“Let me list for you some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life: You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark. You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life. You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money."
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
We spend a lot of time dealing with fear in our lives. We run from fear, hide from fear, and try to conquer fear.
We feel like our fears are there to sabotage us, to talk us out of all our fondest dreams and desires. We feel like our fears are out to get us, to ruin our fun, squash our creativity, keep us boxed up, locked away, held back, imprisoned… to keep us small. For some of us, fear seems to run our lives. We have grand dreams of being a dancer, or traveling the world, or changing jobs, or climbing a mountain, or simply leaving the house. We feel inspired and excited to do these things.
For some of us, it’s no biggy. Our inspiration leads us directly into action. We sign up for a class, book a trip, say “I quit”, buy some climbing gear, or open the front door and take a step. But, for the rest of us, our dreams are shut down as quickly as they are born. Sometimes this happens on a daily basis: a dream is born, and then it’s killed. Birth and death, birth and death, birth and death. Sometimes it’s the same dream and sometimes it’s a fresh one each day. It’s like we’re launching dream skeets and they’re being shot down before they even catch any air. And it leaves us feeling frustrated, angry, and worthless. It makes us get down on ourselves and feel like we never allow ourselves to accomplish anything because we’re too damned afraid. So, we stay stuck in our little comfort zone, in our small world, which gets smaller and smaller and smaller the more fear runs the show.
But, why do we allow this?
Maybe it’s simply because we don’t understand fear’s purpose, and we’ve just been letting it run amuck instead of using it for what it was meant for.
For several years, my friend and I did little investigative experiments with our subconscious mind – trying to figure out how it felt, what it wanted, why it did certain things that seemed to contradict what it wanted. And what we came up with is that our subconscious mind has two main components: that which creates and that which protects. And we thought, we must be designed this way for a reason…
Instead of being the Grim Reaper, what if fear was actually our partner? And, what if its whole purpose in our lives was to help us navigate through without getting ourselves killed?
What if we had two awesome partners - one to create and one to protect?
Those partners are Inspiration and Fear.
Now, everyone needs a proper job title, so let’s call Inspiration our
Creative Director, and Fear our Chief of Concerns.
The Creative Director has a child-like enthusiasm. It comes up with all these awesome ideas and fun things to do, and inventions, and business ideas, and story ideas, and has visions of creating amazing artwork, music, movies, jewelry, and even apps for our phone. Anything we can dream up, our Creative Director, well, dreams it up! Now, sometimes those crazy ideas are wonderful, workable ideas, and sometimes they’re fanciful, lousy ideas that could get us in trouble, or worse, even killed!
This is where our Chief of Concerns steps in. I kind of picture it with glasses and a clipboard, always ready to tell us exactly why our idea won't work and all the horrible ways we will fail, be embarrassed, be criticized, die a horrible death, etc. if we indulge in it. Now, sometimes Fear has legitimate concerns, and other times it runs streaking through the streets yelling, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
Oh, Fear. You crazy creature.
Mostly, it's just afraid of the unknown.
By day, I work in a hospital, and we have an entire department devoted to the safety of our patients and employees. It’s called Risk Management. It’s there to assess the nuances of every situation we get ourselves into and present all the concerns it has over them. Its goal is to keep everyone safe.
This is what Fear, our Chief of Concerns is for! The problem is, since we don’t realize its job in our lives, we let it run amuck. We let it “what if?” us out of everything we want to do.
“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
So, how do we “conquer” our Fear so we can live our lives in peace?
First, we remind ourselves of Fear’s purpose – to be our partner and keep us safe. (It helps to remind Fear of this as well).
Then, when Inspiration, the brilliant Creative Director of our life, whispers an ah-mazing idea into our ears, we call a meeting with it and Fear, our Chief of Concerns, and let it know we’ve come up with an idea that we need its input on. Side note – Fear will almost always bring its assistant Doubt into these meetings, so be prepared for that!
Now, we’ll let Inspiration present Fear (and Doubt) with our brilliant idea, and argue as to why it’s so awesome that we must do it. Inspiration usually uses words like incredible, awesome, and exciting. And lots of exclamation points!!! That’s how you’ll know when it’s talking.
Next, it’s Fear’s turn to talk. Fear (and Doubt) will promptly present its long list of concerns and all possible pitfalls to our brilliant idea. These are sometimes statements like, But, we could DIE if we do this! Often, though, they’re panicky questions that begin with But, what if..? Fear and Doubt do like to What if? our great ideas to death a lot.
At this point, we must thank Fear for its input and tell it (and Inspiration) to kindly leave the room while we take its concerns into consideration (you’ll notice I didn’t say we must let it run the show!)
Now, we ask Logic to enter the room and weigh everything out. It will help us decide whether the possible pitfalls we’ve been presented with are rational fears or irrational fears.
A rational fear means there’s a clear and present danger. If this is so, then we must strongly consider whether doing this thing is worth the risk. If so, proceed with caution. If not, don’t.
An irrational fear is usually filled with panic and hysteria of an unrealistic nature – a.k.a., the Chicken Little syndrome. If this is so, we must decide how likely the sky actually is to fall if we do this brilliant thing, and proceed from there.
Finally, we call everyone back into the room, and tell our Creative Director and our Chief of Concerns that we’ve taken their ideas and concerns into consideration. Then, we tell them what we’ve decided to do.
That’s right, you get to tell them what you’ve decided to do! Not the other way around. This is your life, remember?
There is a lot more to say about the subject of Fear and how it shows up in our lives, and we certainly won't solve all our issues around it in one blog post, but I want to say that I’ve found this to be a very helpful tool in my own life. It makes me tune into my feelings and look at Fear from a different perspective. It’s almost like the act of employing Fear - giving it a job to do and really giving it a voice - seems to calm it down and dissipate its tendency toward mass hysteria.
Thanks for reading. If you try employing Fear as your Chief of Concerns, please let me know how it works for you!
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