Meeting Fear

A chair for fear

Stuffing down your fear never works. It will simply re-surface later, in full force.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my creative heroes. She talks about how fear is allowed to have a seat in the car, but it's not allowed to drive.

One of her readers, Charlotte Murphy, teaches art to fifth graders. Her students suggested they make a Fear Chair, where fear is allowed to sit, but not allowed to run the creative process.

P.S. Aren't kids the most amazing creatures?

A short concentrated difficulty vs. long pervasive difficulty

I haven't danced since November. So tormented about it. 

Every week that goes by, it gets harder to get back to a class. I'm scared of silly things, like being out of shape and feeling pain in my body. Secondly, I've been in a state of rest for months, and objects in rest want to stay in rest.

The persistent false story I keep telling myself: The more time that goes by, the harder it's going to be to dance. This is false.

The truth

Going to dance and dancing is essentially pushing an object in rest (me) into motion (currently not me). It's a short, concentrated burst of energy and therefore only as difficult as putting clothes on and getting myself to a class. Granted, it takes more steps than staying in bed or sitting on the couch.

Each time I choose to work against my interests than for them, I feel worse. This is a long, pervasive difficulty that persists as long as I choose to do the "easier" thing.

It's not easier though. It's infinitely harder to feel bad and guilty about NOT doing something than to do it.

Loosen your grip

"I know."

"I don't know."

Clench one fist for "I know", then clench the other for "I don't know". They're two versions of the same emotion: fear. One is borne out of fear of being wrong, the other fear of not being enough.

"I know" and "I don't know" both make the mind clench up.

They're complete opposite thoughts that yield the same detrimental result: your growth stops.

They're complete opposite thoughts with the same prescription: open your fists, let go, and choose curiosity over fear.

Shoot for "awkward but great"

Growth doesn't happen when you're cozied up on the couch watching a movie you've watched 5 times before. You know this. 

It doesn't really happen when you're watching anything. Don't get me wrong — you learn plenty through observation. But actual growth? Expanding your impact and value on this planet is not a spectator sport. It happens through doing, practice.

This day last year, I had my very first coaching client call. In my journal, I wrote that it was "awkward but great". Awkward because I had no idea how to "do it right" (read: there's no such thing), and great because I was so happy to take the chance and run with it.

Let's talk about you, and your Thing. I hope it'll always be a little awkward. Resting on laurels of experience isn't the destination, as it turns out. 

Why I dance

I've tried a lot of different types of exercise. Nothing has stuck so much as dance.*

To me, dance is a practice that reveals my limiting beliefs.

I watch my teacher Kristin Damrow demonstrate a phrase, and almost immediately I think "What? I can't do that." I'm not alone. She looks at our incredulous faces and says cheerfully, "Don't worry, I'll get you there." And she does.

I used to believe that if I could just find the right teacher, "a good one who speaks to me", I'd make lots of progress.

Yes and no. I'm so grateful I've found Kristin and a couple of other dance sherpas here in San Francisco. But the truth? My progress as a dancer depends on two things:

  1. The mindset I have in class that day.
  2. The mindset I have towards dance as a lifelong practice.

Am I showing up frustrated, limiting myself, down on myself? It's gonna be a long class. If I show up with self-compassion and willingness to laugh at my mistakes, I practically skip home.

If you can't seem to find a hobby/physical practice that sticks, I invite you to seek a practice that helps you bust through all the ways you block yourself from growth and joy. One in which you have to look your fears in the face and do it anyway. 

What's that practice for you? 

*Yoga isn't "exercise" to me. Stay tuned for a post on that later.

The pros don't wait for inspiration

If you wait for ideal conditions, you'll die waiting.

Story: There are two teams of soldiers who need to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately there's a vicious blizzard swirling, intermittently.

Team 1 decides to walk 5 miles a day no matter what. Team 2 decides to walk as much as possible on days with good weather conditions.

Team 1 made it. Team 2 froze to death.

All to say this: In your work that matters to you, work "5 miles a day" no matter what, and you'll get there. You'll finish; you'll launch (as it turns out, they're one and the same). Work if/when the conditions are good and you feel like it — you'll freeze up.

Why others' success is hard to take

Bill Murray, when the other guy won. 

Bill Murray, when the other guy won. 

Our brains are very interesting. There's a thing called "cognitive dissonance", which is the gross discomfort of holding two conflicting ideas in your head at once.

For example, I used to believe work is something you have to get through, that adults just grit their teeth and find a way to pay the bills. When I met anyone who was lit up from doing purposeful, profitable work, it scrambled my brain and heart. I thought that something fishy was going on, because this person lived so differently from my bummed out belief. So I did what a lot of people do: Packed my social life as best I could, and hung out around others who were just mreh about their jobs.

Maybe you can relate.

It can be really hard to see passionate people making their own cool brand of ruckus in the world.

It's easy to hide out by saying "That's them. I can't have that." You feel the painful difference between their world and your own. So, maybe you brush the feelings under the rug and distract yourself, because...

You know you can do better than this. 

After you replace that tired out belief, you'll want to only surround yourself with people who radiate love and fulfillment in their careers, instead of avoiding them. Because what they think is possible will match what you believe is possible for yourself.

The myth of "Now's not a good time"

You, 2016: "Yeah, I want to [change needed]. But now's not a good time because [excuse]."

Can I tell you something interesting?

I've found that the root cause of this excuse is usually thinking in extremes, aka unclear thinking because you're stressed. 

When you're worrying about your career, maybe these kind of thoughts have crossed your mind:

"I just want to quit my job and open a [record store/bakery/restaurant/yoga studio] (because that's my hobby). It's my dream." 
"But this career is the only thing I can do! My entire resume is [this one type of] experience."
"What's The One thing I'm supposed to be doing?!"

I don't believe that anyone has just one purpose or one specific line of work they're here to do. You're here to use your unique combo of talents, skills, vision, and experience to shake the world gently.

This can look like so many things. There's no perfect choice —if you're waiting for that, it's time to dissolve your fear. Seriously, lovely human. It's time. Fear that gets in the way of your growth is the worst. I will fight so hard to prevent you from succumbing to it. It won't win on my watch!

Go on, just go run one tiny experiment. In the words of my incredible friend Angel, "Whatcha got? What can you do? What do you like? What can you do in your sleep?" Get started. 

2016's about to go to bed soon, you guys. You've got a little over a month to slide into 2017 with the magic of a little momentum. Will you?

Your power animal: The Lobster


Did you know lobsters can live up to 100 years? We can learn a lot from these wise, strong creatures. This is how they survive in the wild: 

A lobster's body is protected by her exoskeleton, or shell. However, the shell can't stretch as the lobster grows, so she has to crack it off and shed it periodically. 

As the shell gets smaller and smaller (and she herself bigger and bigger), the lobster is in a lot of pain. Finally, it gets to be too much, and CRACK. She busts out of the old shell, vulnerable. Then, she goes into hiding, awaiting her new shell to harden.

Dear one. Your shell is too small: Your belief that you're not good enough is too small and limiting for the big person you're becoming. 

Please crack it off. At first it will hurt, then you'll feel exposed. Take some time to strengthen your new shell, and come back, claws sharp!

How to have a knack for productivity

When you see/hear something fresh, an energizing brain jolt takes place. The idea has engaged you: 

engage : to occupy, attract, or involve (someone's interest or attention)

It also makes you feel the feels. In our culture, there's endlessss discussion about "engaging your audience". Everyone's trying to do it. Why?

Lizard poking works 

Here in the developed world, we have countless people and products vying for our attention. This is done by a tactic I call lizard poking, because they seek a reaction in your lizard brain. "Lizard pokes" give you pause, just long enough for the brain to absorb enough of the message and feel something. Almost everyone is in the lizard poking business. It's very profitable.

Standard-issue vehicles that deliver lizard pokes: TV, news, magazines, articles, listicles, podcasts, movies, live events. All contain ideas, all are driving them into your brain. All take a lot of time and energy to consume, consider, and discuss. 

There's a painful cost, dear one, and it is this:

Lizard pokes make it challenging to consistently create meaningful work you're proud of.

Your poor lizard. It is overstimulated and exhausted. In a word: fear-driven. 

Rehab your lizard

The most successful people on the planet have a knack for enacting the ideas that scare them five ways to Sunday. 

Have you heard the word "enact"? Mostly in the context of passing laws, right? It also has a secondary definition: "to act out on a stage". I can do one better. Consider adopting my definition: 

enact : to decide to physically play out a fear -- not mentally, not emotionally -- for the sake of creating work that matters. 

This means filtering out as many unnecessary lizard pokes as possible so that it can rest, relax, and let your creative centers work better. Build a knack for enacting. #enactknack

Don't know where to start? Try answering these questions: 

  1. Which of your fears is pinning you down? 
  2. How often do you give fear untold power by assuming it's the truth? 
  3. If you made it your practice to test the veracity of your fear, what could happen? 

Get going on your #enactknack by answering the questions in a comment below! xo