As an entrepreneur, there are many things that wake me in the middle of the night with that sinking feeling of despair in the pit of my stomach: Have I paid my payroll taxes? Did I scope the last project correctly? Will I land the next new client?

Few, however, are as universal as the fear of failure that seems to accompany every new strategic project.

So, it was heartening to hear from my colleague Sarah that I’m not alone in this rollercoaster combination of excitement and dread. Sarah aptly describes this as the “Oh sh*t” moment, as in, “Oh sh*t, I’m not going to make it on this one.”

Big projects = big emotion

We find it most often in the first half of a large engagement, such as helping a client develop a new value proposition, researching a marketing plan, or trying to diagnose the issues that hold back a marketing organization. Between us, we share decades of marketing experience and confidence in our abilities—yet we still struggle with how to push through the gut-level dread that a big project often generates.

Fortunately, the “Oh sh*t” moment eventually gives way to the all-important “A-ha” moment of enlightenment. Yet to get there requires patience, persistence, trust and for me, a good stash of chocolate and caffeine.

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