Fearless, Fearless, Fearless
It takes courage to be creative. And courage is an acquired skill.
In the book "The War of Art", Steven Pressfield opens with:
"Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance."
- Steven Pressfield
I believe one of the root causes of resistance is fear. I don't mean fear of external forces, of an oppressor or a tyrant. I mean the fear that is born within and germinates over time. It inhibits us from doing the very things we want to pursue the most - being creative, living a healthy life, changing careers, or falling in love.
The fear may not always be palpable, but it plays in the background like the humming of a refrigerator. You don't realize it's there until you turn it off. It keeps us from being creative and trying something new.
You are wasting time
You may have seen this viral video of the brilliant John Mayer conjuring up a song on the fly during an interview:
"If you are not Ouija boarding immediately, you are wasting time...
You got to keep forcing it, forcing it, forcing it...
If you can get fearless, fearless, fearless, (although) it's hard to do!"
- John Mayer
As one of the most successful singer-songwriters of his generation, even John Mayer is not spared this emotion. He needs to push through and force himself to be "fearless". But without him being fearless, there would be no song and there would be no John Mayer.
Lesson from a mother
Maya Angelou's mother had an immense influence on her, and "helped her to climb impossible heights and rise from immeasurable depths."
While discussing her book Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou revealed the most important lesson she learned from her mother -
"Well, I don’t know if I can select one. I would say she encouraged me to develop courage. And she taught me by being courageous herself. And after years of leaving her and, I think, becoming courageous, I realized that one isn’t born with courage. One develops it.
And you develop it by doing small, courageous things, in the same way that one wouldn’t set out to pick up 100 pound bag of rice. If that was one’s aim, the person would be advised to pick up a five pound bag, and then a ten pound, and then a 20 pound, and so forth, until one builds up enough muscle to actually pick up 100 pounds. And that’s the same way with courage.
You develop courage by doing courageous things, small things, but things that cost you some exertion– mental and, I suppose, spiritual exertion."
- Maya Angelou
How do you overcome fear?
While I don't claim to have found the silver bullet, there are specific areas in my life I have overcome fear.
I dreaded public speaking while growing up. On one occasion in college, I was asked by the teacher to go up in front of the class and give an impromptu speech on the topic of my choice. The walk to the front of the class took an eternity in my mind. I stared blankly at my fellow students, wishing I could teleport myself out of the situation. I mumbled a few incomprehensible sounds and walked off saying "I can't do this".
Today I consider myself a professional speaker - I have spoken at industry conferences in front of hundreds of people, and facilitated workshops for senior executives much more accomplished than me.
What brought about this transformation?
There was no single incident I can recall, but a series of "small, courageous things" over a long period. If I were to deconstruct it looking back, I would say two factors brought about the transformation:
Faith in my knowledge - When I started working for a living, there was a noticeable change in my work ethic. I was no longer satisfied with theoretical knowledge and started to investigate concepts in more depth. I started to "learn by doing", and to develop real-world skills. I became more confident about the worth of my knowledge. And if I found something worthy, maybe others would too. For the first time, I felt I had something of value to contribute.
Shifting the focus away from myself - I realized that when I was in front of an audience, the purpose of the occasion was not about "me performing", but instead it was about the "audience learning". I was not there to put on a show but to merely communicate something that I found valuable. At least a few people in the room might find it similarly valuable, and it might enrich their lives to a tiny extent. It was not about me, it was about them.
As John Mayer said, dealing with fear is "hard to do". But it is worth the struggle and opens up the 'unlived life' with us.
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I keep a Time Timer on my desk at all times, and use it for the "Pomodoro Technique". It helps me to commit to a task (especially if there is resistance) in small chunks of time and works like magic.
The Pomodoro Technique was developed in the late 1980s by then university student Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo was struggling to focus on his studies and complete assignments. Feeling overwhelmed, he asked himself to commit to just 10 minutes of focused study time. Encouraged by the challenge, he found a tomato (pomodoro in Italian) shaped kitchen timer, and the Pomodoro technique was born.
AROUND THE WEB
A forceful performance by Maya Angelou "Still I Rise" -
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