Written by:
Christine Christodoulou

Revoco Talks…breaking down the mindset of fear with Sam Griesel

Over the last couple of months, whether it’s through our Revoco Talks Q&As or our ‘Don’t Fear the F word’ webinars, we’ve been talking to members of the founders community about their experiences of fear and failure while growing their business.

We’ve covered many different triggers and individual stories – but the pattern is clear, fear can be debilitating for business founders and can ultimately come between them and the success of their venture.

So, with that being said, we’re delighted to be joined by psychologist Sam Griesel for this instalment of Revoco Talks.

Here Sam will be reflecting on her own experiences as a founder, trying to get her venture off the ground, whilst also offering valuable advice to our readers on how to overcome fear and move past failure. 

Have a read below…

Sam, thank you so much for joining us! Would you be able to start by telling us more about your career path so far?

It took me a while to settle on a career that felt right for me. I’d worked in customer service and recruitment for many years but gained most satisfaction from the part-time interest in literature, philosophy, and psychology I studied alongside. I knew that I was fascinated by human nature and relationships, and thought that it made sense to “help people” in a corporate role but, as it turned out, what I needed was something more deeply human, more about real lives than workplace ones.

I arrived at the idea of becoming a therapist in 2006, and it seemed so perfectly aligned that it was amazing it hadn’t occurred to me before. Having an entrepreneurial spirit, my initial training route was via investing in a franchise (LighterLife), where I ran my own business under the parent company and qualified as a group therapist. Clients were offered group psychological support around emotional eating/food addiction.

Unfortunately, the high-end cost of this weight-loss plan made it a luxury expense that could not withstand the strain of the 2008 recession and the business was not sustainable. I therefore, decided to retrain as a counsellor and eventually qualified six years later (having completed my diploma at UWE). Since then I’ve worked as a BACP therapist offering one-to-one private counselling in Bristol, specialising in abuse, trauma, relationships, and personality disorders. 

In 2018, I also started a venture for online therapy. This was to be an innovative technological advancement bringing counselling into the 21st century. Therapy at your fingertips from home, offering a range of tech features and functions designed to inform, educate, and improve mental well-being. Sadly, after investing over £100K into the development of a website, the finished product did not deliver, and we were unable to launch/ the project failed. A steep learning curve, two years of 60-70 hours per week and heavy investment in time, effort, money that very nearly broke me physically and psychologically, but – as it turned out – has completely transformed my life in remarkable and unexpected ways.

So, you can relate to a lot of our founders when it comes to fear and failure because you’ve been there. Can you tell us more about your venture and experience? 

My online therapy business ultimately failed because the web developer over-promised and under-delivered. I didn’t do due diligence regarding the competence/experience to deliver such an ambitious site and my lack of knowledge in the tech industry cost us dearly. It felt like a runaway train, the developer was young and ambitious himself, and in retrospect, we were a poor match as both of us were more ideas people rather than pragmatic.

Having invested vast amounts into developing the site, it could not be launched as many features/functions didn’t work and the key relationship between myself and the developer broke down / was no longer tenable. I kept throwing money to bring the site to a launchable condition, tried doing lots of work on it myself in desperation, but ran out of cash before we could get there. The entire site was so poorly developed that ultimately it had to be scrapped and was unusable.

How did you deal with your own failure and turn it into a positive experience?

My recent business adventure taught me a great deal. My understanding of ego, worries and projections and their role in fear was highlighted through my own personal experience. Caught up in a whirlwind and unable to see the wood for the trees – denial cost me dearly.

Once I realised that things were going badly, I was already so deeply invested that I refused to face it and tried everything in my power to deny the truth of what was happening. My ego couldn’t bear it, having lost not only my own life savings but also that of my father and a friend who had invested considerable amounts of money into the venture.

Trying to ward off deep shame and guilt, I naively got lost into trying to throw yet more time, money, and effort into saving a sinking ship. In my naivety, I thought that sheer tenacity might save the day and I worked myself literally into a mental and physical breakdown and ended up hospitalised with a back injury and unable to walk for six months. I am certain this was almost entirely stress-induced.

I had spread myself impossibly thin, became completely myopic and was working so hard in survival mode that I was making terrible decisions that now, with hindsight, I cannot believe I made. Charging around on a hamster wheel and getting nowhere, I should’ve jumped off months and months before ill-health and finally running out of cash forced it upon me.

My ego wouldn’t let go of the promise of a brilliant idea, the proverbial dangling carrot always tantalising out of reach. The idea that if I just did a little more, the website would work, and we’d be able to launch. The idea that I’d let people down, that I’d humiliated myself, that I was a failure. My worry that I’d be destitute and unable to cope with the consequences of having lost my business and all that money, not to mention the pride of losing face.

It was the most difficult experience I’d ever been through in my life. Learning that all counsellors in the UK had to move to online working during the pandemic and the sickening realisation of the potential of “what might have been” was a particularly bitter pill to swallow earlier this year.

I was traumatised and it has only been in the past few months that I feel truly healed from the experience. What I learned is something that reminds me of a quote from Viktor Frankl in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”

Many people succumb to experiences like mine, some with their lives. What I realised is that the only difference between victims and survivors is an attitude, your perspective. It isn’t the reality of your circumstances that determines success or failure or victimhood, it is the attitude you choose to take that counts.

Armed with this belief and faith, I got some perspective. I chose to look at what happened with the utmost self-compassion, forgiveness and understanding I could muster and found some pride and dignity in discovering untapped wells of personal resilience, adaptability, and strength to move on.

However grave the adversity you face in life, you are simultaneously gifted with commensurate potential for growth and learning. Make or break, it’s up to you. I got things into proportion. I gave myself time to heal. I learned where I went wrong and vowed to use my understanding of the past not to make me fearful of the future but to ensure I don’t repeat the same mistakes. Showing myself compassionate understanding, and knowing I did the best I could at the time and allowed me to let go of my ego. What other people thought did not matter, If I held onto self-believe – others would continue to have faith in me too. Other people are a lot more forgiving, understanding, and compassionate than you could ever be toward yourself, give them credit. Other people will see in you whatever you don’t see in yourself.

Failure is success waiting to happen. Tremendous growth and learning are not only possible via failure, but these things are also the ONLY route to success. And the deeper the failure, the deeper well of potential learning at your disposal. The deeper potential destruction too, granted, but that’s up to you!

I’ve regained my physical health, I’ve figured out my priorities, my self-worth is better than it has ever been, I’m writing a book about my experiences, and currently redeveloping my online therapy website as a new venture. The whole experience gave me what I describe as “enlightenment”, I’m stronger and happier now than I’ve ever been in my life.

Failure and inherent fear that surrounds the f word – what ignites this feeling?

Fear is bound up in three things – the ego, worry and projection.

Ego not in the sense of self-importance but its deeper psychological meaning. The simplest way to describe ego is any aspect of your thinking, feeling or behaviour that is driven by concern over what other people think of you, your “status”.

Worry is anxiety, and anxiety is fear. If you think about it, there is rarely anything we worry about that’s truly a clear and present danger. Instead, it’s human nature to continually scan for, and rehash, our past experiences in the hope of avoiding the same, or similar predicaments in the future.

What ignites fear is our imagination. We imagine repeating terrible experiences of humiliation or pain that we’ve been through in our past or have witnessed other people enduring. We project these imaginings into our future, and this creates fearful thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

The things we fear aren’t “real”, they are (quite literally) figments of our imagination. Whenever we are afraid – it’s rarely because we’re actually in danger – it’s simply our highly active imagination. Our brains seek out patterns from our past in order to make predictions about our future. Clearly, we cannot be fortune-tellers. However, it’s true in the sense that our predictions can be reliable – the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

The reason for this reliability doesn’t lie in our fortune-telling ability. Our fears reliably manifest because we unknowingly psychologically align ourselves with our worries, and therefore begin thinking, feeling and acting in ways that facilitate and/or create the necessary conditions of defeat and failure. By being afraid, we create the perfect climate for our fears to grow and develop into reality.

Excepting miraculous strokes of luck, our experiences will align with our mindsets. It is the fear of failure that therefore brings about our demise, not external circumstances, or other people. The thing we should fear most is fear itself. With fear in check, you can overcome anything and prevail.

How can people tackle fear, so it doesn’t render them immobile?

Having insight into the true nature of fear will help free you from it. Fear comes in many disguises.

Learning how to let go of your ego is one of the best things you can gift yourself. Once free from the strain of caring what people think, you are at liberty to take risks, to freely express yourself and become authentically you. A fear of failure is also bound to a fear of success, two sides of the same coin.… in other words, your ego identity. If your mind is plagued by believing you are a failure and needing to prove (or disprove) something to others, success will be a fearful and alien concept to you, and therefore remain out of reach.

If you believe that your venture and its success or failure holds some omnipotent power to determine your status (what other people think of you) – you’ll be rendered immobile. Let your ego go. You are whatever you think you are, it does not depend upon any external validation or a judgement “success” or “failure”. These things are always subjective. Your attitude is the only thing that can succeed or fail to provide you with happiness and fulfilment in life. Nothing and no one can determine your attitude except you, from the inside. Whatever you focus on will manifest, one way or another.

The same is true regarding having insight into the true nature of worry and projection. Be aware when you are scanning for past patterns and applying them to future projections. Don’t let the past prevent you from moving forward with hope and courage. See your fears for what they are, not real but imaginings.

You can’t help worries and projections bubbling into your thoughts, and your ego will remain your life-long adversary; an inner critic that hardly ever shuts up. These things continually work against you, but you are so much more than the three of them put together!

Remind yourself that just because they talk, (sometimes even scream at you), you can choose not to listen. You can tune into other signals, listen out for that higher, better voice that wants you to evolve and thrive. It might be a quiet voice, but it is deceptively much more powerful.

Fear immobilises us because it is a formidable enemy that, like an inner bully, screams the loudest in our ear, plays with our emotions, and keeps us down through lies and intimidation. Fear gains its power through the illusion of strength but – just like a bully – when you stand up to it, you realise that you were much bigger, stronger and more powerful all along. It backs down immediately whenever you confront it head-on.

You are more than your ego, your worries and projections – learn to use those three things wisely and only pay attention to them where they can offer something of value, otherwise, put them firmly in their place!

Any recommendations for people who are struggling with fears in their professional life

Think I’ve probably covered this… but the three things – ego, worry and projection. Keep them in check. Be their master, not their slave.

Find out more about Sam and the services she offers by visiting her profile on the Counselling Directory – Click here.

We are over the moon to welcome Sam to our ‘Don’t Fear the F word’ webinar on 3/12/20. She’ll be delving into more about her experience and how we can breakdown that debilitating mindset of fear. 

  • If you’re a founder – there’s no doubt you will be able to benefit from Sam’s knowledge, experience and advice.
  • If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who is lacking the confidence to get your venture off the ground – this webinar could give you the knowledge and assurance, you need to take the next step.
  • Maybe you’re just someone who’s interested in why we think the way we do, mindset management and behavioural patterns.

Whichever one it may be, there will be something to take away for anyone who attends, and we will look forward to welcoming you!

Find out more and Register – here.


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