant child, an ex-con, and a successful digital marketing entrepreneur and businessman. Most of all, I'm this – I'm another person in addiction recovery, who has lived with a lot of fear in my life, who has acknowledged its existence, and chosen to not let it impact on where I want to go, and how I want to get there.

By understanding the importance of exercise, nutrition, relaxation, freetime, and support, fear and anxiety (and its accompanying symptoms) can be controlled and, furthermore, diminished. What techniques do you use to deal with fear and anxiety? Please feel free to share (Olympic-standard or not) your thoughts with a comment below. Last words? Just breathe like your yogi told you.