Tonight I opened my email to receive a letter from the executive director of CTAN (Central Texas Angels Network) informing me that my company was not accepted for consideration in the current funding cycle.
Last week Mark Cuban responded to one of my email cold calls saying the company wasn’t for him.
Yesterday a potential CTO candidate who might be able to help us finish development of Martell TV with a team working for equity…he wrote me an email saying he was taking a different job offer.
For a lot of people, these setbacks wouldn’t just be mere frustration; they’d be cause for panic. But I’m not panicking, and here’s why:
What other people think does not create my success. It is only the way that I think that determines my success.
Ever since I was a child I have noticed that I’m different than most people. Not in the way of intelligence, because there are lots of people smarter than me when it comes to things like math or science. And not in the way of physical ability, because although I never lacked for strength or speed, even in my prime as a soldier I was never the strongest or fastest.
No, the singular defining trait that makes me unique is my ability to manage fear. I can endure even the most intense of fears, including the fear of death.
When we’re children, we learn through pain how to avoid getting hurt, and we learn what is considered socially acceptable by having adults yell at us – intimidating us — into stopping behaviors deemed socially unacceptable. But I was always getting into trouble, because I strived to be a brave person who would say and do things that might get me in trouble, like telling teachers when I thought they were wrong, or go on adventures around town without telling my parents.
Bravery is not the absence of fear but rather the management of it. To be able to dull the voices of internal doubt and put your best foot forward. To say what others are too scared to say because they fear saying the wrong thing and be thought a fool, or to tell people the things they don’t want to hear but must in order to understand how you feel. The best rewards in life are not handed to cowards who live around their fears; as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. It’s impossible to have high reward without an equally high risk.
But even with a natural tendency to ignore my fears, I used to be very afraid about specific things. I half-assed a lot of things as a child because I was afraid of rejection by a girl I liked, or making my parents disappointed, or whatnot. But I was also mischievous, and if the reward seemed to outweigh the penalties, I would be the first to reach a little further than others.
As I grew up it became easier to ignore my fears. I used to be terrified of heights, and then I joined the Army when I was 17. I got over my fear of falling to my death by scaling towers during training. I got over my fears involving pain by pushing my body to what I thought were its limits, and then going well beyond them.
For example, there is the time I received my soldier’s code card and tags, after completing our final exercise in basic training. They had us on a ruck march from 8 pm until 6 am. I was absolutely dead exhausted but I was still pushing a guy ahead of me forward to keep him on his feet. After achieving that, I really felt like I could do anything.
I’ve always kept this card in my wallet as a reminder that even if I feel like I can’t go any further, I can. It’s kept me alive in some situations. And I find it symbolic, actually, how damaged the card is. It looks how I feel every day.
As I’ve mentioned in prior articles, I am a 70% disabled veteran. I suffer from a variety of pains, ranging from migraines so bad I can’t open my eyes for several hours, to bleeding hemorrhoids that have not healed in over eight years. The joints of my shoulders, neck and knees are damaged. If I do not manage my stress with meditative breathing exercises I will suffer panic attacks that feel like heart attacks, and prevent me from breathing at all.
There have even been occasions while driving my car down the highway that my body has decided it wants to go into a panic attack mode, and only by managing my fear of death to focus on breathing exercises can I calm my body down.
It’s only because I have simply gotten used to living in constant pain and overcome my fear of being hurt further that I can project the appearance of being normal. I made a decision to not surrender to the fear of pain. There is too many things I need to do, and sitting around feeling sorry for my “lot” in life is not going to cut it.
And it’s not that I think I live some kind of charmed life. I fully accept that I cannot control everything that happens to me.
- I can’t control that my body crapped out on me after I received my 2nd anthrax vaccine shot. I can’t control how my superiors decided that, since I was being medically discharged, I didn’t need to be awarded any of the medals I’d earned during my deployment.
- I can’t control how the Department of Veterans Affairs employees have been screwing me for years. They even owe me over $2,000 in back-pay.
- I can’t control how YouTube screwed my network over by transferring our partner rep two months after we formed the network, and then refusing to help us through the general email support channels because we are “too small“.
But I can control how I choose to react to these events.
- I can choose to not panic, and persevere against all odds.
- I can choose to endure any hardships that come from things not going according to plan and figure out a new strategy to win.
- I can choose to not make decisions out of fear and consider the situation clearly.
The fear of failure does not rule me. It merely propels me. It fuels the engine of success that resides in me.
Rather than be confronted with fear and choose to risk nothing, I instead choose to do as much as possible to ensure success so that imagined fears will not manifest into reality.
And I don’t believe in luck.
- It’s not luck that caused my body to react poorly to that vaccine shot and screw me up for life. It was my genetics and other men’s greed.
- It’s not luck that I decided to take the chi kung breathing exercises I learned from the martial arts and used them to manage my pain. It was my indomitable will and pride that led me to that conclusion.
- It’s not luck that I decided to start an iTV network and dreamed up Martell TV as a way to break free of the constraints of someone else’s system, whose rules I cannot win by. It’s my own genius and tenacity that allowed me to walk down this path.
I made conscious, intentional decisions to get to where I am right now. There have been many failures along the way, but I still persist in not succumbing to the fear of failing. I pick myself back up from sorrow and I keep going.
Some people have this unfounded idea that if something is “meant to be”, it just will be. Like it’ll just be that easy. You’ll tell everyone your ideas and suddenly the whole world opens up to you. But that’s not how things work. Magical thinking doesn’t cause change in the universe; hard work does. And part of that work is ignoring your fear of failing.
By enduring my fears I created opportunities that would never have existed had I not believed in myself more than I feared failure. If anything, I fail fast so I can figure out the right path to go down.
If I didn’t have faith in myself, there’d be no point in even bothering with life. I would just take my monthly disability checks and shack myself up in a little condo somewhere to play videogames all day. That I’ve chosen to reach for something more is not an accident, or some twist of fate. I made a series of decisions that brought me here.
- I noticed opportunities, and I decided to find a way to take advantage of them.
- I dreamed up things that didn’t exist, and found ways to make them real.
Success is something I hold within my own hands by just refusing to fail. It doesn’t matter if it’s about my body or my company; the principle is the same. Anyone who thinks it works differently is simply unable to manage their own fear of failure.
There are always other investors, other clients, other users, other partners, other employees, and other chances. It might require altering your original plans a’bit, but if you let the fear of failure hinder you then you’ll never search for them. You’ll be stuck in this self-destructive cycle of fear and panic that blinds you from what is possible.
Fearing failure is a completely worthless habit that holds people back from accomplishing great things. It makes people lead lives filled with regrets for never knowing how far they would have gone. For in the words of T.S Elliot, it is only those who risk going too far that can find out how far one can go.