Did you know there are good fears and bad fears? There are fears that hold you back and fears that keep you safe. And then there are also fears that can be mitigated and, a lot of times, erased if you just did a little digging and self-exploration.
I know a bit about all of these types of fears and have experienced them on many levels while being an attorney, founding Functional Lawyer, and starting a functional medicine practice with my wife. I left a very secure job at a well-paying law firm in a big, fancy downtown high rise in order to found Functional Lawyer, and I'm aware of the fear that entrepreneurs encounter every day. It's a really scary world out there.
However, I have learned that there's good fear, and there's bad fear, and both can be relevant to you as functional medicine providers. Recently, in 2021, I spoke with a provider who had been leasing an office for two years. And because she was so afraid of putting herself out there due to legal risks and a number of fears including abandoning a secure job, she actually saw only 5-10 patients over two years while paying overhead for her functional medicine practice. This situation is what I would characterize as a "bad fear," able to be controlled or at least limited.
So, how do we get over this type of bad fear? How do we recognize good fears? And how do we use our fears to our advantage in order to recognize opportunities?
First, let's take a look at good fear. Good fear can be understood as our "fight or flight" response. For example, if you see a saber-toothed tiger, or if you see a bus coming down the street, you either run from that saber-toothed tiger or you stop yourself from stepping out in front of that bus. This is a good, healthy fear that keeps you safe and alert, especially in times where you're tired or undernourished and may need your adrenal response to kick in. Most of you medical providers ought to know that the same adrenal response that comes in for fight or flight is the same physiological reaction that happens when you're excited or when you're anxious in a good way. So, whenever I get afraid of, for example, public speaking or venturing out and putting myself out there on social media, I try to recognize this fear as a good energy. I often remember how nervous and excited I got before big basketball games, or before I won that trophy which is displayed in my office. This proved to be a good fear. Once we got going--ball in the air, a couple possessions and points-- everything settled down and we were excited to play. I devoted a lot of my life to playing basketball and learned how to channel fear into a positive effect. So that when I was nervous-- super, super nervous-- to speak in front of the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, I knew that once I got started with my talking points in front of the Fifth Circuit judges, I could settle down and get comfortable. My confidence and success only grew once I put myself out there and moved past nerves or fear. You have to understand that the other side of that fear is where life happens.
When you are afraid, you do one of two things; you either shrink down and do nothing, allowing your fear to paralyze you, OR you go and challenge that fear and maybe conquer it or take it and frame it in a way where it actually turns into excitement. I'm not saying to just ignore all your fears and go do whatever you want without thinking of your personal life or your professional practice. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I AM saying is when fear holds you back from doing something that you're capable of doing and that you want to do, it becomes a bad fear, and we need to recognize this. Fear is always going to be there, but it shouldn’t deter us from moving forward. Instead, it can be a motivator to push us through.
In addition to "good and bad" fears, we should also understand that some fear is only internal, or mental. A personal example for me is a recent thought, "If I put out this social media post, are people gonna laugh at me?" Another mental fear I often hear is, "Some might say, 'What is she doing opening up a practice? She's throwing away her whole medical training!'" A lot of these thoughts are only in your head, and you're just assuming what people will think and what they'll say. This internal fear stops you from ever doing anything; when no one has actually criticized you yet! Most likely, no one has actually said that you don't know what you're talking about or that you don't have what it takes. That's all in your head. Thankfully, there are a few ways to conquer and challenge that fear.
I'm by no means a fear expert. But having been an entrepreneur for a long time, I recognize that a huge part of entrepreneurship is self-development and personal growth. Self-development and personal growth require conquering bad fears and excelling at the mental game inside your head.
There are a couple of things that we can do to either reduce the fear that's holding us back or mitigate the risk that's causing that fear in the first place. First, what is the fear that you have? Is it being ridiculed by your friends and family? Is it being questioned by your colleagues? Is it both and/or more? Stop letting these fears hold you back! Honestly, once you put yourself out there, the response will be overwhelmingly positive.
More good news is that there are other fears, like the "fear of the unknown," that we can totally eliminate as well. To borrow a quote from Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense for the United States,
As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
This may sound a bit "tongue-twistery," but this is a great quote when attempting to understand our fears. There are four kind of categories of knowledge at play here, especially when it comes to risk analysis or evaluating if we should take on a new project or go on a new adventure. Much of our fear revolves around the unknown unknowns. One of the most common things that providers talk to me about is, "I don't know what I don't know." I'm sure that sounds familiar to you, and it's just a rephrasing of unknown unknowns. Having all these unknown unknowns creates anxiety and fear. This type of fear can go away if you either do some research on your own or talk to colleagues or other professionals. Then you will know, the known unknowns become known knowns, and your fear is mitigated and is no longer obscuring your progress.
Getting back to our earlier example; let's call her Susan. Susan had been sitting there for two years and never once really expanded her practice. She was afraid to market. She was afraid to see people that were not friends and family. She didn't know how to move on from her fear. All Susan needed to do was get a good risk assessment, then implement some things to reduce the risk in her practice and her business. After a bit of digging and exploration, Susan can now move forward with confidence and security knowing that she's doing everything she can to reduce the risk for her practice. Will there still be risks for Susan? Of course, but she will know how to deal with them and can move forward with that knowledge.
There will never be zero risks.
If you started a lemonade stand today, there's a risk that a hurricane can blow it away, especially if you live in Florida, like I do. If you're in the Midwest, you're at risk for a tornado to pick up your lemonade stand and carry it away. So before you opened your stand, it might be a good idea to check the weather (among other things).
If you don't identify the risk, mitigate it, and move forward, then some of these thoughts might run through your head:
"Well I don't know if the weather will be bad so I don't want to open my lemonade stand at all."
"Some people may not approve of me selling lemonade, so I won't create signs and place them around the neighborhood to attract too much attention to myself."
Every business has some level of risk attached to it. Our job, as entrepreneurs and as providers, is to take safe steps and reduce risk as much as possible. Don't stop in the face of fear or risk. Use that adrenalin and let it propel you forward. Recharacterize it as a potentially amazing opportunity. See your worry, your fear, your anxiety, and your nervousness as something you should pay attention to and look into more by exploring and expanding your knowledge around it, and then you will be able to move forward.
As you're trying to overcome fear by gaining knowledge, many in our community of medical professionals (doctors, nurse practitioners, and everybody else down the line) may have a tendency to get stuck in the consuming-information stage. Well-educated people tend to research too much or overanalyze everything. You may have a tendency to stick with the safety of acquiring knowledge and consuming information, but then you never turn from that and start producing marketing materials for your practice or developing your business plan.
I want to caution you: do some research, reduce the unknown unknowns as much as possible, and move forward. You can continue consuming information, talking to professionals, and you could talk to me at Functional Lawyer if part of your fear is legal. If part of your fear is mental, I'm happy to chat about that, too. I've got experience with that entrepreneurial journey that we're all on.
Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of just consuming and consuming more information. I have seen people go down the road of, "Oh, I've got to get certified, and I've got to do this fellowship, and then I've got to get all these things behind my name first..." But then these people never open a practice and never see a patient! Do a healthy amount of research--identify risks, learn how to mitigate them, decide on your risk tolerance--and then take action!
In conclusion, hang on to your good fears, the ones there to keep you safe, such as not jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Get rid of your bad fears, the ones that hold you back, such as worrying about what people think, not what they actually have said. Recognize that you are able to overcome your fear if you just take action with calculated risks or with plans in place. Obtaining business and legal foundations will reduce or mitigate most if not all of the risk. Instead of waiting for your fears to dissolve, use that energy and take action. Life is out there waiting for you to take it. You know the medicine, you know what you're doing clinically, and this is your passion.
I'm not saying to throw caution to the wind. Don't go out there all willy nilly. Come up with a good, solid legal and business plan for your practice, and then take action. I promise you-- the reaction will be overwhelmingly positive. If you're doing things the correct way, and if you're honest and have integrity in your practice, the response will be fantastic. Will there be some people that talk down to you or give negative comments? Yes, but that's because they're too afraid of themselves.
Don't even worry about the critic. Rather, focus on the "Man in the Arena" (you!). Teddy Roosevelt talked about this in his Man in the Arena speech excerpt, and his nephew, FDR, talked about how "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." This excellent advice has withstood the test of time, and I have applied it to my own businesses many times.
The concept is more than 2500 years old, yet we still need to hear it from time to time. Take these two examples:
(I'd bet you can name many more quotes like these from each century in-between.)
You can't please everybody all the time, but you will be pleasantly surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response you will receive by putting yourself out there. While there may be one critic out of 100, there are 99 who are behind you, cheering you on in support. Focus on the 99 that you're inspiring and helping so that you can go out and serve your community, change the lives of your patients, change the lives of their families, and ultimately make the world a better place.
Don't let your fears hold you back from the amazing progress and success that is undoubtedly in store for you. You can do it!