When I launched the SHIFT Digital Agency nearly 3 years ago [no ribbon cutting, no staff, just a website and a late-night LinkedIn job update], the plan was this:
1) Don’t fail
I wasn’t a very hard worker in school. The hardest I worked was in finding ways to avoid working hard. So much energy into excuses and dodging. I even stuck the thermometer in my morning cup of tea once. Mum saw right through it. Plus, there was tea on the thermometer. I always did just enough to pass. Same with University. But ask any colleague of mine from my last 20 years here in the U.S – ok, last 15 years [even the 2 weeks when I was a 25-year-old car salesman in San Juan Capistrano] and they’ll probably tell you I work very hard. The driver of that isn’t a built-in ethic handed down to me by salt-of-the-earth parents who were up with the sun every morning [also not my parents]. It is fear of failure.
To look like an idiot [not physically or by way of style choices – already failed spectacularly there], when it’s preventable, isn’t an option. And there’s upside, on top of not looking like an idiot. When I first found myself in an agency executive role, I would play out the potential for all conversations prior to pitches and client presentations. I would figuratively take on the roles and mindsets of everyone in the room. I would craft copious notes beneath every slide, covering every possible angle. That took research too. Tons of it. Which led to more learning. Every time I became more and more of a subject matter expert until I didn’t need the notes and I could comfortably manage any conversation around digital media strategy, channels, tactics, and the landscape. This one thing – this level of prep for regular client presentations, had a huge impact on my individual digital marketing knowledge growth outside of the day-to-day hands-on of managing campaigns across accounts. And it was driven by fear. Not crippling fear, but absolutely enough discomforting motivation to ensure I wouldn’t be caught without the right tool in my bag.
That was 15 years ago. I am still driven by fear. And I think it’s healthy. Said it.
This isn’t a post about avoiding failure. Not at all. We all fail. There are plenty of posts out there about failure.
Also not suggesting that ALL fear is good fear and shouldn’t be dealt with. If a picture of Ronald McDonald triggers an involuntary bowel movement, then that’s probably not good fear. Not a psychologist, but you might want to see one.
I’m also not talking about prepping for meetings. That’s the example above, but it’s really about the benefit that came from the process that was driven by fear.
I’ve just come to recognize that an element of fear has been the core driver of much of my development and learning over the last 15 years. Really more than anything else.
I desperately don’t want to be humiliated or look the fool. I don’t ever want people to feel let down or unsupported. These are my primary fears and my drivers. 100% they make life a little difficult to navigate sometimes [just ask my wife and kids]. 100% they also make for a great agency DNA. Too honest?
Almost 3 years in and SHIFT Digital Agency is 18 client partners strong and doing the best work of our lives. I would never preach or promote fear to someone who gets along brilliantly without it! I also get to enjoy many aspects of agency-life that don’t have fear attached to them, BECAUSE of the development, learning, and knowledge that fear helped drive earlier on. And, on the daily, a healthy dose of fear still lights a fire underneath everything I do, and that’s just my point – I think it can be channeled in a productive way.
Am I wrong?