Embrace the river of creativity, where “not knowing” becomes the catalyst for your best work, and your fears transform into beautiful ideas.
“It isn’t until the painter has no idea what he’s doing that he makes good paintings.”Edgar Degas
The Fear of Not Knowing
I wonder how many extraordinary ideas and creative efforts have died on the hills of Self-Doubt, Perfectionism, Not Knowing, and the Inability to Tolerate Uncertainty.
How many enterprises, short stories, books, poems, plays, films, works of visual art, speeches, nonprofit organizations, inventions, and solutions to vexing issues have been cruelly withheld from the collective?
I wonder how many lives have been dulled, how many hearts broken, how many souls have marched to the graveyard with their music still in them, unexpressed—all because we believed what we were told: Don’t Start (or Keep Going) Until You Know What You Are Doing. Not knowing equals failure.
I am queasy with regret when I think back on the dozens of opportunities and inklings I have abandoned because I clung to the edge of the pool in the deep end, too afraid to swim out to the center. I didn’t trust my skills, what I knew, and most importantly, what I would be able to figure out and create while in motion.
Fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of not knowing, and fear of flailing conspire to keep us stuck. We don’t want a messy, chaotic process. We want neat and tidy, a priori confidence, a bullet-proof plan. If the steps are not clearly known and mapped, we’ll wait until there is a visible path. Days, months, years.
Learn more about how the fear of failure is one of the Roadblocks to Your Greatness.
We have it entirely backward. It’s not our fault.
Popular culture has steeped us in the myth that greatness emerges pristine and perfect from a polished mind and process. There are no moments of not knowing, no wrong turns, or dead ends. That success emanates from certainty.
What if the reality is the exact opposite?
What if I told you that the best work is born in swirling seas of Not Knowing?
Freedom in Uncertainty
Something mystical is unleashed within us when we step into The River of Creativity with barely enough light to see by. When we stand up and volunteer for the adventure with knocking knees. When we decide to engage with the blank page and feel our way forward.
The dance of “What could it be?” and “I wonder…” make for a delicious, sublime sauce.
One step forward, one sideways. A pause. Two steps back. Insight lands. A new direction, mark, move. The picture slowly reveals itself to us. The path is made as our feet connect with the ground.
Let’s peek into the creative process of the best-selling band of all time. Take a look at this short clip below to witness how lyrics were birthed from the ether, from the place of not knowing.
When George Harrison was stuck while coming up with the lyrics for “Something,” John Lennon suggested this: “Just say whatever comes into your head. Attracts me like a cauliflower.”
That is, let yourself not know. Sing what you have and keep going with whatever your intuition gives you until the words you seek land.
What are you working on right now that feels too hard, too scary, too riddled with uncertainty? Where have you stopped yourself from pursuing a dream because the process of achieving it was unclear, seemingly too overwhelming?
Where are you lying in bed, sleepless, staring up at the ceiling at 2 a.m. because you are worried you will get it wrong or (gasp!) fail entirely?
This very state of precarious ambiguity is the ideal petri dish for birthing your best work.
Embrace Not Knowing
Your brain will resist this truth because doubt and fear feel awful in the body. Happily, once in motion, this ick will release, like a birth contraction, and give you a breather. More steps forward. Another contraction. More deep breathing through it.
This is how we keep going while the evidence of progress presents itself. The painting, song, project begin to reveal themselves to us. Momentum takes the wheel. We are on our way.
Bring to mind right now what you have been craving to create. The dream that has refused to “go gentle into that good night.”
Write it down in your journal and take a look at the words. Notice what is happening in your body and feel it all the way through. It will release in about 60-90 seconds.
Now, write down the first inspired step you could take. Decide to take that step within the next 48 hours. Notice the influx of ideas is beginning already. How your brain is already working on it. The engine of your intuition has turned over and is humming.
Welcome to The River, the place where having no ideas transmutes into hints, next moves, and clues. The place where our Creative Backchannels come alive, resuscitating us in the process, and birthing the art of us that carries the stamp of our soul.