Fear, Learning and Startups

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
– Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert’s words have gotten me through many hard times, both professional and personal. This is not an admonishment of vulnerability or an endorsement for bravado; instead, it’s been an invitation to look inwards and understand my own reaction to things.

As an engineer I worry my code might break. Worse yet, I worry my code will be hated by whoever has to work on it next. As a leader, I worry I might hire the wrong person, or that I’ll scare away the right talent somehow. Additionally, now I’m worried you, the reader, will hate my writing.

It’s easy to see where this behaviour comes from; for more than 12 years (depending on your tolerance for education) we have had it driven into us that mistakes are bad. Remember that teacher that gave you all “A”s because of the risks you took? Yeah, neither do I.

At Prox we connect experts to knowledge seekers. There is already an inherent fear in connecting with a stranger. The added dynamic of trying to learn from that expert is a whole other dimension that comes with its own set of fears. Will I ask the right question? Will I sound dumb? Will I get my money’s worth?”Errors are the basis for neuroplasticity and learning”

“Errors are the basis for neuroplasticity and learning”
– Andrew Huberman

We learn best when making a lot of errors. This also requires that we be focussed on what we’re learning. The learning actually happens while we’re asleep, but the focus during the period of error generation is key. If we’re perpetually worried about the failures, or their consequences then we lose that focus.

So we need to experience this state of failure, which we have been conditioned to abhor; all the while enduring a storm of epinephrine and acetylcholine (your brain on frustration). We push through this frustration and achieve plasticity because we’ve learned that there’s dopamine (your brain on “yeah we did it!”) as a reward for push through.

Except we’ve been training ourselves that rewards (ie. dopamine) don’t come from pushing through frustration, they come from Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and video games. We get more and more impatient with our errors, and more likely to take a social media break than to push through.

“Preservation of the soul means giving up our wish … for immunity from the unscheduled meeting with sorrow and hardship”
– David Whyte 

In “The Heart Aroused”, David Whyte recognizes that we tend to bring only our organizing, make-no-mistakes, self to work. He illustrates that it is actually our Soul, our darker, more creative self that is required to do great work. This wish for “immunity from … sorrow and hardship” is the fear that stops us from deeping our working relationships and stops us from sitting with the frustration and anxiety we need to push through to do what we originally set out.

Whether you are looking for a Prox expert or are offering expertise, embrace any fears you have, and bring all of yourself to the table.

Understand that our fear serves a purpose, and that purpose is to pass by, leaving you ready to learn and grow.

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