What kind of relationship do you have with fear?
Not necessarily the spooky kind of fear like fear of the dark or fear of spiders. But what are the fears that you hold (whether you acknowledge them or not) that are dictating the big decisions that you make in life on a daily basis?
Are you afraid of what people think about you? Are you afraid of failure? Afraid of success? Are you afraid of becoming a certain type of person? Or not becoming the type of person you think other people expect you to be?
Acknowledging these fears requires a deep sense of honesty and usually prompts an overwhelming sense of dread but it’s still only the tip of the iceberg.
The question that I asked though, was what about your relationship to your fear. We can understand what our fears are and what they mean in great depth but that means nothing if we’re not making efforts to work out a solution. Acknowledgment is the first step but what do we do from there?
In comes the perspective of the artist.
Everybody lives with fear and this lesson applies just the same. But it’s the artist perspective that illustrates it so well.
Creativity is all about freedom, potential, and making the most out of life – with all its trials and tribulations – through communication. But what does that mean?
It often feels like you have to have something drastic to say or have some kind of original talent in order to create. But at the end of the day, we all have things to say, we just deal with that inner voice in different ways. We may not all consider ourselves as creatives, but we all indeed are creative people. We have things to say and we end up saying it one way or another.
The common thread that brings us all together though, is the fear that tries to smother that inner voice before it ever reaches the outside world.
That fear manifests itself in just about any way that you can imagine (see the above list of fears that dictate our decisions). In the end, it doesn’t matter how the fear manifests: it’s still just fear.
Not only is fear truly simple, but it’s boring. We all feel fear in one way or another and we’re not special because our fear manifests itself in a more meaningful way than other people. The only thing that matters is how we compensate for our fears and how we then respond (i.e. how we then make decisions based on what the fear has instilled in us).
The fear itself is also not the villain. The villain is the complacency that fear inspires. Fear keeps us alive and keeps us sane. Fear keeps us from touching a hot kettle on the stove, driving our cars too fast, and keeps us at our jobs to make sure the bills get paid. But like an overprotective parent or a hypochondriac, fear can drive us to make decisions that ensure our safety while robbing of us some of life’s greatest moments and achievements by simply choosing not to participate. Skydiving? “Too dangerous…” Swimming in the ocean? “There could be sharks…” Create something truly meaningful to yourself and others? “Someone might think I’m silly.”
Fear will never go away and for good reason: it shouldn’t. What we we need to do is strive to live our lives in a way that incorporates our fears and our ambitions to live together harmoniously.
To do this you have to really figure out what it is that you want and what kind of fear is keeping you from achieving that. Then (it sounds silly and self-explanatory, but trust me, it helps) you have to leave it to your gut to duke it out as logically and civilized as it possibly can.
It’s usually not a simple argument and is one that rarely concludes with a clear cut answer. But you have to allow it to run its course on its own. Fear and ambition have to learn to live together in peace alongside the rest of the elements in your life. Like two teenage siblings living together under one roof, it’s not going to look pretty most of the time. But as they grow and mature, they figure it out and learn how to make it work. My one piece of advice is this:
Never let your fear take the drivers seat
Writer Elizabeth Gilbert says it best.
“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently, your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There is plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decision along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of the family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours. … But above all else, my dear all familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
I’ve let fear bully me into submission too many times in the past. Negligence towards fear is a stereotype that artists typically hold but I’ve come to a realization that people who choose creative lifestyles require one of the more difficult and adverse relationships to fear out there. To be an artist you have to be bold and you have to take risks. People typically misunderstand this as irrationality but the successful artist knows what they want and what it’s going to take, so they just simply go out there and do it. They face the largest mountains to climb because what they want requires originality, and originality inspires fear. Sure there’s a million stories out there of creatives throwing caution to the wind, quitting their jobs, and blowing their life’s savings on a pipe dream but there’s more to it than that. True creativity is overcoming adversity.
But that’s just the start. I don’t want to create the impression that all there is to creativity is overcoming a problem in your own psyche. It can be about whatever you want it to be or whatever you NEED it to be. But realize that its textured. Art is layered with depth and meaning wherever the creator can cram it in and that’s what makes it so cool, but all art starts with the same theme. A creator, their fear, and what they did to get over that fear. From then on, the world is your oyster.
So if you’re a creative, you have your obstacle set before you. Go. But even if you’re not the the artist type, fear still is living and present. And just because you’re not an artist doesn’t mean fear isn’t running your life.
So what kind of relationship do you have with fear? Are you giving it too much power? Is it driving your decisions? Are you ignoring it completely? Or are you taking note at every choice you cross…getting a little better everyday.