The Times They Are A-Changing: Managing Fear

There’s a downloadable model at the end to help you be more intentional in your work.

Do you feel something is changing? I do. It’s everywhere and I can’t quite name it yet. It feels deep and systematic, something much bigger than just me or you. Are you feeling it too?

I’ve been working on managing fear. It’s like an undercurrent to every conversation I’ve had. Usually, I can turn up my entrepreneurial mojo and crank out a ton of work and just blast full steam ahead with a singular goal — I’ve been doing just that for about four weeks straight now. I’ve done it a million times over the past 16 years. It’s the part of my job that I love the most.

This time, something is different, and it’s not just me. I’ve been talking to foundations, our competition, partner agencies, B Corp CEOs, women in my network, clients, and really anyone I can get for 15 minutes. Everyone is saying the same thing: something feels different and we’re not sure what it is.

I’m not sure either. But here are a few things I do know and I’m hearing from everyone else:

1. There has to be a clear shift to bring more purpose and intention into our day.

We are not conditioned to know how to separate work and life. It remains one big thing and it can be overwhelming. The things we do and say make us who we are, so when one of those pieces doesn’t jive with the rest, we face big problems like self-doubt, anxiety, and anger. When you’re in charge of things, like a business, this can become extremely messy. And when external threats to the success of your business feel entirely too real, it becomes imperative that we take the time to reconnect with our purpose, remember why we started and reflect on how far we’ve come.

I’m seeing more consultants and small advisory practices focusing on self-care, mindfulness, and bringing intention and meaning to client’s lives. There has been a big focus on the rise of the entrepreneur and the startup, the leader who grinds all day and has a singular vision of success through disruption. Are we getting burned out? Are we spending all of our time working and forgetting about what binds us together as human beings? Or, are you just spending too much time on Instagram?

I hear a collective need for coming back to purpose, intent, and meaning—especially in the business world. There’s a desire to work less and experience more. We are being pushed to return to what is real.

2. We are getting used to working and living in a climate of uncertainty.

This is perhaps more relevant than ever before. The uncertain climate destroys my business. When we didn’t have a budget in Illinois for a few years, almost all of our work dried up with our biggest client. We know the same happened for a lot of our consultant friends and nonprofits lost funding and resources across the board.

This uncertainty that we are all witnessing every day is something else. It is changing our spending habits; were less likely to sign up for something for the longer-term. Were hoarding cash because we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. We are hearing about a coming recession and we’re all wondering what’s going to happen.

We are reacting out of fear (perhaps rightfully so), rather than responding out of love. We’re wondering what’s going to happen to our business and a lot of us are making pivots in our service lines and pricing structures to get ahead of it. We’re taking bets.

What does this mean? It means we’re realizing that business, as usual, isn’t working as usual, and it’s up to us to keep things moving and for the betterment of our communities. This climate of uncertainty is designed to separate us and keep us isolated and scared when what we need most is connection, community, and collective support.

I think a lot of us are at the point where we recognize: yes, those people in charge of policy and big business are bananas crazy, but I need to keep my enterprise going to support my staff and family, so I’m going to keep going and do what I need to do to do that. We recognize we are part of a system and were better of joining forces than going it alone. So let those crazies be crazy and let’s stand for something more.

3. We are slowly getting over being afraid.

I don’t know about you, but I used to be afraid almost all the time up until maybe a few months ago when I got to a breaking point. I finally realized that all of this worrying about uncertainty and what I SHOULD be doing wasn’t making my life any better. In fact, it was killing me.

Thinking back to when I started my business in 2004—I did that because I was tired of selling people crap based on the fear of not being good enough, or having some other people take everything away, or the fear of not keeping up or missing out.

I rebelled against that practice in marketing, but most everyone else didn’t—and marketing embraced it. So, part of the issue of why we’re all feeling like we’re falling behind is because we let the marketing get to us.

The fear and anxiety is created by marketers, either deliberately or accidentally. It’s why we love and hate Facebook, and why we are addicted to knee-jerk spending on Amazon. It’s a quick fix to a bigger problem: we are afraid. We’re buying things that fix it for a moment, but in the long term we’ll just end up deeper in debt, at the mercy of the 1%, and still feeling like we lack something.

I’m seeing a new trend emerging: one of fearlessness. Slowly, I’m seeing more honest questions, more support networks, and more authentic marketing that’s about creating real conversations and human connection.

I’m not sure what will be the result of all this, but I do know there is a new way and an old way. The old way is based on exclusion, fear, and profit. The new way is based on collaboration, honesty, and impact.

This is where I’m really excited. I know that the methods of design thinking, when used deliberately and inclusively are perfect for getting to the heart of the matter. It’s not always easy, but the results are always honest and insightful. This has been our practice for a long time now, extending far beyond branding and web development, and I think we’re in the right place at the right time to help more people make real change.

For us, this is the path that’s unfolding: our practice is about uncovering truths, defining a path forward, inspiring, and including. It’s less about the things we produce and more about teaching the tools and practices that help make the world better. For everyone.


P.S. I created this model for to you get a sense of where you are in this uncertain time. Is your org or business responding or reacting? Is it from fear or inspiration?

Download the worksheet here!


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