|“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” ~ Louisa May Alcott|
I was due to learn the lesson of overcoming fear, overwhelm, and self-doubt once again. I had gone a good six weeks since my last dance through the darkness and had been pushing myself into new territory almost daily.
I had been edging out onto the ends of the skinny branches of what was familiar and known and the weight of wondering if I could pull all of it off was bowing those branches and me almost in half.
I kept pushing it out of my mind, batting it away like a tenacious gnat, and kept forging ahead. In the back of my mind, though, I knew the meter was running. When the red digits on the machine that was bolted to the dashboard of my mind hit a certain threshold, I’d have to stop and call myself back through focused thought work.
I woke a few hours before dawn with a small lake of sweat from my neck to my navel. I lurched upright and forward in a panic. I regretted not having been proactive with heading off the anxiety I had predicted was pacing on the other side of the wall, looking for an entry point.
It landed between my exposed shoulder blades, demanding immediate attention. I switched the light on. I knew the drill. I drank a glass of water and began writing in my journal.
I started with self-compassion and a gentle inquiry, the way you’d talk to a child who had just woken from a bad dream. I wrote for half an hour, in a stream of consciousness, with no thought to prose or punctuation.
Most of what I wrote was a variation on the following themes:
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“This is not going to work.”
“I don’t have what it takes.”
“It is all going to be a colossal failure.”
When I got to the end of the wails and tales of impending doom, I took a deep breath and read over the pages. I softened my gaze and got some distance by pretending I was reading a letter from a dear friend who was wrestling with overcoming fear. Doing so gave me enough perspective to turn to a fresh sheet and write myself back.
When I got to the third paragraph, the first wind of relief crossed the bow. I reminded my friend/myself that asking for certainty during a creative pursuit is not only a waste of time but is also a death knell to what one is truly capable of doing. That is, by definition, creativity requires that we expect the nausea of not knowing until we get our sea legs from taking action. It is in that initial instability that we find our best creative direction through our intuition and can begin overcoming fear.
The darkest clouds, though, were formed by the storms of my old nemesis, Perfectionism.
Oddly, I intuited I could survive failure or my perception of it. But the fear of having gotten something “wrong” filled me with a panicky dread. An old, worn-out, tiresome idea that had overstayed its time in my mind like an annoying crasher at a party.
I kept writing until the tweezers came for the thorn.
“Think of all you are learning,” I wrote. “Remember, this is what you are really after. While success would be a nice bonus, you aren’t chasing winning nearly as much as you are embracing growth. What fuels you most of all is going on the adventure, learning all you can, and bringing something back to share in hopes it is of value to someone else on their own journey.”
The white-capped waves of me stilled immediately. I had landed on it.
If you are working on something right now that has you in a season of fear, see if you can find the origin story of why you chose to pursue the project or launch. Can you sort out what you are really after to help you in overcoming fear?
Doing something new, setting out into the unfamiliar is going to cause the napping tiger of fear to stir. It is how we are wired as humans. It may be of some comfort to remember we are not unique in our limiting beliefs. In fact, our fears are almost boring in how common they are.
Of course, I know you want the project to be a success. But poke around to see what else may be driving you even more than the desire to win in a traditional sense. Perhaps you can take a bucket to the fire of fear by reframing your quest to be one of experimentation, the pursuit of growth, and/or joyful learning.
The storms will come. Each will make you a better sailor and creator.