The “F Factor” – Turning Fear into Fearless


From the inviting videos and the alluring brochures that her company produces, it could be hard to tell that Jacqueline Wales was once at a dark place in her life. In fact, fear taught Wales everything she knows.

The 62-year-old California resident has come a long way from her upbringing, which she describes as marked by “abuse, poverty and uncertainty.” In that type of environment, Wales said, “you get to understand that fear is a big piece of the driver. I like to say that I learned fear from birth, and went from there.”

With the life lemons she was given, Wales created a lemonade cocktail of prosperity and purpose that has her retelling her own story to help others overcome their own obstacles. Her business, The Fearless Factor, takes her around the globe, to conferences and workshops and makes her sought-after by individuals and organizations looking to turn on that internal spotlight and tackle interpersonal challenges head on.

Among the organizations that have called on Wales for consulting services are the FBI, American Airlines, Citibank, Standard & Poor’s and The National Diversity Council. Wales was among the workshop facilitators at Diversity MBA’s 2103 Annual Leadership Conference and Awards Gala, held Sept. 19 and 20 in Chicago.

Jacqueline Wales leading a session for women executives
Jacqueline Wales leading a session for women executives

Wales was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a child, she said, she attended the “School of Hard Knocks.” She ran away from home at age 16, ending up on the streets. In a world of “dumpster diving, drug and alcohol abuse and mindless and reckless actions,” she came “perilously close to destroying her life,” Wales said.

But one day she awoke and asked, just like the Peggy Lee song, “Is that all there is?” Still, her path to entrepreneurial success was not a smooth one. Her career has included being a professional singer and author – she has penned five books, and considers herself a global nomad having lived in several countries. But Wales found her true calling eight years ago, at age 54, when she founded The Fearless Factor. She serves as CEO of the Oakland-based company.

The Fearless Factor aims at detaching people from their fears so that they can go on to “see the full extent of possibilities of who they are and what they’re capable of doing in this world,” according to Wales.

Among its offerings, The Fearless Factor holds seven-day retreats in Bali – Wales’ second home — where participants “unplug” from their busy lives and are taught how to reconnect with their inner selves. The company also hosts similar seminars in the U.S. Participants pay from $5,000 to as much as $50,000 for the retreats or seminars.

Starting the business just seemed like a necessary and natural venture for Wales.

“For me it was a need to help people,” she said. “Over the years I have spent thousands of hours with individuals listening to their stories and trying to help them define what the stories were telling them; trying to help them understand how they could move beyond the stories to create a different reality in their life.”

Her entrepreneurial path was far from a smooth one, Wales said. It was spiked with what she called poor decisions, bad investments and wasted time. Her passion and
resilience, however, helped her create and maintain a thriving business.

“I am a big believer in trial and error,” she said. “I absolutely believe that we are all failing our way to success. For many people who are afraid to take risks, for people who want to stay in their so-called safe zone, their comfort zone, well what’s really happening when you analyze it, is a discomfort zone.”

Wales travels the globe trying to make a difference, mostly through motivating women to overcome their fear. At the DMBA conference, she noted during the panel discussion she led that, in 2010, women outnumbered men in the nonfarm work force for the first time – 64.2 million to 63.4 million – according to U.S. Labor Department statistics.

Wales encourages women to take their place in corporate boardrooms and other leadership positions. “What needs to happen to change this perception that women are in the minority?” she asked. “This is not about bashing men, but the numbers speak for themselves. …Women need to ask for what they want.”

As humanitarian as her company’s objects are, its bottom line is still watched like a hawk. Fearless Factor has three part-timers and contracts with other professionals. Wales, a self-taught coach, by her admission, learned her skills through a lifetime of experiences, great teachers, conferences, workshops and seminars, the techniques that would guide her business.

“I have constantly looked beyond myself for people who have the insights and the knowledge that I need in order to make my next move,” she said.

Wales tries to keep her success in perspective.

“The first thing that drives you as an entrepreneur is that you have to believe that whatever it is that you’re doing is worth all the time and effort that you put into it – even in the moment when you’re not making money on it. Ultimately, it’s not the money that drives you, it’s your passion for making a difference – whether it’s a product or a service.”