This is a post in a series inspired by Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. Read the intro.
I was terrified of roller coasters when I was a kid.
Each year, my family would go to Six Flags on our annual trip to New Jersey. I’d sit on the bench outside of each roller coaster with my mom while my dad and little brother waited in a long line to ride the roller coaster. They’d walk out, say “it was awesome!” then we’d move along to the next one. Sure, they’d patiently wait in line with me for the tamer rides – the spinning swings, the gentle parachute drops, the log ride – but any ride that went fast, upside down or had the word “screamer” in it, and I took my spot on the bench.
Until the day I decided I was going to ride a roller coaster.
And no, I didn’t love it. But it wasn’t really all that scary.
As a kid, I made so many decisions based on fear. And my life was boring because of it.
I ate inside while my family enjoyed summer dinners in our backyard because I was afraid of bees.
I stayed on the beach because I was afraid of fish in the water.
I missed out on sleepovers because I was afraid of being away from home.
I lived my life inside, on the beach and in my own bed because I was afraid.
And like the day I decided to ride the roller coaster, eventually curiosity won out. I wanted to know what it felt like to go upside down or hear what my family was laughing at while I ate alone in the kitchen. I wanted to know what it was like to swim in the waves, and what the appeal was in staying up all night giggling with my friends (spoiler: it’s super fun until you have to function the next day).
And while today those fears no longer stop me from participating in life, there are still fears that stop me from participating in a creative life.
I’m afraid I’m not good at writing. I’m afraid I’ll hurt someone’s feelings or say something offensive. I’m afraid people will judge me or think I’m self-centered or disagree with me. I’m afraid I really don’t have any right to write.
In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert describes a creative life as “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”
I think curiosity is a strong force. It was the first step in getting over my fears as I child. I wondered about the experiences I was missing out on, to the point where my curiosity became stronger than my fear.
And this is also true with creative living, in my case – with writing. I’m curious. What can I do if I write? What can I figure out? How can I take these ideas floating around in my head and get them onto the paper?
But the fear is there. Hovering, doubting, mocking me. Fear shows up alongside creativity because creativity has uncertain outcomes, and fear’s job is to protect you from uncertain outcomes. And because fear and creativity often come as a package deal, when you try to get rid of fear altogether, creativity often disappears along with it.
So we have to make space for fear, we have to welcome it onto the trip with you and creativity, but we have to give it some rules.
It doesn’t get to be part of the decision-making process. Sure, let your fear warn you about all the things that can go wrong if you create – that people might judge you or that you’re bad at it. You know it’s going to happen, so make some room for it. But when it comes down to deciding what to create, how to create, if to create, don’t let fear make your decisions.
Fear doesn’t get a vote.