When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, he was advising an anxious nation that fear itself was the enemy. A feeling of despair was settling across America, causing a run on banks, a precipitous rise in unemployment, and a sharp drop in consumer spending. According to an article about the Great Depression by economist Robert J. Samuelson, between 1929 and 1933, the Gross National Product had declined by 30 percent, farm prices were down 51 percent, and stocks had lost 85 percent of their value.
The U.S. economy was trapped in a downward spiral. With access to credit drying up, every type of business activity suffered. In response, Roosevelt courageously made it his mandate to take chances. His first 100 days in office boldly created the New Deal framework and changed the country's direction. The populace quickly learned a new lexicon of acronyms such as WPA (Works Progress Administration), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), FHA (Federal Housing Authority), and REA (Rural Electrification Administration).
Today's economy can be revived if we take Roosevelt's advice to heart and
not allow fear to overwhelm us. Of course, not everyone will find success, but failure is assured if they sit on the fence. In the words of philosopher Henri-Frederic Amiel, "The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides."
Risk and fear are the yin and yang of entrepreneurship, and no one knows this better than those who start a business. Prospective owners must consider the overall risk in light of their personal assets. Does the sum of their imagination, motivation, work ethic, and courage outweigh the likelihood of failure? Are there resources available for those who do take the leap? And what about the risk of doing nothing? These days we can no longer count on politicians, trade unions, or big companies to provide job security. Uncertainty is all around us. How we proceed is up to us.
I can personally attest to the constant interplay of risk and fear during my nearly 70-year career as a global entrepreneur. I endured my share of sleepless nights along the way, but I never let fear of failure keep me from pursuing promising opportunities. As a nation, we must get back to the mental toughness that is needed to run a business, create new wealth, and thereby benefit our communities. Granted, times of duress bring unexpected and often painful adjustments, but these, in turn, create new areas for growth and opportunity, as I outlined here on The Huffington Post in my last article, A Crisis Can Also Be an Opportunity for Entrepreneurship. We must not allow confusion and discouragement to cloud our vision.
Almost 80 percent of new jobs are created from small and medium-sized businesses. If we look at the leading companies in the United States today, we will find that a large percentage were not even in business 50 years ago. Our economy thrives when there is a steady stream of new and innovative businesses entering the marketplace. While many of us may not be blessed with great physical attributes or enormous talent in any direction, we all share the freedom to think, to learn, to act, and to respond to the conditions that exist. Fear of failure has always been the biggest impediment to achieving the American Dream.
The shadow of the Great Recession is still with us, and the time for analysis has long been over. We know what the problems are. The middle class is shrinking, veterans face difficult transitions to civilian jobs, college graduates are encumbered by a trillion dollars of student loan debt, and single mothers are struggling to support their children, not to mention the millions of Americans who may have jobs, but are underemployed. It's hard for all of these folks to even consider leaving a minimum wage job to start a business, yet that is precisely why getting this message across is so important.
At age 90, I have lived through the Depression, survived heavy combat in World War II, and prospered for 7 decades since I first became an entrepreneur. I have enjoyed a fantastic life and now feel an obligation to pass on a legacy to my fellow Americans, to inspire others, to prove that it can be done. An optimistic spirit can still take you a long way toward a brighter future. There may be times when it is prudent to hesitate or to wait, but ultimately we need to act. At one time or another, we all get knocked down, but the important thing is how we are able to get back up.
After 81 years, Roosevelt's words bear repeating: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." What successful entrepreneurs and leaders do know is that risk and fear are inseparable, but both can be managed in a way that lead you to reward.
Jack Nadel is the author of the award-winning book, "The Evolution of an Entrepreneur: Featuring 50 of My Best Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Business" - winner of five Global Ebook Awards including three Gold Awards for BEST in Business, Leadership and Careers/Employment - part of the popular Ultimate Crash Course for Entrepreneurs set, available on-demand online (www.JackNadel.com). He is the founder and chairman emeritus of Jack Nadel International, a global leader in the specialty advertising and marketing industry. Jack, founder of more than a dozen companies worldwide, is also the author of other books, including, "There's No Business Like Your Bu$iness, How to Succeed in Business Without Lying, Cheating or Stealing," "Cracking the Global Market," and "My Enemy, My Friend."