Skip to content

How I Use Writing To Overcome My Fears

Melvyn Tan
Melvyn Tan
4 min read

If you listen attentively to what people say when they talk about their desires, you’ll invariably discover some aspects of their lives that they’d want to change.

And yet, very few would attempt the change.

Some attribute time, or the lack of it, as their primary reason for not taking action. Others would suggest the lack of capital, capabilities, or even connections as impediments to their success.

The reason we failed is not due to the lack of resources.

The real reason, however, is fear, or our ability in handling fear.

Are entrepreneurs fearless?

Entrepreneurs are often described as ambitious, courageous, passionate, committed, and resilient. ~Arnaut and Ergun (2015)

However, most, if not all, entrepreneurs are fearful.

In my journey as an entrepreneur, fear was one of my constant companion. I’ve had to face fear many times.

For instance, when I first started, my greatest fear was getting clients. When I started getting clients, I would worry about not getting paid, which did happen to me a couple of times. Then, I would be concerned about how to scale the business and bring it to the next level. Now, as a father of two young children, my main worry is not allocating enough time to be with my family.

Two common methods that people use to handle fear

Before I share the strategies that have worked for me, let’s look at two common methods.

Method A: Avoid It

The idea of staying within your comfort zone means you accept the status quo. This is where you’d live in an imaginary territory where it is deemed to be safe because you do not have to deal with the volatility, uncertainties, complexities, and ambiguities (VUCA for short).

Although it is not difficult to understand why we find it almost natural to operate within our comfort zone, we must also acknowledge the price we pay by staying put.

Henry Ford may have said:

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

But that maxim wasn’t true then and it certainly isn’t true now.

I was fortunate to have learned this lesson when I was seven years old. At the end of the second semester in primary one, I noticed in my report book that I have gotten the same score as I did in the first semester. However, my position in class have slipped from 13 to 21. Thinking it must have been a mistake, I informed my teacher and asked for a revision to my standing. I’d always remember her reply, “other people improved; you didn’t.”

Method B: Just Start

We read with great admiration how individuals, like Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs, and Winston Churchill, were able to crush fear and do great work, work that matters. The common thread you will find in those narratives would be this: just start.

While this is true in more ways than one, I personally found it extremely challenging to overcome the insurmountable obstacle of getting started in the first place.

Three steps for handling fear

Therefore, whenever I experience fear, these are the three steps that I’d take:

Step 1: Acknowledge Fear

The first step is to acknowledge fear. This is a concept that is easy to understand cognitively but extremely difficult to carry out. Most people would avoid fear at all cost, let alone acknowledge it.

Counter-intuitive as it may sound, you do not want to ignore your fearful feelings. Fears, like all emotions, serve as action signals alerting you to take note of what’s to come. Therefore, ignore it at your own peril.

Instead, you want to acknowledge it by learning to recognize it and be aware of its presence.

When you start feeling nervous and anxious, tell yourself:

“It’s beginning. I’m becoming afraid.” By acknowledging fear and keeping company with it, you will eventually learn how to master it. ~ Dale Carnegie

Step 2: See Fear as a Challenge

Once you’ve acknowledged fear, you’d next need a different perspective. Embracing a different perspective could be difficult as how we perceive any given events are shaped by three key factors: assumptions, background, and conditions.

Hence, while two people may experience the same event, such as a business failure, they may interpret it in extreme different ways. One may view it as the end of his career; the other, the beginning of something new.

The quickest way to embrace a different perspective is to ask a better question. Even better, ask it with a different attitude. For instance, when faced with a business failure, instead of asking “what’s wrong with me”, ask “what new opportunities are now available”?

You must embraced a different perspective by seeing your fears as a challenge, one that, when resolved, will bring you closer to accomplishing your quest.

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us. ~ Alexander Graham Bell

Step 3: You May Now Start, Small

There is just one more step you’d need to take in order to accomplish your quest. Instead of taking some huge radical steps, focus on taking consistent action, even seemingly little ones.

I have spoken about writing a book for such a long time but have always been worried about whether I have the time, talent, or bandwidth. In reality, I am just afraid, scared, and fearful.

In mid-2013, as I battle with depression, I decided to start small, first by taking a few minutes to read the Bible every day. As the habit becomes part of my daily routine, I decided to stack another habit, writing, on top of it.

Soon, I was writing at least 500 words every day. And by March 2014, I finally have a manuscript of 50,000 words, which I can now organize and edit.

Question: What is the greatest challenge in your life now that when resolved will bring you closer to accomplishing your quest?

Melvyn Tan

Despite living the good life at midlife, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. My aim here is to reinvent midlife, learn new skills, and understand how the world works post-COVID.