In 2011, after two years of post-graduate work in chemistry and four years of working in biotech, I left the field to pursue creating my own tutoring company. My parents thought I had lost my mind but they rationalized it by thinking that if I don’t succeed, I can always go back to biotech.
Contrary to their thinking, there was a reason I left – I didn’t like the field – and there was nothing that would ever make me want to go back. I had no plan B and I was painfully aware that most start-ups don’t make it past three years. I felt a great motivation and pressure to do everything in my power to make sure my plan A worked.
I have since learned that having backup plans undermines your likelihood of success. One study showed that even thinking about alternatives makes you work less to achieve your goal. In this study, researchers split 160 university students into two groups and the participants were all asked to organize sentences that were scrambled. Both groups were promised an energy bar as the reward for performing it well. Before receiving the task to work on, the participants in one of the groups were asked to think about other ways they could get free food on campus in case they failed to complete the assignment. The finding was that people who were prompted to think about backup plans unscrambled significantly fewer sentences than those who didn’t have a plan B.
My lack of plan B meant I read hundreds of business books, attended networking events, implemented new ideas and experimented with different marketing strategies. I went all in and in two years I had a profitable, successful tutoring company. Even though things were going great and I was making more money than I did in biotech, I was aware of the highly competitive nature of the tutoring industry. New players are constantly entering the market and replacing old players. This created a nagging fear at the back of my mind that if for some reason my business failed I’d have no way to prove my skills and competency to a potential employer. My business made money but a tutoring company doesn’t sound as fancy as a tech startup or a brick and mortar store and that made me feel insecure.
To overcome my insecurity and fear I decided to take my business and myself to the next level that would offer more security with a higher barrier to entry. My thinking was that if I worked on social proof then I would have a much easier time convincing someone that I’m good at what I do. This way, not only would I strengthen my company’s position but even if my business failed, I would be able to move on since I had credentials that no one could take away.
In the hindsight, I didn’t realize that planning for failure is actually the same as planning to succeed. I started to put myself out there through speaking, writing, and voicing my opinion. My work was eventually published in places like the Huffington Post, Addicted2Success, the Daily Zen. After a few of my articles went viral I started getting emails from the media and news organizations asking me for interviews. I received an entrepreneurship award and spoke at TED. All of these accomplishments didn’t come because I was motivated to succeed. They came as a result of my fear of failing and deciding to do something about that fear.
Today I not only still have my tutoring company that is more successful than ever before, I receive invitations to speak on stages and requests for coaching and mentoring others on the path of success.
Every emotion, whether good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, is trying to teach us something and help us grow. Your task is to listen and stay open to learning. Don’t ignore your fears or try to avoid them. Instead, see how you can use them to move you forward. The path to success is non-linear with many turns and twists but whenever you doubt your path, tune into your emotions because they will guide you along and help you in reaching a meaningful life.