Fear, My Old Friend, Welcome to the Party

Last week I launched our new brand identity and website; it felt like birthing a strange, colourful, abstract digital baby (stick with me here). So much time and energy was put into it and I was immersed for months in all the planning, honing the language, the audience, the imagery, the whole thing. Regardless of all the thought that goes into these things, though, in a matter of moments out it comes and suddenly there is a huge gaping chasm of ‘now what’. By the end of the week, I felt like I had some sort of post-launch come down; I was filled with a total lack of motivation, confidence, and huge heaps of self-doubt and fear over what comes next. A Vulnerability Hangover, to quote Brené Brown.

Fear is the real deal, is it not? We all feel it more acutely at different stages in life, in different circumstances, but for me, it’s always there just humming away in the background. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get rid of the thing. In the last few weeks, though, I’ve been working on shifting my relationship towards it a bit. Like Rumi eloquently puts it in his poem, The Guest House, instead of turning it away, I’m inviting it in for a drink and a chat. I’ve started to realise fear is an essential part of the whole gamut of human experience. I mean, you’re probably reading this and thinking ‘duh’, but to me it’s been something of a revelation. Being afraid is uncomfortable to feel, so therefore it’s uncomfortable to turn towards it instead of push it away. As much as we would prefer to ignore our fear and pretend it’s not there, it will always find ways to creep back in. But I’ve come to realise it should be there. It has a purpose. But we’re so afraid of feeling the total freefall that fear gives us that instead of pushing us forward, it holds us back.

We’re afraid of being afraid but really what we should be striving for is to be afraid but not afraid that we are afraid. Or rather, be afraid and willing to accept that it’s part of the process. It’s that whole thing about feeling fear and doing the thing anyway. Elizabeth Gilbert has a great line about creativity and fear – she says that fear gets to come along for the ride, but it doesn’t get to choose the destination or the snacks. Meaning it gets to be there, but it doesn’t get to influence the experience or the outcome. I love that. It’s like, hello old friend, you just sit there and shut the hell up while I do this thing.

Part of me wonders if that’s why creative business is extra hard. Not only do you have the standard fear that comes along with the entrepreneurial journey, but you also get that extra shitty pile of fear because you’re putting something so personal out into the world; something that’s a reflection of your innermost person. It’s a double whammy in feeling exposed.

We’re afraid to put a stake in the ground for fear it’s the wrong one. We’re afraid to take a step, however tiny, towards the things we want most because it could all fall apart and then we’re left with confirmation of our greatest fear that we’re not good enough and we don’t have what it takes. It’s a story as old as humans. Don’t walk into that forest because there’s probably a saber-toothed tiger there ready to pounce. Don’t eat that berry because it might kill you. Don’t ask that person out because they might say no. Don’t verbalise what you want because it might be the wrong thing, or yikes, shudder, we might actually get what we want and then whatohdeargod.

Fear is a necessary component to our survival, so to be afraid of feeling afraid seems counterproductive, in a way. These days it’s unlikely that fear is going to cause us any mortal harm. Putting out that website, suggesting something bold in a design presentation, having a hard conversation with a client or a colleague, trying something new, making a tough decision where the outcome can’t be known – all scary yes, but will they kill us? No. Could we fail at it? Yes, totally. But surely that’s not the end of the world, either. I’m not denying it’s not totally shit to fail, but failing is not the same as dying. It doesn’t mean we are crap at everything, intrinsically a failure or we’re worthless. We simply failed at something we were bold enough to try. If anything, that should be celebrated as much as the stuff we don’t fail at.

Thing is, my friends, fear is the enemy of innovation, of opportunity, of something even better. If we’re afraid to fail in our work, our businesses, in our lives, to get it wrong, we risk missing opportunities do something better. If we fail, we’ve learned something. If we look stupid, so what? Name one person who’s never done something stupid. If we make the wrong choice, we simply deal with it and make a better choice next time. Any professional creative path requires bringing together art, innovation, and entrepreneurship but most importantly, the ability to build a gentleness towards our fear, seeing it as something that for thousands of years was trying to keep us alive but also seeing that its place in our lives is limiting. Instead of letting it drive our story, we pat it on the head, set it aside, and use it as fodder for avoiding indecision. We’re willing to take a chance on the unknown.

Repositioning the role of fear in our lives, we see it nudging us down an unfamiliar path instead of telling us not to try. Taking risks put us on a journey to something else, perhaps even something better, instead of acting on that fear and holding ourselves back. Hesitation can destroy opportunity. I’m not saying taking a pause and considering options is bad, not at all. That’s incredibly wise in fact. But over-analyzing ad infinitum is costly; analysis paralysis is the enemy of decision making. It is easier to get caught up in the what ifs, than say, fuck it, I’m going to try it and see what happens, even if it all goes down in flames… or in spite of it.

So, today I’m back at it. I’ve put my big colorful baby out there and now I must do something with it. I’m terrified, but well, that’s okay too. Fear can come along for the ride, but I am definitely choosing the snacks.

Post by Lindsay Faller