Chip Conley: How I Overcome Fear

Share this post

Reprinted from Chris Mittelstaedt’s column  Eureka  on

The founder of Joie de Vivre hotels on his new book, Emotional Equations, and the trick he uses to combat paralyzing anxiety.

Chip Conley knows fear.

In 2008 with the economy in recession, his hotel business Joie de Vivre sinking around him, a family member wrongly convicted and in San Quentin prison, five close friends recently lost to suicide—his heart just stopped. He was 47 years old. For an hour while doctors worked on him he came in and out of consciousness. “I was dead,” he told me during a recent conversation. “Flatline.”

Ultimately Chip survived and the experience jolted him into doing some heavy thinking. Amid so much chaos, anxiety, and uncertainty, how could he lead his company to a better place? His heart told him clearly that just trying to survive wasn’t enough. He was afraid and he needed change.

He started re-reading the psychologist Abraham Maslow and Viktor Frankl and began to realize that fear is largely about self preservation. And when you get into self-preservation mode, it's next to impossible to think bigger.  "When people get into that fight or flight place then they move away from the creative centers of their brain," Conley says. Pulling yourself back out requires a special kind of discipline.

Chip has some ideas on how to do that. His new book Emotional Equations is his effort to understand and quantify how fear can overwhelm and control an entrepreneur. “Organizations that can diminish fear are those that are able to motivate, create, and innovate," he says.

One way to better manage fear is something Conley calls "the anxiety balance sheet." It's an exercise designed to help you identify what you know vs. what you don't know, and what you can influence vs. what you can't.

On a piece of paper draw four columns. Column 1 is what you know. Column 2 is what you don’t know. Column 3 is what you have power or control over. Column 4 is what you don’t have power or control over. “What we find is that 75-80 percent of people have more in columns in 1 and 3 than 2 and 4," he says. "People don’t realize how much control they do have. The more you can show them this control the easier it is to tap back into the creative side of the brain that allows people to see possibilities and options.”

One of the best paths to success in uncertain times, says Conley, is understanding enough about yourself and how fear affects you so that you can address it directly—and then get on with the work of growing your company and inspiring your employees.


Subscribe to the WEEKLY BITE

* indicates required


Recent WorkLife articles:

Best onboarding practices
May 21, 2019
Quick, easy steps to spruce up your office space
May 14, 2019
Reduce plastic use with these earth-friendly alternatives
April 22, 2019
How fostering psychological safety increases performance
April 8, 2019
Does your company’s anti-harassment training measure up?
April 2, 2019
How to keep workplace leftovers out of the garbage
March 28, 2019
Tidying your workspace can bring a fresh perspective
March 7, 2019
A Buddhist take on cubicle culture
February 19, 2019
Know the risks when sparks fly at the workplace
February 12, 2019
The benefits of employee wellness programs
February 6, 2019

More recent articles:

Grilled portobello recipe
May 9, 2019
How to prepare physically and mentally for race day
May 9, 2019
Three simple ways to enjoy watermelon radishes
May 2, 2019
Beehives, swales, and vermicomposting, oh my!
April 29, 2019
Easy spring salad recipe
April 25, 2019
History of the tomato
April 18, 2019
Spring fruit varieties and how to enjoy them
April 16, 2019
How to make sure you’re getting enough iron in your diet
April 11, 2019
How to prepare Ataulfo mango
April 4, 2019
Three steps to help you train for your half marathon
March 26, 2019

About Us

Our online magazine offers a taste of workplace culture, trends, and healthy living. It features recipes for easy, delicious work meals and tips on quick office workouts. It's also an opportunity to learn about our GoodWorks program, which helps those in need in our communities and supports small, sustainable farms.