Lessons in Creativity: Feel the Fear and Create Anyway


Chinua Achebe says  ‘When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.’ The same should be said of doing creative and innovative work. When you do creative work, fear always knocks and comes with his stool uninvited.

Fear is almost an inevitable factor when doing creative work. It is important that we understand how to react to it.

Creative living is a path for the brave. You need courage, when courage dies, creativity dies with it.

Let me list some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life.

  • You are afraid you are have no talent;
  • You are afraid you will be rejected or criticised, ridiculed, misunderstood or worst of all, ignored;
  • You are afraid somebody else already did it better;
  • You are afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so its safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark;
  • You are afraid you won’t be taken seriously;
  • You are afraid you don’t have the right degree from the right university;
  • You are afraid you are not connected enough to people in high places;
  • You are afraid you are too young to start;
  • You are afraid you are too old to start;
  • You are afraid of being a one-hit wonder;
  • You are afraid of being a no-hit wonder;

I can go on and on with this bottomless list.

The thing about fear is that it is boring. Fear is boring to everyone and most of all to yourself. Fear has no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. Fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. Fear is a song with only one note to it, only one word, that word is STOP. It never has anything more interesting or subtle to offer than that one word, repeated at full volume on an endless rhythm: “STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!”

Fear is boring because it is identical to everyone’s else’s fear. Its the same endless STOP song for everybody. Maybe the volume may vary from person to person, but the song itself never changes.

You may have creativity within you that is original, a personality within you that is original. You may have dreams and perspectives and aspirations that are original. But your fear will always not be original in the least.

I believes that challenging ourselves to face the fear in small steps is an incredible way to overcome it.

You don’t need fear in your creative realm. But just because you don’t need your fear, doesn’t mean your fear will not show up. Fear will always show up, especially when you are trying to do something creative.

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic says this is how she deals with fear: When fear knocks at the door, open the door welcome it and here is a welcome speech she always have for fear:

“Dearest fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you will be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously.

Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting, and, may I say, you are pretty good at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring.

There is plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognise and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude from our activities, but still, your suggestions will never be followed.

You are allowed to have a stool as Chinua Achene says, and you are allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You are not allowed to touch the roadmaps, you are not allowed to suggest detours, you are not allowed to fiddle with the aircon and change the temperature. You are not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

Then we head off together, me and creativity and fear, side by side by side forever, advancing once more into the terrifying but amazing journey of unknown outcomes.

Don’t push back fear, dance with it, welcome it, acknowledge it but never let it paralyse you. Fear is not the enemy, paralysis is.

Feel the fear and create anyway.


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