Is Fear an Appropriate Response to the Future?

We can get full agreement about the difficulty of predicting the future. So for our purposes it would be correct to refer to the future as the unknown.

There is one thing we know about this unknown future: for the long term it will not turn out well. The future of living beings is death. According to the Small Business Administration, the average duration of a small to medium-sized businesses (SMB) business in the United States is less than five years. We could go on.

As owners of small to medium-sized businesses (SMB’s), the best practice is to plan for the future. Yet, most SMB’s do not have written planning in place. In my experience, the reasons given for a written plan not existing will be stated by the owners as the difficulty of predicting the future and the resultant lack of effectiveness of a plan that does not predict the future. Thus, the perspective for the planning of the SMB becomes reactive as opposed to proactive. Worse, I do not think that the often-given reason is the real reason for the lack of planning. The real reason is fear of the future.

Does it make you anxious to think about the future? Of course it does. And that is the real reason business owners do not plan. It is not that it is so difficult to predict the future, it is the fear of what thinking about the foreseeable events will do to your overall feeling of well-being. Doing almost anything else seems to be a better choice than contemplating what life has in store for you.

As with most fear events, the first step in dealing with the fear is admitting you are afraid and recognizing that your fear is not unreasonable. The next step is to contemplate the result of not overcoming the fear event. Let us take an easy example.

There are notable physical fear events that must be overcome in learning to swim. It starts with learning that you really do float and that you can breathe while swimming by turning your head. When you conquer these issues of physical fear, swimming can become a source of pleasure. But this is not only true of physical fear, it is true for all types of fear.

For a more relevant example, every SMB owned by individuals has owners that will die. When an owner dies, the persons responsible for managing the estate of the owner and the owner’s heirs will to some extent become involved in the affairs of the SMB. Most of the time, the less the involvement, the better the result for the SMB. If the owners of the SMB preferred not to discuss the certainty of one of them dying, the involvement of the persons responsible for managing the estate of the owner and the owner’s heirs will be greater. The avoidance of a depressing mental exercise then results in a foreseeable adverse aspect for the business.

Just as physical fear can be turned into pleasure, fear of the future can also be a source of satisfaction when plans are made to blunt the worst that the future can hold for us.

Returning to our example, think of how it would feel if your SMB has in place an owner agreement that provides for the death of an owner in such a way that the death would have as minimal as possible of an effect on the success of the SMB. Yes, it was depressing to think about dying, and yes, the agreement probably is not perfect because all aspects of the future could not be understood, but there is the satisfaction of having dealt with the fear. And by the way, the fact that the owners agree in advance about the problem makes it much more likely that the owners will be able to react to an unforeseen occurrence that could derail an intended result.

If you are the owner of an interest in a SMB without a written plan, admit to the fear that caused the lack of planning and resolve to conquer that fear looking to the satisfaction of having a plan in place. This satisfaction can be renewed by continuing to review and amend the plan to further ensure the success of the business.