Entrepreneur Sascha Wolhandler discovered that running scared is no way to run a business, and after 14 years in the catering industry, she should know


March 25, 1991|By Ellen James Martin

An entrepreneur for 14 years, Sascha Wolhandler has learned to live with fear.

"It's very scary when you hold people's lives in your hands -- when you have to make enough money in your business to meet people's salaries, taxes, health insurance and other benefits. That's a lot of responsibility," says Ms. Wolhandler, who heads Sascha's, a catering concern based in Mount Vernon.

Yet entrepreneurs shouldn't back away from risk due to the fears that business decisions can arouse, Ms. Wolhandler says. Since the day 14 years ago when (without advance planning) she opened her company with a crepe-maker carried back from a vacation in Paris, she's willingly accepted fear as an integral element in business.

"I just sort of plunge in, make this happen and trust my instincts. I think you have to trust yourself if you're going to have your own business," she says. Of course, risk and the fears it arouses are certainly not the sole province of entrepreneurs. At one time or another, everyone experiences fear. And fears related to business are especially widespread during a difficult economic period such as today's,says Susan Jeffers, author of the book "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway."

"Fear seems to be epidemic in our society. We fear beginnings; we fear endings. We fear changing; we fear 'staying stuck.' We fear success; we fear failure. We fear living; we fear dying," says Dr. Jeffers of Los Angeles, who took her doctorate in psychology and conducts seminars in what she calls "fearbashing."

Like most entrepreneurs, Ms. Wolhandler has learned coping strategies to handle the fears that accompany risk.

"I think it's very important for anyone owning a business to be personally diversified," says Ms. Wolhandler. "I've seen business people who didn't diversify and the business just eats them up."

"I make it a point to go to the theater, to go to movies, to go to an art gallery opening -- so my life is not all consumed with how this business is going to work."

She also sees to it that she cares for her physical health. She's an avid equestrian and also walks to work each day from her home in Fells Point.

Her husband and business partner, attorney Stephen Suser, says he believes attitude plays an important role in coping with worries. "One of us usually calms the other," he says.

The couple's coping skills were put to the test recently when they undertook an expansion of the catering business, which provides pre-theater buffets at Center Stage, as well as off-premise catering and fancy "Sascha's Silver Sacs" lunches and dinners to businesses and homes throughout Baltimore.

The expansion, a major expenditure, doubled the company's space. The investment expanded the kitchen -- and added a walk-in refrigerator, new stoves and a new grill.

Accompanied by the closure of the company's carry-out restaurant, the changes represented a major transition for Sascha's. And coming in the midst of a recession, they were brave moves for the business -- but moves Ms. Wolhandler says was important to the company's growth.

The recession has been an especially tough time for small business owners.

It has aroused fears within corporations where managers must confront change in the face of declining sales. And it's put many laid-off people in the unhappy position of having to look for new jobs -- an activity that provokes fear in a large part of the population.

"Whenever we take a chance and enter unfamiliar territory or put ourselves into the world in a new way, we experience fear. Very often this fear keeps us from moving forward with our lives. The trick is to feel the fear and do it anyway," Dr. Jeffers says.

The recession is causing business people to behave in new ways.

Take a manager working for a retrenching software company. Told to shrink his department's expenses, he will be worried about making a mistake the first time he goes through the process. He may be particularly fearful if it's staff he must cut.

But as Dr. Jeffers observes, the software manager will do far better to proceed imperfectly than to shrink from the actions that arouse his fears. In her seminars and lectures on fearbashing, she cites several "fear truths" that could help those, like the software manager, who are fearful of moving forward:

* Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

* The only way to feel better about myself is to go out and do it.

To be sure, the courage to trust oneself and to act decisively in the face of fear has a lot to do with how one is brought up as a child. "The greatest gift we can give our children is the feeling of self-worth," Dr. Jeffers contends.

Still, Dr. Jeffers says it's possible for adults to develop the capacity to manage fear. She offers these pointers:

* Put your trust in a higher power.

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