Fear appears to be an ongoing theme in the lives of many creative people, or so it would seem judging from what I see out on the blogosphere. On any given day, I come across multiple posts on this topic. I’ve certainly written about it myself a time or two. (Here and here.) For as much as we go on and on about it, fear remains a curious challenge for most of us. We are perpetually trembling.
SO, WHAT ARE WE SO AFRAID OF ANYWAY?
Ironically, I think we creative types are fundamentally afraid of being creative. OK, maybe that’s oversimplifying it. I’ll try again; we’re afraid of doing what we want, which for a lot of us means devoting our lives to our artistic endeavors, whatever they may be. The specifics are probably different for everyone. Some possibilities:
– Fear that we’re not “good enough.” (Or “smart,” “experienced,” “hip” enough.) This tired, old hag seems to have been around since the beginning to time. Isn’t it about time for her to retire? Just an observation…
-Fear that we’ll end up on the streets.
-Fear that people will laugh and point.
-Fear that we’ll accidentally burn something down.
-Fear that the bread will get moldy and the lights will go out.
-Fear that we’ll get our heart broken again.
This list could extend to the moon and back. Frankly, if I were engaging in celestial travel, I’d much prefer the trajectory be something more positive like magic or possibility. But I digress. Although our fears are as varied as we are, I believe the following can be true for many of us:
FEAR IS A BULLY THAT KEEPS US CONTAINED.
Well, it keeps us contained if we let it. The good news is that most of us seem bound and determined not to let it. We’re like catfish fighting on the end of a line, refusing to be reeled in. We write and we ruminate about conquering fear, tackling fear, living with fear, working with fear, etc., etc. etc. Fear is almost like a franchise. Soon it will have its own clothing line and reality series. We do go on and on. As my friend Davey would say, “Day-um!” And I’m certainly not immune. I chew on it myself. Lately, what I think about when I think about fear is this:
HOW DOES FEAR INFORM MY CREATIVE/LIFE PROCESS?
Like millions of other people, the stranglehold of the recession has hit me hard. My main fear at present is around money. More specifically, I’m afraid of running out of money and ending up homeless and on the street. It’s a biggie. If I said it didn’t keep me awake some nights, I’d be lying. Granted, this is a worst-case scenario fear and perhaps not altogether rational. Still, it’s relevant when thinking about how I allow it to dictate what I do.
Last fall, I accepted an assistant teaching position at a school not far from where I live. At the time, I was focused on writing and was definitely not looking for another teaching gig. Through a series of events, this particular work situation sort of fell into my lap. Even though every instinct in my body was screaming at me to run the other way, I accepted the position. My fear around money trumped everything else. The job ended up being a nightmare. Our class was over-capacity and understaffed. We were put in a position to deal with behavioral disorders that we were not qualified or trained to manage. There was some kind of unpleasant drama almost every day. This situation drained all my energies-mental and physical. It eroded my psyche and compromised my ability to focus on the things that are most important to me: writing and singing. While it’s true I was receiving a steady paycheck, I was easily losing much more than I was getting paid for. The saving grace is that this was only a temporary, ten-month position that ended in June. The takeaway from this experience is pretty obvious.
OPERATING FROM A PLACE OF FEAR IS ALWAYS A REALLY BAD IDEA.
When I am functioning from a place of fear, there is always edginess to the situation and a gnawing tendency to placate the fear even at the expense of my own best interests. Ironically, fear creates more problems. When I’m working, instead, from a place of enthusiasm, the vibe is clean, fresh and infused with energy. While enthusiasm might not solve every problem, it keeps my very soul intact and open to more possibilities. Fear is exhausting. Enthusiasm is effervescent. Relative to my creative pursuits, my best bet is to dig in and do the work without fixating on any particular outcome, positive or negative. If I freak on the outcome, then this inevitably will compromise the process.
There is no magic solution for dealing with fear. As we move through our creative lives, we will each have our own reckoning with it. I don’t expect that I will ever be completely free of fear. But the trick for me is to always have something in my life that is bigger than the fear is. Back in 1992, my first child, a baby boy, died from an umbilical cord accident at birth. This experience was life changing, and I came to know fear quite intimately, especially in regards to getting pregnant and having another baby someday. Was I afraid to carry another child and get attached again? Yes. Was I terrified at the thought of another labor and delivery? You bet. Did I have a vague, ambiguous fear that followed me wherever I went? Absolutely. But ultimately, my desire to heal and to have a family grew bigger than the fear. The fear never went away but it was eclipsed. I went on to have two healthy boys, who are now ages 18 and 13 years old. That same sensibility applies today. My present fear around money is considerable. However, my determination to survive and thrive is significantly bigger.
There may be sharks in the water, but the ocean is wonderfully huge.
Please talk to me about your relationship with fear. The comments are open.
In spite of everything, I still believe
that people are really good at heart.
I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation
consisting of confusion, misery, and death.
I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness,
I see the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us, too,
I can feel the suffering of millions, and yet,
if I look up into the heavens,
I think that it will all come right,
that this cruelty will end,
and that peace and tranquility will return again.
In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals,
for perhaps the time will come
when I shall be able to carry them out.
– Anne Frank