What is the one thing holding you back from finishing that book, opening that business or pursuing some creative idea you’ve been sitting on for far too long? If you said, fear, you’re not alone.
Most people are afraid of failing. So afraid, they never really start.
I lived much of my life in fear. I’ve written about some it before, but not really in the area of creativity or career.
During high school, I was miserable. I was fat and for the first two years, had horrible acne. These are two of the worst things you can have going for you during what is supposed to be one of the most social times of your life. I was made fun of and retreated into a cocoon of my own making – spending my time writing, reading and drawing fantastical worlds I one day planned to share with the world.
Soon, though, my real world came tumbling down.
While I did well enough in school, I couldn’t stand to be in classes where I was treated like an outcast. I started skipping several classes a day, electing to go only to those where I didn’t feel like a freak – namely, newspaper and radio. These were the arenas where I was recognized for my talents and not made fun of for being the fat kid.
One day, I got called into the dean’s office where he told me I had been marked absent a total of 60 days, as skipping any class during a day can count towards an absence if you get caught. He wasn’t sure how I was going to graduate, though it was conceivable I could, if I got my crap together. I was given one chance – straighten up or don’t bother returning. How could I tell him the reason I didn’t go to class was because I was fat? How could he possibly understand? More importantly, why should he care? It wasn’t his problem, it was my hurdle to jump.
By the end of the day, I decided to stick it out. After all, I was doing very well in the classes I loved – newspaper and radio. I could easily envision a career in either.
The last period of the day was radio class. I was informed that my teacher had been in a car accident and we would have a substitute for the remainder of the year, a guy who I didn’t know, but who had a reputation for being a jerk. He came up to me and handed me my report card for the semester, telling me that because my Grade Point Average had dipped so low, I would not be allowed to broadcast on the radio until the last semester – if I managed to raise my GPA.
I’d never heard of this ‘rule’ before and saw no reason I should be penalized for work in other classes. After all, I was exceptional at radio and unfailingly gave it my all. He didn’t care to hear my feelings on the matter, though. He told me, rather snidely, to enjoy my last day in the booth.
I was devastated.
I entered the booth and locked the door. I then proceeded to play the songs I wanted to play, tell jokes and essentially burn my bridges to ever being on the school’s station again. The teacher was angry, I didn’t care. I was going out in a blaze of glory.
I didn’t curse or do anything the FCC could fine me for or that would get the school in any trouble. I had more respect for the station than that. I just wanted to piss this guy off. And I succeeded.
When I left the booth, he told me I wouldn’t ever go on the air again. I smiled and said, “You’re right, because I quit.”
And I left school, just like that.
And I have regretted it ever since.
I got my GED, scored in the top one percent of the state, which made the people who knew me scratch their heads even more. They couldn’t understand why someone who was obviously smart enough to do well in school would choose to leave like I did. Nobody understood the fears which I allowed to hold me back.
And over the years, the fears escalated.
Only it wasn’t my weight so much that held me back, but rather my lack of college experience and the dead end job I wasted the next decade at. While I was able to do anything I set my mind to, I didn’t try because I was afraid of failure. I was afraid I would get in over my head.
It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I finally figured out that not trying is worse than failing.
I realized I could do anything I wanted if I was willing to work at it. I landed a business job I was unqualified for on paper but excelled at once given the opportunity. In 2005, I would repeat the process, landing my dream job as a newspaper reporter and editorial cartoonist for my local paper.
Rather than hiding away feeling sorry for myself, I learned to embrace the things that make me different. I realized that while I am still fat, I’m nowhere near as huge as my high school mindset made me believe I was. I learned to cast away the negative filter through which I saw most things and began to see challenges for what they were, opportunities for growth.
I studied my ass off, learned from the best, and poured countless hours into improving my work. I wrote stories that mattered. Stories that people talked about. Stories that effected change.
When the newspaper laid off all its writers last summer, I was devastated. Again.
I allowed fear to creep back into my life and tell me what I could and couldn’t do. Until I met Sean, my partner here at Collective Inkwell.
Sean and I began working together and gelled perfectly. He convinced me to join him in jumping off the bridge and making a go at working together. He reminded me of the self discipline and strengths I’d discovered a few years ago.
My fears held me back from a commitment at first.
What if we can’t do this?
And then I thought about it. Well, I’m already NOT doing it. So, let’s turn the question around.
What if we CAN do this?
It’s taken some time, we busted our collective tails without anything to show for it for a long time. We slowly built up our profiles, learning from the best, bringing our individual strengths to our projects and I’m thrilled to say that this Collective Inkwell experiment is working better than I would have hoped. We have solid work booked with great clients who appreciate what we bring to the table. We are also working on other creative projects, including our first novel, Available Darkness.
Yes, I still feel fear, it’s natural. However, I no longer let it crush my creative spirit. Instead, I use fear to feed it.
How has fear affected your creativity? Your dreams?