Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book Big Magic that creativity and fear are “conjoined twins”. We can’t escape it, try as we might, because — while it can be overwhelming — fear is also a good thing.
Fear motivates. Fear keeps us safe. However, fear also limits us.
Instead of rejecting it outright, Gilbert reminds us that fear is along for the ride. It’s better to accept it (and get used to it) than spend your precious time fighting the inevitable.
So how do you move forward? How do you cope when fear is screaming “No!” and your heart is telling you the opposite?
Gilbert recommends giving fear this reminder:
“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, or suggest detours. You’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
The first time I read this paragraph, I stared at it — stunned — as I absorbed the meaning. I’d spent years (literally) fighting with fear and anxiety, and I’d always told myself that it was better to get rid of it completely.
Try as I might, however, it never worked.
But embracing my fear? Using my fear to my benefit?
Talk about crazy.
Think about the things you’re afraid of. Make a list in your head, on a scrap of paper, and stare your fears face to face. If you’re like me, just acknowledging these fears can be overwhelming.
I’m afraid of putting myself out there, of criticism, of saying the wrong thing, and of failure.
I’m also afraid of ladders, ants, being upside down, and octopi (don’t @ me).
Some of these fears are so incredibly useful. I hate being upside down because I cracked my head open as a kid after hanging upside down on some fitness equipment in our basement. I also knocked myself out after hanging upside down on a swing set. Upside down and me? Not friends.
Others can prevent me from action. Fear of failure, fear of putting myself out there, fear of criticism…this is a recipe for living a life indoors, in my safe space, where I never take a risk.
But if I never take a risk, will I ever succeed?
Logic tells me probably not.
Yoda said it best in Star Wars: The Last Jedi:
“The greatest teacher, failure is.”
I mean, obviously you can learn from success. You can learn what to try again. You can also learn from doing nothing — you can learn that if you don’t try then you don’t risk getting hurt. There’s nothing wrong with that.
For me? I crave success. I need more than sitting at home watching Netflix. So, for as much as it terrifies me to go out in the world and announce my presence, the alternative is much more frightening.
And that’s where fear plants its self in my psyche and helps fuel me. I’m afraid of failure, yes, but failure is guaranteed if you don’t try. I’m also afraid of getting stuck in my life, never reaching my goals, and burning out before I can do anything truly epic with myself.
That fear wins in my book.
So do you need to eliminate all fear? Do you need to become an emotional Spartan and pretend like you’re truly fearless? Do you even need to act whenever you’re afraid, despite what your fears are telling you?
Hell freaking no.
Determine what matters to you. Give fear a voice in your brain. Embrace it, use it, but absolutely do not let it drive.
You can do this. Much like anything in life, living with both creativity and fear takes practice and certainly won’t happen overnight. Think of embracing your fears like a muscle that requires training — sometimes it’s going to suck. Sometimes you’re going to be tired, sometimes you’re going to need a break, and sometimes you’re going to need to power through.
You’ll get there.