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What are you afraid of?

There is a passage from David Remnick’s interview with Leonard Cohen in the New Yorker that has always stuck with me. It’s about how Leonard had such stage fright that, during his first major performance, he left the stage with shaking legs after singing just half of the first verse of Suzanne.

The memorable bit wasn’t that he went back out even though he was convinced he couldn’t do it. It was that he still felt like “some parrot chained to his stand” when he performed in concerts until well into his seventies:

“It stems from the fact that you are not as good as you want to be—that’s really what nervousness is,” Cohen told me.

I think back on that every time I feel the fear and resistance when starting a new project. I’m in that place now, and one of the ways I’ve found to dance with that fear and to keep going is to write out all my worries. I then write out all the concrete signs of success I have so far, and compare the lists.

In hopes that seeing this list will help fellow intreparenuers and ‘pirates’ looking to shake up the status quo, here are my lists - they relate to a new team tasked with being change agents in the newsroom that I am soon going to be heading up.

List of worries

Signs of success

What I’ve learnt

By writing out my worries, I learnt that they fall into a few categories. Some of them highlight problems that I can start to find specific (and sometimes quite simple) solutions for. For example, if I’m worried that my bosses and I won’t be aligned in our expectations, can I talk to them about it?

Others indicate my fear of failure. But I now realise that is merely a sign that confirms I’m on the right track. It tells me that what I’m doing might not work, and therefore I am tackling a worthwhile problem.

What to read next: Follow your frustrations and forge your own path