Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fear and the Creative Life

I took the GRE last week and it went well. I did as well as I could have hoped after two months of studying. The week leading up to it, I put my writing and all other creative endeavors aside, knowing they would be there to return to when the GRE was (finally) over.

But a week later, and I am still frozen.

On the drive home from the test, I though with anticipation about all the things I could now freely focus on. I am busting at the seams with dreams for this community that wait only for me to act. I finally have a direction for the writing that needs to be done as part of my grad school application. I can start blogging with a little more frequency and regularity. But until this moment, I have not worked on any of those things.

Instead, I have binge-watched two seasons of United States of Tara and painted the bathroom. That is a lot to accomplish in one week's worth of free time, but it is not in the direction of my dreams.

I have all sorts of excuses for this. I'm just taking a break after all that studying! My brother was in town one of those days! My husband just started back at his teaching job!

But the truth is that I am finding any reason I can to avoid the work that only I can do, work that I love and find meaningful. I am avoiding it because I am afraid of it.

"Do not call procrastination laziness. Call it fear. Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all." - Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

Fear seems to be a theme in my life lately, or rather, it always has been and I never knew it. Lately, I am just finally calling it what it is.

Fear & Anticipation by hartlandmartin, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licenseby  hartlandmartin 

I believe that if I avoid my dreams, then I cannot fail at them. This is technically true, but it certainly doesn't make my life any more happy, whole, free, or courageous. It makes it more predictable and dull and safe. It makes me feel nice and comfy in my risk-free little corner where I may not be doing anything particularly remarkable, I may not be living up to and out of the fire that goes on burning wildly inside of me, but at least I am not a complete embarrassment to myself. At least no one else can see me living out loud and believing in myself and making mistakes and falling on my ass and getting back up again like some kind of daffy, resilient phoenix/cockroach (whichever you prefer). 


As I was painting the aforementioned bathroom a couple days ago, I listened to a podcast in which the woman being interviewed said this: "When bad things start happening, as they do to all of us, I can either go back to sleep and try really hard not to have bad things happen, and live a kind of safer, more protective life... Or I can really just step into this fire and say 'What have you come here to teach me? I want to grow more than I want to be safe. I want to be wise and happy and whole, so that I can help other people and be a source of goodness in this in this world-- if at all possible-- more than I want to be safe.'"

What would it be like for me to live as if I wanted to grow more than I wanted to be safe?  

A couple weeks ago a friend and I went to this sort of community meeting where people share their thoughts and experiences on a certain topic. The theme that week was failure, specifically failure as feedback. And I thought to myself, "I don't really have much to say about that."

But now here I am two weeks later, and the question that runs over and over in my head is "How do I get myself to move past my fear of failure?"

And I think the answer has something to do with this idea of seeing failure as feedback.

I think it has something to do with seeing failure as an opportunity to get better at the things we care about, rather than a statement that we are not good enough for them. I think it has something to do with acknowledging the fact that there are some things in life we simply must do, whether or not we succeed at them. I think it has something to do with embracing our fears, with leaping headlong into them knowing that the possibility for catastrophe is real and high, but that failure may actually be the best way to get where we really want to be.


  1. Yes! Love your perspective on fear. I procrastinate on my novel often and I know it's because I don't want to fail at it. I don't want to start another book only to leave it half finished and awful. But like you said, there are some things that have to be done, even if they do end up in the trash. Failure is a good teacher.

    1. Yes exactly, Cassandra. Failure is a good teacher. Now that I know that, if only I could live it! Ha. Easier said than done. Thanks for the visit! And go you on writing that novel! <3