The Entrepreneur in Room 101

The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. It goes beyond fear of pain or death, and it varies from individual to individual. In some cases Room 101 may be burial alive, or castration. In your case…

George Orwell, 1984

In the case of one TAB member, what’s in Room 101 is simple. It’s a phone that doesn’t ring. It’s the fear that, “The work will dry up, and the phone will stop ringing – and it’s all down to me so I must make hay whilst the sun is shining and do everything I can to ensure that never happens.”

Here we are at blog #101 – thank you for all the kind comments last week – which made me think of Room 101. We’re not talking here about Anne Robinson wanting to put the Welsh in Room 101 or Spike Milligan’s desire to consign Portsmouth to oblivion, but about the original Room 101: the one where Winston Smith was strapped in the chair and O’Brien casually mentioned that the rats might eat his eyes first…

But what’s in Room 101 for entrepreneurs? What are self-motivated people who run their own businesses frightened of? What keeps them awake at three in the morning?

I’ve researched a few articles on the subject and they all glibly state ‘fear of failure.’ I think that’s too simplistic. I think the answers go deeper than that. So I did what any intelligent person would do. I asked the members of TAB. What scares the best people I know?

Letting people down was a common thread that ran through many of the answers, whether it was family or friends – or employees. Far from the common perception of grasping bosses exploiting their staff, many members felt driven to succeed ‘because of staff who depend on me.’

Another one was what you might describe as fear of doubt: “the fear that I will lose belief in what I am doing.” Again this is at odds with the stereotypical picture of the entrepreneur – someone who doesn’t know what introspection means.

Rather than fear of failure, fear of not realising your potential was a very common theme. I suspect that many of us have school reports stashed away at the back of cupboards, a large proportion featuring the words ‘could do better.’ TAB members know this isn’t a rehearsal: that Geography didn’t matter so much but business does. They don’t want to look back in twenty years and think, ‘if only…’ And they don’t want to give some smug so-and-so the satisfaction of saying, “Reid…Reid…Ah, yes. Knew he’d never amount to very much.”

Perhaps surprisingly, not one person who responded mentioned a fear of the business taking over their life. If you read a traditional article on entrepreneurs’ fears, that’s right up there in the top three. Does that mean all TAB members have their work/life balance perfectly in sync? Of course it doesn’t. But it might suggest that we’re helping.

Similarly, only one person mentioned the fear of getting it wrong. “My biggest fear is the fear of making a huge mistake – making the wrong decision.” Hopefully, discussing your big decisions round the TAB table can help guard against that one.

Fittingly, the last response I received summed it all up: being an entrepreneur means that there are always risks – and ultimately, there are some things that are out of your control and some fears you just have to live with:

So we cherry pick the risks we know … But to lose the business to something that a politician, local authority or other bureaucrat has decided is a good idea, without an appreciation of its impact, that’s scary.

Thank you all for your replies. Next week we are navigating the far calmer waters of your website.

Have a great weekend.



  1. Simon Hudson · June 8, 2012

    Splendid – I think a much longer article, a book even, could be written on the subject.

  2. Steven Partridge · June 8, 2012

    Excellent blog, Ed. My philosophy – control the controllables.

  3. Stephanie Bennis · June 8, 2012

    As a fellow entrepreneur, this was a post I really needed to read. I’ve also questioned what I’m most afraid of and many rang true to what I’m feeling.

  4. Dave Rawlings · June 8, 2012

    It had never crossed my mind that rats might eat my eyes – until I read 1984! But that was years ago and I’d almost forgotten about it …
    More generally, there’s also fear of success. I think it arises from not wanting to be different from your friends because you’d lose them.

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