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.
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 would even pray and ask God to let me become a writer when I grew up. (He answered that prayer!)
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! 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. My heart was aching during chem labs, my health was suffering and I was getting weird stress symptoms because I wasn’t following my calling to be an artist. 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 had a moment of fear.
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 all 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 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. To just accept them and then decide what I was going to do next.
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. It cannot destroy your work if you don’t 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 is to just go and create.
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 learning to battle fear it’s important that you learn how to start and finish a creation. It’s 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 what we are calling fear isn’t fear but something else?
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 lies to us to create so much anxiety that we believe things that are not true about ourselves or our work.
(There are other types of fear but I’m just going to deal with these two big buckets of fear for today.)
After you’ve ruled out the first two types of fear, what if that feeling inside indicates that you are actuallly 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 that happens when you’ve taken steps that you’ve never taken before but you know that they could result in you living out your purpose with joy?
What if you can identify that emotion? What if the “fear” was coupled with the fact that you have experience and knowledge about your purpose and passions in life? What if you have done the work to know what direction you wan to go in life and what dreams you want to pursue and one day when you get an idea there is a spark.
It feels like a tiny bit different this time when you think about creating something new. It almost feels energizing.
I experienced that spark today. It resulted in a feeling that at first glance felt like fear. But at second glance it felt like a spark of something great to come if I could get the courage up to make it happen.
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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