“Fear is the raw material from which courage is manufactured. Without it, we wouldn’t even know what it means to be brave.”

Martha Beck

 

It feels as though everywhere I turn lately, there’s some sort of movement around the necessity to become fearless. It’s become kind of a buzzword. Pinterest and Instagram and blog posts are riddled with memes proclaiming that fearlessness is how we’ll be better people/get more done/create something significant, the implication being that once we reach that mythical state, our lives will become easier, or truer, or somehow better.

I think that’s bullshit. I don’t think it’s possible to be truly fearless, and what’s more, I don’t think it would serve us to be that way.

When I create something ‘True’ – by which I mean something from my heart, from the deepest, realest part of who I am and what it means to me to be alive as a human in the world – sharing it is always, always, accompanied by fear.

Sure, it might seem like it would be easier to put things out into the world with no fear of criticism, no fear of ‘failing’ {whatever that means}, or of success, no fear of indifference even. But to suggest, and have people believe, that being without fear is a goal to aim for is, to me, to miss the point.

Fear is a part of being human. And absolutely there is fear that motivates and fear that restricts, and it behooves us to do what we can to cultivate the former and release the latter.

But can we really, any of us, ever become fearless? And is it really the kindest thing we can do for ourselves to be trying?

I receive emails all the time from people who, for whatever reason, are afraid when it comes to their art, and feel that it’s holding them back. And if it’s stopping them from making their art, from expressing themselves in the most significant and meaningful way they know, then yes, it is holding them back.

But to suggest that there will come a time, or that they can somehow make that time come, when fear will no longer be present, and to expend energy trying to get to that time, is, in my experience, a waste of that energy and distinctly unloving. In fact, directing our attention at the fear – either in resistance or sitting in it – tends to only bring more of it.

Better and kinder by far to accept that there is fear, that there will always be fear {although it certainly can and does diminish the more you do something}, and to make the priority that deep and necessary commitment to ourselves to do what calls to us anyway.

There’s another option

Fear is part of our internal messaging system. If we can recognise that, and accept and integrate it, it becomes an ally, not something to ‘crush’ or ‘kill’ {or ‘f**k’}. Those kind of violent words, so often used around and against fear, do nothing to support us in dealing with the reality of the feeling when it comes up.

What if we just said, ‘you know what? I’m afraid, I’m really really afraid’, and made the work anyway?

Then at least we could expend the energy fear brings in ways that allow us to move forward, to create, to step up and out of the cave fear would have us hide in.

You’re not wrong to feel fear.

That’s the important thing to understand. A suggestion that you could or should be fearless, that it’s some kind of badge of honour, is so damaging.

Haven’t you noticed how whenever someone describes another person as fearless – in an introduction, on a podcast, in an interview – that person will never say, you’re right, I have no fear and that’s why my life is awesome and easy?

They always say some variation of, oh I feel fear! I just carry on because the work is more important. They have accepted that part of their inner messaging system and turned it from a limitation to a strength, simply by continuing to say yes to the work, and using the fear energy as fuel. To the outside world that can look like fearlessness, but that’s a misperception.

Our fear can help make us strong. Knowing it’ll always be there {even if it is much diminished} is a comfort, because then we no longer have to bother with trying to get rid of it. So now we have comfort and strength, and that fear energy becomes fuel and motivation.

I don’t really like that whole ‘prove them wrong’ philosophy. It’s a waste and misuse of my time and inner resources to make things just to prove someone wrong, and how can proving someone wrong really benefit the world? It’s just more fear, more I’m right and therefore you must be wrong. That’s how wars start, for pete’s sake.

A case for being ‘self centred’

I don’t make things to prove anything. I make things because they come to me and I feel strongly that they need to be made. And initially that’s not even about being of service. Gasp! My priority is not to serve!

My priority is to make what I’m being asked to make because it feels True, and because it keeps me sane and aligned with my real self to honour the ideas when they arrive.

I am in joy when I create, and that’s what allows it to be of service.

Service comes after creating, as an inevitable part of the process. It doesn’t always look like what we might assume service to look like. For me it looks like online courses and writing {aka creative encouragement}, and art people buy and enjoy, but it doesn’t have to be so ‘public’.

Service can look like doing what your heart calls you to do because it makes you more you, and when you’re more yourself you’re a powerful and positive force to be around, even if that stays within the four walls of your home. {Which tends not to happen; it ripples out whether you intend for that or not.}

I don’t think becoming fearless is a noble or worthy cause. I think it’s a distraction from the real work we’re here to do. And when I say ‘work’, I mean what feels essential to our souls to be doing.

I have no intention of becoming fearless. The fear I feel is simply a part of the process of bringing meaningful work to life. That’s not to say it’s never uncomfortable for me, or that it never holds me back in certain ways. But I see it, I recognise it, and I carry on walking with it right there beside me. Not because I’m ‘better’ than anyone else, but because it serves me to live this way.

And serving myself like this serves others. It acts partly as a demonstration for those who want to see that, and partly as a catalyst for making the art, creating the courses, and writing the blog posts {and books} that help and delight people.

Another perspective

We live in a dualistic world. Remove fear and you remove courage. Without courage, would you do so many of the wonderful things you do? Get married? Have children? Ask for a raise? Travel? Smile at a stranger? Would you even get up in the morning and leave your house?

Acting while fear is present not only strengthens you inside, it makes you an excellent role model for your children, or indeed anyone who happens to be watching. It gives the rest of us permission to start now, and not wait until we’ve become superheroes.

So for the love of all that’s holy, please, stop buying into this idea of exhorting yourself and others to be fearless. Make it easier on yourself and let that go. It’s ok to do what’s easier! All that’s being asked of you is to listen, really listen, to what wants to be made by and through you, and do the best you can to respond. The feeling of essentialness that comes with that is why you have fear around it.

It’s ok to be afraid. You can still make your art. In fact, you might find it would be harder to do without a little fear by your side. And it’s true what ‘they’ say; the riches you will find on the other side are worth that bit of extra effort it takes to ‘do it anyway’.

What do you think? Do you find that cultivating fearlessness has value? Does my perspective ring true for you or do you feel differently about it? Share your thoughts on fearlessness in the comments!

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