Duane de Four, a self described “speaker, educator, media critic and blogger” in the areas of gender violence prevention and sexual health education (among many other things, he does amazing work) has a story that many of you will find familiar. After being laid off from his job, he hugged his fear and found a way to work for himself. Duane sat with me and spoke about his experience.
V: How would you describe that experience or goal you wanted to go for but had some fear over?
D: Well the experience that I thought of for this interview was starting my own business. It was just something that I wanted to do for a number of years but always had a lot of fears around it. I wondered if I’d be successful, if I have the drive, all those kinds of things. How would I make it work?
V: What about that made you afraid? What thoughts were you having? What did it bring up for you?
D: I think we kind of get these messages that we’re supposed to get a stable job and earn your income and work your way up the ladder and all that kind of stuff and so I had those fears of what it meant to break free of that process. The fear of the unknown, what was gonna happen, would I be able to pay my bills? All those fears of stability. And then of course self doubt. I can kind of be unmotivated and unfocused and unorganized and so I was doubting myself and my ability to do it and stick with it. So a combination of external fears and then those internal self-doubts.
V: Were you getting anything from people around you that made your fear better or worse?
D: I was getting both. And actually my father had worked for himself for some time and we could debate his success. I mean, he never really talked very much about his affairs with us, but certainly we weren’t rich or anything like that. I think my brother tends to be a little bit more into stability and that sort of thing than I am. And so I think he was sort of, I don’t want to put it on him, but some people would give me those, my mother too, “Get something stable and get something you can count on.” Some people were more on that side and some people were just like “You know, just do it. You’ll regret it if you never try.” And then part of it too was not necessarily knowing who I could turn to for advice or assistance on how to make it work. It’s one thing to talk about it, but then actually going through the steps was a whole different process in itself.
V: So what did you do? How did you make it happen?
D: So in some way I feel like I cheated a little bit because I actually got pushed into it. I got laid off from my job. And I had been thinking about it for years and I was actually doing some consulting work on the side with an organization that I used to work with. On occasion I would do trainings and stuff with them. So I was in a position where when I got laid off I instantly was like I have to make ends meet so I called people that I was consulting with and I was like “Hey, I’ve got more time on my hands, do you have more work for me?” And they were like “Oh yeah, I’ve got this and you can that.” And so I was able to quickly start getting some work which certainly made it easier. But I still at that point wasn’t really thinking of it as a business that I was doing. I was just working, doing jobs to pay the bills. But after a few months of that, I was getting steady work and I was getting calls from other people who were hearing that I was on my own. So just building up my name over the years doing work for other people, I created a good enough name for myself so that when I was ready, once they heard that I was available, they started calling me. So through seeing these things come together I was like, “Maybe I can make this dream happen.” The real test came when I actually at the same time was interviewing, applying for jobs and I had a job interview and I got offered the job so then I had to decide, cause it was a full time job. Do I stick with my business and make sure it’s a business and that’s my thing or do I take this job? So of course I was asking people questions, I posted things on Facebook and it was the same thing some people were like “Do it! You may never get this opportunity again.” And some people were like, “No. Go for the steady job. Go for the security.” In some ways that was scarier than when I started it. Because like I said I was sort of pushed into it by getting laid off. So now I was at a point where I actually make the choice for myself. But I just couldn’t shake this feeling that if I didn’t do it I would always regret it and if it didn’t work out I could probably find another job. And I got laid off when people all over were getting laid off when the economy tanked so it wasn’t like it was gonna be necessarily easy to find another job, but I just felt like if I didn’t give it a try I would regret it forever. And I think that scared me more.
V: And so you ultimately decided not to take it?
D: Yeah, exactly. I told them no. And that was nerve wracking. But I think it was the best choice that I probably ever made.
V: That’s awesome. So how has dealing with fear changed or stayed the same now that you are working your business instead of starting one?
D: Well, you know, I still encounter fears in doing my work. Like starting my blog (How Manly) is an example of another point where I was like “Alright, can I do this? I don’t think of myself as a great writer.” I had a couple of false starts where I started something then it didn’t really work out until I finally got it to the place where it’s at, a place where I feel like this is something I can build on. I think for me, my process is I need to sort of dip my toe in a little bit before I dive right in. For different projects or different things that looks different each time. It helps me to sort of get some sense of what I’m about to enter into before I do it.
V: What would that look like? The “dip toe in” process?
D: Well, with launching my business, I was doing this consulting work on the side while I still had a full time job. It was there when I needed it. It was ready for me to grow it. I think had I not been doing that I probably would have been like “I don’t know what I’m gonna do” and I would have taken the first job offer I got. And like I said with the blog, I kind of attempted a couple before I really got this one and came up with an idea that I really liked. I talked things over with people a lot, as much as possible. I still deal with fears, definitely. Like I have a serious fear of heights and I was at a retreat for some kids and they had a ropes course. And I had tried a ropes course once and I got like half way up the ladder and I was like “I can’t do this” and I came back down. But this time, they were all having so much fun and I was like “You know what, I want to have some fun too.” And what I told myself was “You know what, I’ve done scarier things than this. I’ve started my own business. I’ve traveled to Kenya on my own. I did things that have real world consequences, well potential real world consequences, with no safety net like when you do a ropes course. I’m gonna conquer this too.” And I did it. And I was shaking the whole time. I had to stop and pause a lot but I did it. The fact that I had overcome other things before in that moment also allowed me to say “Ok, I’ve overcome harder things, now I can do this.” I think conquering a fear can help give you that momentum to overcome other fears, big or small.
V: I find that to be true too. So you talked some about talking to people, did you have any books or favorite quotes or anything that helped you when you were feeling like “I’m not so sure, I’m afraid, but I want to do it.”?
D: No, I don’t have books necessarily that I turned to. I guess I think of people that I know who’ve overcome big fears and their experiences. Historically, I view Harriet Tubman as a hero of mine. And I just think about her experience that she was a free slave and she was helping free all these slaves. And the consequences for that were humongous and she was able to free many slaves, hundreds of slaves, and never get caught and just the strength that that took to do it. Or people that fought for social change, you know, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, people like that. I do sometimes think of some of these people and sometimes that can be counterproductive because I think I’m not like them. I don’t have that ability, but sometimes I am able to say “You know what? If they can do it, I can do it.”
V: That’s nice. It’s like someone’s life is their book.
D: Yeah, it can serve as inspiration. That’s why I think people love autobiographies so much.
V: So, what advice or tips would you give to someone who is reading this and they’re still like “Uh, I want to do this thing, but I’m still not sure cause I’m afraid.”? What would you say to them?
D: I would say, test the waters if you can. If it’s something where testing the waters is reading about it or getting to know as much as you can about whatever it is you want to conquer or do. I’ll talk to people all the time who say “You know, I’m interested in having my own business” and I say “Start off on the side while you have a stable job so you can see is there a market for this. Can I make a go at this?” So test out the waters when you can. Really think it through before just diving in when you can. And, I don’t know. YOLO (You Only Live Once). Post that on your wall if you need to. You know actually, there is a quote that I do think of which is helpful. I think the quote was “Fear of suffering is often worse than the suffering itself.” I mean, it sounds kind of morbid, but I think of it in the sense of like fear of being jobless and the repercussions of that are often worse than, for a lot of people, if you are jobless. You can maybe pick up side jobs or, you know what I’m saying? I think we blow our fears up to these big extents, like “Oh my God, my world is gonna end. This is how bad it’s gonna be.” And we think of all these things and I think you’ve talked about this on your blog, some other people mention this you make it bigger in your mind than it’s actually gonna be in reality. So try not to get caught in that mental self-talk cycle, that negative self-talk cycle.
V: Anything else you’d like to share?
D: We were talking about that sort of negative self-talk. Really explore the roots of that negative self-talk. What is it? Where does it come from? Is it stuff you heard in your childhood? Is it because of past experiences that went bad? Are you dealing with depression? Understanding where that comes from is helpful. And actually at one point I found this iPad app called Unstuck and you can put in goals. Are you familiar with it? I think that’s actually pretty good because they give you thoughts on why or what your block is and what you can do to counter that block so I think it can be helpful to not just think about conquering your fear, but trying to understand what it is that you’re afraid of in the first place. Because if you can figure that out, then that gives you the steps to conquer it and then hug your fear.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
So, that’s Duane’s story. And no, I didn’t pay him to use “hug your fear” in a sentence during the interview, but I do remember cheering at the end! What do you think? What stood out to you?
There are three things that really caught my attention.
First, I love his story about the ropes course. Overcoming fear really does create a momentum. Doing it once makes the next time a little easier and the next time a little easier and on and on.
Second, I cosign on his mention of the Unstuck app. It really does help you get to the bottom of why you’re stuck on your goal and it does so in an entertaining way.
And third, I loved how he spoke of how people can inspire you just by living their lives. I truly believe this too. We have so much to share and learn from each other, especially as it relates to overcoming fear. Who inspires you to overcome your fear based on how they lived their lives?
Photo Credit: Clinton Blackburn
If you liked this interview, you might also like:
Interview with J.P. – “Just grit your teeth and go forward.”
Interview with Lauren Doney – “There is no try”