Fear Doesn't Define You or The Quality of Your Work
When you are thinking about doing something and it feels scary, when it feels like this big lion is waiting at the finish line and he’s roaring and he’s ferocious and he’s going to tear you apart… you should just run toward that lion anyway. Run to the roar.–Tina Essmaker
I talk to a lot of artists and creatives that struggle with putting their work out there in the world. They desperately want to know that other people will receive their work, like their work and are changed by the work they do.
Not all creative people want to share their work. Some write poetry or paint just for themselves. They might create for personal expression or to work through some trauma in their lives.
But at the end of the day if an artist wants to be a professional or make a living at what they love to do they must learn to share it.
And it can be scary.
I understand that feeling well.
THE COURAGE TO TRY AFRAID
I’ve been a creative person my entire life. I used to write story after story in my journals as a child. I knew by the age of 9 that I wanted to be a writer. I remember some of my earliest independent prayers would be to ask God to let me become a writer when I grew up.
As a child I would create stories and games with my siblings that went on for days. I mean they were EPIC! When we played dolls our stories revolved around spies, kid heroes, and global adventures to bring the bad guy to justice.
When I got older I discovered artistic gymnastics after a team did an exhibition at my school. It was love at first flip! It was so joyous to be able to be expressive through the art of gymnastics!
I would continue until high school and during that time I got the courage to take an acting elective at school which led to my first encounter with being part of an improv troupe and then performing in school plays in high school.
When college came around I thought that I had to make a responsible decision. I never thought that I could make a living acting so I went into the freshman engineering program at school. I made it all the way into the mechanical engineering program at Purdue University before I got the courage to switch my major to theater.
It was a scary decision to make.
I prayed for a year and a half about my decision. I asked God to use me for His purpose. The Freshman Engineering Program wasn’t as hard academically as it was emotionally for me. My heart would ache for creativity during during Chemistry labs. My health began to suffer and I was getting weird stress symptoms because I was overworking myself trying to still find ways to be creative. All the while I was going to my calculus based physics class during the day I was going to rehearsals for plays at night. I was living a double life and it was getting to the place where I had to choose.
I finally made the decision to double major in Kinesiology while getting my Theater degree. My days were exponentially more enjoyable. Even the hard work of two majors was bearable because every day I knew that I was working towards pursuing my dream of being a professional actress.
Since graduation I haven’t had the safety net of a university setting where I was required to put out creative work for a grade. I no longer had the comforts of academic theater where props, costumes, designers, and stages where available for use (for free). I had to learn how to borrow, beg, raise money, scout locations, audition, and produce all on my own. I had to have the courage to let my passion and calling lead the way.
I’ve produced several plays, written hundreds of scripts, blogs, and youtube videos. I’ve performed all over the country for thousands of people, in films, commercials, and plays.
And every single time I’ve experienced fear at some point.
Fear in the writing, rehearsals, editing, producing, location scouting, leading teams and more. Every time I hit publish, step out on stage, or take my breath to speak after the director says “action” I have a moment of fear.
Fear that it will suck, or someone won’t like something I created. Fear is that it will be ignored or not be helpful to someone like I want it to be.
When that fear hits you it can make you recoil like a pie to the face. It can make you ask yourself paralyzing questions:
- Am I supposed to share this?
- Was I imagining things when I got this idea?
- Am I really called to do this?
And my personal favorites:
- Who do you think you are?
- There are a million other people who are doing what you want to do.
- Who wants to hear what you have to say?
DEALING WITH EMOTIONS OF FEAR
So how do you deal with all of these emotions as an artist? How do you overcome fear and forge ahead?
I think we as artists need to embrace the fact that we are going to feel this emotion for the rest of our lives. If you want to stand out you’ve got to acknowledge the fear and learn to feel comfortable with pushing through it.
Think of it as a door you have to walk through and on the other side is your creation.
If you think about it, the people that we are inspired by had to walk through that door. No one has done anything great by letting fear stamp out there passion.
Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther all had to do it afraid or risk dying without having fulfilled their callings.
I’ve found it liberating to remember that my job and calling is an artist is to create, not to make sure that I’m loved and accepted (Christ already did that for me).
My job isn’t to make sure that my work matters to the masses.
My job is to create.
Tell the stories I was given to tell.
Dance the dances I was given to dance.
Eat the pudding I was given to eat…wait what?
You know what I mean.
In essence, run your race not someone else’s. (and for goodness sake’s don’t eat anyone else’s pudding either.)
Courage, especially for the creative person, is found in daily decisions to pursue momentum. To keep moving. To do the thing only you can do, regardless of the fear you feel. You must make things.
You can only control what is in your control, and sometimes that means doing your work afraid. Which is a whole lot better than not doing it at all.
I will never ever ever EVAH forget the day I had to do some crazy flippy thingee (a full twisting front layout) off the end of the beam. I was scared of this particular trick. (For those of you who don’t know the beam sits 4 feet off of the ground and is only 4 inches wide. It’s just asking for you to fall on it.)
Anyways my coach asked me if I was afraid.
I said “yes”.
She said that it was okay to be afraid. But she said it’s not okay to let fear stop you.
She told me “Do it afraid.”
Do it afraid.
Somehow it gave me permission to feel those feelings of fear without shame. And by just accepting the fear I could finally move past it. Like if you are walking down the street and you see a NY pizza stand (in the middle of wherever you live) and it’s just asking you to stop and give it your attention and your money. But instead of ignoring the aroma of pizza you just say to yourself. “Yeah that pizza is there and it smells good. And yeah I could give into it. But I’ll just keep on walking because that Jamba Juice is only 2 more blocks away. If I keep going I could burn a few more calories and reward myself with a protein peach mango smoothie in 10 more minutes.”
Back to gymnastics.
So I said, “Okay flippy thingee off the end of the beam. I’m scared of you but I that doesn’t mean that I can’t execute you!”
Actually I didn’t say that. I got up there and flipped off the end of the beam and landed on my butt.
But you know what? I did it. I kept practicing until I was able to land on my feet and then perform that skill in front of others.
I think a major step in being an artist is to be okay with feeling afraid. Don’t fight it or feel like you have to talk yourself out of it. Realize it’s there and it’s always going to try and stop you from executing.
Your fear is not you. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t define the quality of your creative work. The only way it can destroy your work is if you let it. -Dija Henry
PRACTICAL TIPS TO OVERCOME FEAR WHEN CREATING
I know you don’t want to hear this but the best way to deal with fear as an artist is to just go and create.
1. Create, create, create.
Keep practicing the thing that you want to create. If you want to write screenplays. Write them. Write a lot of them. Write bad ones but keep writing. If you can do the daily discipline of writing you will stop being shocked when fear shows up. But you know who else will show up?
The fact that you know that you’ve done this before and the world didn’t end. You did it before and you survived.
When you’re learning to battle fear it’s important that you learn how to start and finish a creation. It’s also important for you to define what success is for you as an artist. If it’s about things you can’t control like how many subscribers you get, or how many people love your work, or trying to please everyone you will not succeed. You will always feel like you are failing.
And that gets in the way of creating. It gunks up the creative pipes. It sucks your energy. It wastes your time.
It just sucks. So let it go of what you can’t control. Do the self-work to find out what is most important to you (and only you) and define your vision of success from there.
So I have a question for you…
What if you didn’t give fear all of your power?
TYPES OF FEAR
There is the rational fear that tells you when something is dangerous or that danger is around the corner. The fear that tells you not jump out of a plane just to see what it’s like to hit terminal velocity.
There is irrational fear that creates so much anxiety that we begin to believe things that are not true about ourselves and our work. It is not based in reality.
At the end of the day fear is an emotion.
Let’s look at this emotion as it applies to your creative journey.
What if that feeling inside actually indicates that you are actually on the right track? It’s not fear but the deep down knowledge that you are embarking on a a great journey that will result in you getting closer to your dreams and goals in life?
The feeling of unfamiliarity that happens when you’ve taken steps that you’ve never taken before but deep inside you know that those steps of faith could result in you living out your purpose with joy.
I keep thinking of the moment that Moses and the Israelite were about to pass through the Red Sea. The moment God said they were supposed to escape death by walking through the impossible. I’m sure that they were all afraid as they faced the sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other. To them death was certain. But God told them to walk towards freedom even though it was scary.
Just because they were afraid didn’t mean they shouldn’t have moved. It didn’t mean they were alone or wrong or abandoned. It meant they needed to trust God and have faith that these unfamiliar steps would help them survive. Because going back to the familiarity of the slavery would have been death for sure.
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” ~Pema Chodron
Do you ever have times when you just know you’re supposed to do something but it feels a little nerve racking to think about it? You know that taking those steps of putting yourself out there, making some art, going to the networking event are the right things to do but it’s all so scary?
I’m trying to reframe how I look at those moments in my life when I’m faced with choices that would take me outside of my comfort zone that cause me to be afraid. Would I rather move towards my dream and trust God in the wilderness or would I rather go back to what’s familiar and be a slave to fear?
If you are like me and you have a passion to discover your purpose and live that out you are going to experience fear. There’s just no getting around it. But I love to remind myself that those are the moments and opportunities to grow your faith and move towards freedom. We just have to trust the One who put that passion within us.
Even though you are afraid don’t forget the truth.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love power and a sound mind.
-2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV
When I read this in college and it really hit me for the first time I can’t even tell you the burden that lifted off of me! I was dealing with so much fear and uncertainty that it was suffocating me. I was in a position where I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to complete my degree because of lack of funds. I prayed every morning for God to make a way (and He did.) I wanted more than anything to graduate with the degrees I had worked so hard for.
This scripture reminded me that I wasn’t created with fear but with love, power and a sound mind. And those are the characteristics I needed to embrace rather than the fear.
I am working really hard behind the scenes to bring focus to The Inspire(d) Cafe. I’m scared every time I talk about narrowing my niche. But I know that trying to be everything to everyone is futile…and not even possible.
I’m nervous about announcing my new purpose for the blog
but I know it will bring clarity to my visitors.
I’m afraid that I won’t be equipped enough to write about certain things
but I also know that I want to be a writer who writes about hard things.
I think deep down inside those emotions are just indicators that I’m going in the right direction. The thing is I’ve never been that direction before so their will always be that feeling of uncertainty that could be mistaken for fear in the traditional sense.
How about you? Can you identify which of these feelings you are actually dealing with when you sit down to create?
Take a moment to acknowledge what you are feeling and tell yourself it’s okay to be afraid. But today I’m going to do it afraid anyway. I’m going to walk through that door and meet my creation on the other side.
Don’t expect fear to just go away one day as an artist. You will have to go to battle each time. But you will soon become an experienced veteran that knows how to handle the fight to get the work done.
Remember that courage is found in your daily decisions to create.
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