During basic training in the Navy, recruits are required to jump off a 32-foot platform into a deep swimming pool. To put that in perspective, that’s about the height of a 3-story building. They read about it, watch videos, observe others do it, and pace back and forth on the diving board.
But they can only learn to jump by stepping off the platform.
More advanced training lies ahead.
For some, it means escaping from an underwater helicopter simulator while upside-down and strapped to their seat. For others, it means shoring up the bulkhead (walls) of a flooding ship using wooden 2x4s and mattresses as the water quickly rises.
Each scenario builds the type of confidence that easily translates into the world of entrepreneurship.
Only about 12% of U.S. military members are women. They operate daily in a male-dominated environment performing missions that can literally be life-threatening. Because of their high-risk training and unusual experiences, military women approach entrepreneurial risk with a unique perspective.
The way they’ve learned to take calculated risks and overcome fear can help all entrepreneurs.
Early in life, fear was our friend. It prevented us from wandering into traffic, talking to creepy people, or leaping off the roof wearing a Superman cape.
But over time, a lot of us confused the fear of doing something dangerous with the fear of doing something new.
And that can be bad for business.
Fear forces us to feel anticipated suffering - the pain of something that hasn’t happened yet.
At its core, fear is a bully.
For military women, new and dangerous are often the same thing. They train continuously for worst-case scenarios that could mean injury and death.
Operating under a 24/7 spotlight because of their minority status in a mission-driven environment, they deliberately expose themselves to fear. In doing so, they mitigate its power over them and use it to become excellent.
When we choose to meet fear head on it becomes commonplace. We learn to get used to the feeling of fear. After a while, fear just feels normal.
Women veterans know victory of any kind, in the military or in business, requires strategic risk and a capacity to handle fear.
They’ve come to understand that failure and making mistakes are not the same thing. Mistakes are simply a necessary part of their training so they can be successful when it counts.
Women in the military live in a fishbowl-like existence. If they succeed, they aren’t always given credit for their effort. If they fail, they represent every other military woman. Making mistakes under these circumstances takes fear to a new dimension.
But when your life’s on the line, or your business, trying and learning, even though you might fail, is the secret sauce of success.
Repelling out of a helicopter, steering a 97,000-ton aircraft carrier, or conducting covert operations at night are frightening tasks at first. Military women learned each time they turned toward their fear, they not only dissipated its hold on them, but they developed a capacity to handle more or it.
Learning to become comfortable with the feeling of fear moved their threshold for it farther out and built the kind of confidence that is needed for risky endeavors, like entrepreneurship.
The next time you hesitate, ask yourself these questions:
(1) What is the worst thing that could happen if I do this?
(2) Can I live with that?
(3) If it doesn’t work out, what could I learn or what new opportunities might arise?
(4) What is the cost of not doing this?
That last question can be a game changer. It helps you see your present circumstances as far more frightening than seizing an opportunity to escape the status quo. Your desired result becomes more important than your fear.
Look, everyone is scared. What you do with your fear is what separates high-achievers from amateurs.
Women military entrepreneurs can show us the way.
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