In 1998, security expert Gavin de Becker, wrote a book that had a profound impact on me as much due to its title as to its content. In The Gift Of Fear, de Becker uses case studies to highlight the fact that, through his many years of experience, he’d come to realize that prior to most violent attacks, the targets always had ‘a feeling’ that ‘something was wrong’. In the cases when they ignored that 'feeling', they suffered the consequences. That book was an excellent reminder to millions of people, that when it comes to a sense of impending physical danger, fear is not to be questioned or reasoned with. It is just up to us to listen to Nature’s early warning system, trust our instincts and make safety our priority. But even before the impactful content of the book, the title itself gave me pause for thought. The gift of fear?
It made me look at fear in a whole new light. Not as something to avoid at all costs, but rather as an ally in the story of my life. It made me realize that while I will never second-guess the fear that arises from an instinctual sense of self preservation, all bets are off when it comes to any other type of fear response.
Just like pain is your body’s way of pointing out something that needs your attention, fear is your mind’s way of getting your attention. It is an inner compass and if you know how to read it you will be able to use it to guide you toward some of your most rewarding creative breakthroughs.
How can you use fear to help guide you toward your highest creative challenges?
1. Separate real from imagined danger. It’s the difference between the fear of falling off the bicycle when you’re learning to ride, and that gut feeling you get when your friend offers you a job as a lady’s maid on that new ship, the Titanic. For heaven’s sake, don’t ever ignore or analyze that unexplainable feeling that you just ‘don’t trust that guy’. But you know full well, that is a completely different feeling than the fear of failure, or what ‘other people’ will think. Sure if you’re learning how to ride a bike, you might fall. Odds are, you will fall. But if you have the determination and focus to keep getting back on the bike, you’ll eventually find your balance and become a victim of gravity far less often.
2. Ask yourself: “What about this scares me?” - In the case of that creative fear, pinpointing what it is about the project that you find daunting can allow you to tame any overwhelmed feelings you may have. Afraid you’ll fall off the bike? Wear safety equipment. Afraid you’ll ruin the presentation at work? Rehearse. Often. Don’t let the specter of fear be a ghost that haunts your dreams. Shine a light on your fears and the shadows of doubt will disappear.
3. Let go of preconceived notions - Again, this addresses the issue of imagining an outcome that may or may not occur. That’s a waste of your energy. When you let go of what you think might happen, you free yourself to experience something that can turn out to be quite satisfying and take you down creative avenues that you didn’t even know were possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should embark on your creative journey with no plan. It simply means even if you have a plan, keep yourself open to forks in the road that lead you to new and exciting places. Did you know that Post-It Notes™ were actually born from a failed attempt to create a super adhesive? Keep yourself open to new possibilities.
4. Resolve to define your own success - This means empowering yourself to accept the outcome without consideration of the imagined judgement of anyone else. Your own expectations will set the target for success. And because we are well aware that sometimes we can be our own harshest judge, to experience the most liberating foray into creativity we need to look to step 5.
5. Focus on the process, not the outcome. Once you’ve done steps 3 and 4, this will be the best way to ensure that you are fully immersed in the experience of creating. When you are able to truly be in the moment, you allow yourself to go with the flow. Remind yourself that you will find your joy in the experience and will save for later any analysis of what you have created.
Claude Monet once said, “I would like to paint the way a bird sings.” The bird doesn’t worry about the hunter. It doesn’t silence itself because it feels the bird in the next tree sings better. It just sings. This is the essence of being in touch with your natural creativity. Let it flow. Don’t let fear paralyze you. The gift you’ve been given is the gift the world needs you to share. Release your song. You’re the only one who can sing it.