“There are more things likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
— Seneca (Letters from a Stoic – Letter XIII: On Groundless Fears)
My life has been full of a lot of fear. For the most part, I grew up in Salt Lake where your whole life is judged about how well you hold the Mormon church’s standards. I grew up steeped in fear.
I wanted to be a musician and an actor, but I didn’t follow through because was so afraid I would fail. I would ask myself, “What if I never make it into a single movie or write a single song?”, “What if I am a poor actor or musician my whole life?” It was just too much for me to consider so I got a degree in business and became a programmer. In my spare time, I would skirt around the edges of my art. I would buy music gear that would get used for a short time, then sit unused on the shelf for months or years. When I did pick things up and work on them, I could never even finish a song because I was so afraid that nothing I wrote wouldn’t be very good. I have dozens of half-written songs that I was too afraid to finish.
I think fear is what’s at the root of so much of our suffering. Fear kills creativity in a big way. When we give into fear and stop creating we’re unhappy. So how do we deal with this fear?
First, we let go of the outcome and focus on the process. When we worry too much about the outcome, we start to question why we’re doing what we’re doing. We second-guess the choices we make. We may even give up because we can’t control how it will turn out. When we do our best and let the chips fall where they may, we stop worrying and put that energy towards creating.
Second, when we start to feel that fear, we acknowledge it. We recognize that it’s just our brain trying to protect us and the more that we run from it, the scarier it seems. For me, I found if I say it out loud, usually to someone I trust, it’s like shining a flashlight on a shadow. It loses its power.
Third, you can play the worst case scenario game. What happens if I write a song no one likes? What’s the worst that can happen? No one listens to my song. Does it physically hurt me or am I going to die from it? No.
The next time you feel that anxiety and fear creep up in your chest, don’t run from it, make peace with it. I’ve heard from creative people all the time, that feeling of fear usually means you’re heading in the right direction.
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