Managing Fear

If you are an artist or inventor, managing fear is part of your daily routine. When your job is to create something out of nothing or explore unknown territory, fear has to be a part of that.

Fear shows up in many forms. Its goal is to keep you from doing the work that you are supposed to be doing. World-changing work. Fear doesn’t want you to change anything. It’s busy trying to maintain the status quo. So your first task is to recognize it in its many forms:

  • Self-deprecation. That voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough to pursue your dreams? That’s fear telling you that. It’s trying to scare you into inaction. And it’s really good at doing that.
  • Worrying. That habit you have of worrying about things so much that they paralyze you? That’s fear. Again, trying hard to scare you into inaction.
  • Resentment. The stories you tell yourself about how other people are ruining your life by the demands that they put on your time. That’s a form of fear.
  • Busy Work. If you find yourself spending most of your energy on tasks and putting little to no energy into higher level discussions or projects, that’s fear.
  • Advice. If you find yourself giving advice to a lot of people, that’s a symptom of fear. Fear to face your own life. So much easier to focus on others.
  • Oo. Shiny. If you are constantly taking on new projects, that’s fear. Fear of finishing something because if you finish it, it might fail. Better to never finish it at all.

So what do we do about it?

  • Learn to recognize it. Even if changing your behavior feels impossible, just recognizing symptoms of fear is incredibly valuable. It puts you, and not your fear, in the driver’s seat even if you just sit there for a while listening to the radio and not going anywhere.
  • Commit to changing your habits. Succumbing to fear is a habit. We perfect this habit over the course of a lifetime. Changing it is hard and you will stumble, perhaps for the rest of your life. But committing to change isn’t too hard. Just say yes and when you stumble, say yes again.
  • Distinguish what you can and can’t control. Then take those things that you can’t control off of your plate. Yes, bad thoughts about them will creep up, perhaps even daily. But if you have identified and named the worries that you can’t do anything about, you will spend less energy worrying about them.

If artists and inventors talked more openly about fear and how they manage it, perhaps more people would be able to see themselves as artists and inventors. They wouldn’t be scared off by the illusion that artists and inventors are confident uber humans. The truth is, artists and inventors are filled with fear just as much as the rest of us. The only difference is that they have accepted that managing fear is a part of their work.



In this twitter thread, @suhail calls on CEOs to talk more openly about fear