You had everything planned. It was perfect. What could possibly go wrong?
The unexpected happens. The one variable you couldn’t have possibly accounted for manages to knock everything offtrack.
Everything comes crashing down. You break down. You sob until you think you can’t cry anymore and then you sob some more.
Why do we ever plan anything anyway? The best laid plans and all that. You think you’d learn. After all, it’s not like this is the first time this has happened before. Your plans have fallen apart before.
And yet, it’s still such a surprise when things happen this way.
In one week, I’ve gone from thinking I was going to live up on a mountain in a bus – to falling in love with the locals, meeting a wonderful older woman who was going to introduce me to everyone and getting the damn bus all the way up the damn mountain only to be stopped once we got up there by unfortunate and unforeseeable events – to leasing a two bedroom house in NE Portland. I’ve went from feeling so certain to once again feeling sure of very little.
Now, I’m trying to regain my footing (again) after having the rug pulled out from under me (again).
Recently, I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and as I sipped on my coffee and indulged in my sunrise reading before my son woke up, I read something that hit me right in the gut. My dear friend, Liz – in my head, we are in fact dear friends and I call her Liz – suggested that creativity cannot exist without fear.
Creativity cannot exist without fear.
Hmm. Well, that explains a lot. I’m always afraid.
Something I get a told a lot is that I seem to be fearless. My reaction to this tends to be an involuntary HAH that escapes before I can accept it for what it was meant to be, a compliment.
But the fact is, I’m terrified. Not all the time, but definitely a good chunk of it. I’m scared my writing is passé, I’m scared it’s all been done, I’m scared that I want to be too many things and no one will ever understand anyway.
But then I do the thing anyway. I write the book, I pitch the client, I raise my hand, and say, “Yes, me” because the consequences of not doing those things are much, much scarier to me.
But I am not fearless.
What I am is familiar with fear and its territory. I know how to navigate it, even through the brush and the dark. I know that even when I appear to be in a new, unknown area that fear reigns over, it is just fear shapeshifting. It’s the same old tired tropes trying to change their image just enough to parade around like they are something new worth paying attention to. But they’re not.
This is how I confront fear, and I don’t think it’s particularly special. I don’t feel like I am especially brave. But I’m also not foolish enough to discredit the intelligent people around me who care enough to tell that how I handle fear is decidedly not normal.
The next logical step is to figure out how I got this way and why I make decisions the way I do. This is a strange thing to think into for me, because it feels inherently self-centered. Isn’t it rude to think I am more resilient than other people might be? Presumptive? There’s been significant research around grit and resilience, so clearly, it matters and is something people are trying to cultivate or discover in themselves. Regardless of what it might imply about my narcissistic Millenial ways, I can’t leave this question unanswered – because I think if I can discover why I treat fear the way I do, I can finally tap into my creative process and figuring out how to map parts of that.
It’s probably fair to say I’ve dealt with my share of adversity. Some of it was self-inflicted, some of it was cast on me, and some of it was just bad luck. And my way of dealing with it has been to put my head down and work harder. Oh, that didn’t work? Let’s try something else.
What isn’t instantly visible here is the twisted relationship I have with needing to be successful. Work is my drug. It’s an addiction just like anything else is. That constant drip of minor successes fuels me, and I continue on. And that constant drip of minor failures? I use it to adjust course. I keep throwing wet spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
What’s the alternative? Well, the alternative is stopping. And if I stop, I have to think, feel. I am incredibly good at pushing down those feelings of fear just below the surface, pushing past them on to the next thing. The hustle is my haven.
And ever so slowly, I’m learning how to let it go in favor of healthier habits.
But there is significant value in the ability to move forward and problem solve versus backing away or freezing. It would be foolish not to acknowledge the inherent benefit there. Reading Brené Brown’s Rising Strong notes the most resilient people are the ones who begin with Reckoning – stopping and observing the story they are telling about a situation and how they are feeling. For me, this happens automatically. I call it intuition, but other people call it other things. If something feels off, I immediately start asking why. This filters through my values system and the different frameworks I use to analyze others to allow for snap judgments, letting me move forward quickly and efficiently.
The problem comes up when this isn’t enough for a given situation. I attempt to move forward, when in reality I’m still in the middle of the struggle. You can’t move through that shapeshifting forest if you can’t recognize that you’re dealing with fear in the first place. I am not fearless. Sometimes, I just can’t see when I’m being triggered by fear. If anything, I’m foolhardy not fearless.
Besides, fearlessness is not the goal. It’s never been the goal, and it certainly shouldn’t be yours. But as for building resilience, you can easily do that. The object of the game here is to manage fear just enough by continually challenging yourself – and the challenges can be tiny – to be just brave enough to keep collecting fuel for your creative fire.
You don’t have to seek out adversity. Fear is happy enough to come knocking right at your door the instant you take a step out of it.
So what’s next for me? Lots of time with my kids. Finishing up work for the holidays. Starting to collect things to build tiny houses. Throwing a holiday party. Revisiting a few projects and making progress on a few more. Travel. Dealing with fear through creativity.
Because, really, there is no other way forward.