“Yes, I know, you are certain that your friends are becoming your enemies; that your grocer, garbage man, clergyman, sister-in-law, and your dog are all of the opinion that you have put on weight, that you have lost your touch, that you have lost your mind; furthermore, you are convinced that everyone spends two-thirds of every day commenting on your disintegration, denigrating your work, plotting your assassination. I promise you: Nobody is thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves—just like you.”
These are the words of Roger Rosenblatt in the book “Rules for Aging”. I came across these lines recently while reading about the “spotlight effect”, which is the tendency to believe that other people are paying more attention to your appearance and behavior than they really are. The reality is that others tend to be much more interested in themselves than they are in you, and yet we all obsess over whether we said the right words at a party or wore the right tie at a meeting.
If you too suffer from the spotlight effect, I have some good news. Research shows that far fewer people notice our gaffes than we think, and the ones who do notice them tend to judge them less harshly than we imagine. If you are considering starting a business, you can find relief in this insight. Why? Because for many of us it is not a lack of talent that makes us afraid to pursue our entrepreneurial dreams, it is a lack of courage. We worry too much what others will think about us if we fail, and that worry becomes a paralyzing fear.
Courage is a creative power that allows us to go after our goals. It makes us turn thoughts into actions that move life forward. All too often, we have an abundance of the tools we need to do a job, but we hold ourselves back, standing on the sidelines, simply because we lack the courage to take action.
You never really know where your actions are going to take you, until you take them. Consider for example Hüsnü Özyeğin, a Turkish self-made billionaire who built a fortune after taking his entrepreneurial leap in the banking sector. Özyeğin already had a solid career working as an employee for another bank, but he left it behind to start Finansbank in 1987. He built Finansbank into one of Turkey’s top banks, and then in 2006 he sold a 46% stake to the National Bank of Greece for $2.76 billion. In 2008 he sold the remaining 9% stake for $700 million. Now he has moved on to other industries, expanding his Gap and Banana Republic franchises in Russia, and opening the private Özyeğin University.
If you’re just starting out in your entrepreneurial life, it’s normal to look at someone like Özyeğin and think, “It’s easy to have courage when you’re already a successful billionaire, if I was like that I’d have plenty of courage, too”. But remember that when he started out, Özyeğin didn’t know he would become a billionaire. He didn’t know how things would turn out. He did believe in himself, though, and he knew deep down that he could achieve more as an entrepreneur than he could as an employee. So he gathered the courage and pulled the trigger. Had he let a fear of failure stop him, he would have never started Finansbank. His contributions to society would be limited to a career as a bank employee.
It’s fear that makes our dreams seem so far away, and when we make it go away, or just ease up a bit, courage springs forth and we can do things we never thought possible. Entrepreneurs feel fear, too, but they practice the techniques that make it less intimidating. One of those techniques is to remember that fear lives in your head, and that, due to things like the spotlight effect, it’s usually about 10 times larger than it needs to be.