Fear In DisguiseOct 16, 2023
A message for my creative friends, borne of love and compassion:
There are many thoughts and behaviors that impede our progress and make it more difficult to achieve our goals. What appear to be unrelated situations are actually fear in disguise.
You are not late because you “lost track of time.”
You are not unprepared because you “had too much going on.”
When you think you’re “too busy,” you are just hiding behind busy work.
Disorganization and procrastination are protective mechanisms that allow you to excuse yourself from doing the work that scares you.
What’s Really Going On
The problem is not that you are lazy. You are fearful and frustrated. When you allow yourself to become “overwhelmed,” you avoid the work necessary to find - and implement - a solution.
Discipline alone is unlikely to fix your predicament because you are insecure, not undisciplined.
We invent other terms and circumstances to mask what’s really going on because it is difficult to admit that we are afraid. And the problem is pervasive; you will never be able to completely avoid fear and doubt. “Impostor syndrome,” for instance, is not a syndrome - it is an unavoidable part of success, as I have discussed elsewhere. The fear that we may not be as talented or wise or good as we are perceived to be is common no matter how celebrated you are.
Creators are exceptionally vulnerable to criticism and rejection because the thing they release to the public is such a literal part of them. When I work with a creative individual who suffers from “burnout,” it is frequently because the tendency to simply power through the fear is exhausting. Eventually, this course of action becomes not only inefficient, but counter-productive.
Fear In Disguise
So what is the best way to deal with the fear of rejection and humiliation, of failure?
The first step is to be able to recognize when you are dealing with fear in disguise. Analyze the situation that hinders your progress and admit - if only to yourself - that fear is at the root of your frustration.
The second step is to be as specific as possible about what it is that you fear. Are you afraid that your peers will subject you to ridicule? Do you fear that you have “bit off more than you can chew,” and are in over your head? Does the fear of financial loss paralyze your forward momentum?
Think deeply about these things and - as always - I suggest you write them down. By hand. In most cases, you will find that the act of naming these worries decreases their power.
As you examine each concern, you will be able to more clearly discern whether your fears are justified or not. You can now evaluate each situation honestly and take responsibility - and therefore control - of the way you deal with what’s really going on.
Life is risk. And risk is particularly difficult to assess when you have created something that has heretofore not existed. A truly original song or play or drawing or building has no relevant standard against which it can be compared. All creators deal with this heightened uncertainty, whether they have created a new company or a new social media post.
The life of an entrepreneur - and all professional creators are entrepreneurs - is a constant cost-benefit analysis. The path to success is narrow. You have to be willing to accept enough risk to be authentic and fresh, but not foolhardy and reckless.
You alone define the limits of what is “fresh” and what is “reckless.” Will you let an artificial intelligence bot rehash others’ creations and hope to pass them off as authentic? You risk being perceived as derivative and subsequently cast into the hell of obscurity. Should you appear in public naked except for a few scraps of raw meat? Worked for Stefani Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga).
There may be another outcome when you honestly evaluate the fears and insecurities behind your overwhelm or procrastination. You may find that every risk seems to be too much; that the cost never seems to outweigh the benefit.
If this describes you, there may be something else at play.
A Bigger Problem
Every person eventually wrestles with the question of meaning. Who, really, are we? How do we want to be perceived? What legacy do we want to create? We do not come into the world fully formed or with a preset destiny so we are free - to some extent - to define ourselves.
Social media presents us with millions of points of comparison. It is easy to want to be the person with the Lamborghini and the Malibu beach house. Who doesn’t want to be rich, “hot” and enviably cool? A few minutes on the platform of your choice will teach you that just about everyone makes millions of dollars per month and has a PJ (that’s a private jet, for us mortals).
When you couple these two situations, you get people who want to be what they see so badly that they adopt that persona. And those tactics. Suddenly everyone is an expert on something that you need to buy. Even if they are clueless. Everyone is dancing the latest TikTok dance because their favorite “influencer” got rich doing it.
And when these copycat influencer-wannabes feel the fear, it’s not because they are treading the creative cost-benefit path. It’s because they are trying desperately to be something they are not.
When I was young, I lived in a town full of fighter pilots. Fighter pilots were the coolest of the cool and I, of course, wanted to be just like them. But I was too tall and my eyesight was not up to par. As a result, the recruiters I spoke with quickly rearranged my career expectations. I did not suffer years of trying to be a fighter pilot because I was clear it wasn’t gonna happen.
A Bigger Answer
Without this kind of clear distinction, however, many people live with tremendous anxiety when they try to adopt a meaning that isn’t congruent with who they are.
Fortunately, there is one cure for both situations.
The answer lies in purpose.
When you begin to comprehend your purpose, you will automatically stop wasting time (and energy and frustration) trying to be something else. Likewise, an understanding of your purpose will power you through the fears of rejection and ridicule and failure that might otherwise stop your progress.
I don’t mean to intimate that purpose is some divinely-appointed single meaning for your entire life. Most of us assign our own meaning and purpose, and find that it changes as our lives progress.
How can we avoid the trap of thinking our purpose is to live the good life we see on the Internet?
Purpose is a function of effort, not outcome. This is one area where what matters truly is, “the journey, not the destination.”
What really matters to you? What impact do you want to have on your community, on the world? How will others benefit from your effort?
What can you see yourself doing - every day - in such a way that the doing itself sustains your effort through trials and tribulation?
If your answer to these questions was, “Lie on the beach, get high and have sex,” please come back when you reach emotional maturity. I apologize for having wasted your time.
You will be resilient to fear and distraction when you clearly define your purpose in service to something bigger than yourself. This doesn’t mean that you must toil away in miserable poverty and squalor (unless that is your purpose).
When you work in accordance with what really turns you on, your life becomes more joyful. When you aren’t only thinking of yourself, you care less about the opinions of others. And since your purpose is more likely to be something you are good at, there’s a better chance you can have that Lambo after all.
I am a creator (musician, writer, live-streamer and podcaster), entrepreneur, counselor and professor.
To learn more about how to use these concepts or to inquire about working with me, you can contact me through my website, the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or The Authentic Life Blog page. If you have found value in this article, consider following my Instagram and Twitter accounts. To support this community, you can even Buy Me A Coffee or donate through my Patreon account.
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