Many of our problems, both personal and professional, are caused by fear.
Fear can stop us deeply connecting with the people in our lives. Fear can hold us back from fully expressing our creativity and following where it leads, out of an obsessive concern for other people’s opinions, or with ‘getting it right’. And fear can stop us from promoting our creative work, since that may involve things that scare us, like stepping forward, speaking up and being seen.
How Fear Manifests
Fear is familiar to everyone. It manifests in the body in ways we all know: in thoughts that run round and round, a heart that races, in sweating, an inability to sit still, or a stomach that clenches up as tight as a fist.
Sometimes we experience one of fear’s little cousins – unease or embarrassment, agitation or awkwardness or discomfort. But even these ‘smaller’ uncomfortable feelings are bad enough to stop us in our tracks. Even these feelings can become real obstacles to personal fulfilment and professional development.
So what’s the answer then? Can we somehow not feel fear? That’s impossible. Fear is a natural human feeling that we all experience. Our nervous systems are rigged up for it and appropriate fear can save a life. Fear makes us aware of possible threats. For those people who face real physical violence, it’s a vital reaction.
However, for those of us who don’t face physical threat, the fear is in the mind. Psychological fear may not be appropriate or useful for survival, but it is still real and it still feels terrible.
So terrible that we want to ignore it, or bury it. However, fearful feelings don’t disappear just because you look the other way. You can’t pretend them out of existence. They go underground, fester and turn up later, stronger than ever, whenever we have to deal with subsequent similar events.
Nor does avoiding certain situations work. For example, say we hate parties. All those people, all that small talk, all that being on show. So we choose not to go to parties anymore and at first, that seems like a solution. Yet the same old fear recurs each time we receive a party invite. We feel a little ashamed of ourselves, perhaps. And we also miss out on all the good things about parties: meeting friends and extending our friendship network, feeling part of a community, having fun and letting go.
Creative People and Avoidance
Creative people are just as prone to avoidance as anyone else. Unfortunately, avoidance caused by fear may mean that we don’t do things that we really need to do, for our creative work to flourish. These may be activities like networking or self-promotion. Fear takes hold of us and we wonder, what if people reject us? What if other people are just not interested?
And yet we have to do it, nonetheless. Creative people often come to coaching hoping for some tactic or hack that will allow them to avoid these uncomfortable situations. Surely, they say, there’s some secret that will allow them to get on with the creative work they love, and not have to engage with all the self-promotion that they hate?
Unfortunately, such hacks don’t really exist. Sure, we can do some things remotely. Certain tactics can help us avoid a few other situations that we don’t like. But that isn’t possible across the board or forever. And neither is it good for us.
Who wants to live a small, scared life? It doesn’t feel happy and it doesn’t increase our self-respect. Instead, we need to stop running. We need to recognise that fear is part of life. And we need to turn and look fear in the face.
Of course, that isn’t easy or simple. Nonetheless it needs to done and when we do it, miraculously, it feels good. Fear dissolves. We taste the sweetness of personal victory. That’s the route to our growth and real important inner change. It’s also the route – with any luck – to greater creative success.