Fear doesn't have to be a signal to your brain to retreat. Instead, fear can provide valuable information about where you are and what path you need to take to go forward.
So say four successful entrepreneurs — Marcus Lemonis, Tilman Fertitta, Danisha Danielle Wrighster and Dhani Jones — who spoke at the SXSW Festivals and Conferences in Austin, Texas, on Saturday about how they use fear to their advantage.
Start to see fear as a as a tool, not a threat
Flip the paradigm, advises Lemonis, a self-made millionaire and the star of CNBC's "The Partner." He points out that fear doesn't have to coded as bad: "Fear could be a great motivator on one end of the spectrum, it could be a great paralyzer on the other end of the spectrum, and wherever you live inside that spectrum is going to determine whether you know how to evolve."
Lemonis worked a few odd jobs in school, including mowing lawns and being a club promoter in college, before he got into the automobile industry and then the RV business. Now he is the chairman and CEO of recreational vehicle dealership Camping World, which he took public in an initial public offering that raised $251 million.
"You don't have to run from fear. Anybody in this room that tells you that they are not scared of anything is just not being honest. I am scared of a lot of things," says Lemonis. "But if we learn how to channel that fear and do something good with it," then fear can be a good thing.
Use fear as a reminder to run your numbers again
"Numbers don't lie," says Fertitta, a self-made billionaire and the star of CNBC's "Billion Dollar Buyer." "I don't have fear if I have looked at my numbers."
Fertitta's food-and-casino empire is worth about $3 billion today, but he got his start peeling shrimp in the back of his father's restaurant in Galveston, Texas. He employees 60,000 people.
When you are running the financials of a potential deal, look at all the data, including the most dire predictions, says Fertitta. "That's what people don't do. Don't look at your best case scenario, because that is wonderful; everything is great if you look at your best case. Focus on your worst case scenario," he says. "Now I am talking about real worst case. And if you know you can still be in business, then you shouldn't have any fear."
Take fear as a sign you need to hit the gas
"I actually like fear," says Wrighster, the owner of a multimillion-dollar commercial real estate business and real estate portfolio.
Fear is a signal that "I am outside of my comfort zone, a little bit uncomfortable, this is something new for me," she says. "But it's also making me think of what am I afraid of. And have I checked the numbers? Have I run my analysis? Have I run this by somebody who may know more than me who can give me some guidance so that I can be a little less fearful and I can approach this the right way?"
Wrighster was single mom living on government assistance in her early 20's; the father of her child died of cancer ten weeks after she gave birth. Shortly thereafter, she was laid off from her job.
"I have probably been scared over the time of my life and my career more times than I wasn't scared, but the point is that you can be scared and just take that moment of fear and turn it into action," says Wrighster. Don't make foolhardy, desperate moves, though. "You turn fear into smart action."
Let fear remind you to check in with your personal network
"I think everybody has got a different type of appetite for risk. I just happen to have a healthy dose of it," says Jones, star of CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists." When Jones is afraid, he asks advice from people he trusts.
Jones played in the National Football League with the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals. Today he is a venture capitalist and is the chairman of the investment fund Qey Capital Partners and the host of the Travel Channel series "Dhani Tackles the Globe."
"We are not doing this by ourselves. We are doing this with a team of people that allow us to know what we don't know," says Jones. "We replace that fear, which really is a result of not understanding, by those that do understand."
With the right guidance, he says, you can "take that fear and make that fear that combustible passion that allows that engine to move forward."