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Ever since I watched this TED talk by Karen Thompson, who's making an attempt to demystify fear, it wouldn't leave me alone. She claims that we should not only listen to our fears but actually welcome them (yes!). It's fascinating.
I'll start by saying that fear is something I experience A LOT. I’m an entrepreneur and a recent Y Combinator alum with both successes and failures on my account. And still a lot to prove. I’m also an extreme sports enthusiast (free-skiing, snowboarding, ex-instructor) who loves challenges, velocity and adrenaline and who is pushing her limits, sometimes at the risk of getting injured. Finally, I’m a performer with ambitions to one day be a decent contemporary dancer. I'm learning how to be vulnerable on stage, in front of strangers. It's probably the thing that freaks me out most as I am far from where I want to be with my skills. Looking at my life, I notice a pattern: the moment I reach some sort of comfort zone, I will find new trouble to get myself into. And, inevitably, new fears.
I often talk to people who tell me that I'm brave. And that they wished they did X or Y but fear of failure is stopping them. They, especially women, wished they feared less. My standard reply is something along “just think about the reward and why you want to do it”. But it recently hit me that people are wasting too much energy on wishing they were fearless. I, too, get angry with myself when I experience fear. Fuck, I even have a tattoo on my wrist to look at when in doubt–a huge green “you go girl!” dot. YES YOU CAN!
But that TED video really got me thinking… what if overcoming fear is a waste of time? What if we welcomed fear and allowed ourselves to fear more? Can we stop the vicious circle of fearing fear? And fearing that we fear fear? And fearing that we… You get the point.
Fears Are Stories
Karen Thompson, a writer, suggests we look at fear as an amazing act of imagination. AMAZING ACT OF IMAGINATION, yes! When you fear, you're imagining more or less likely universes of what's going to happen. In this perspective fears are stories we create, with us and people we care about as main characters. Pat yourself on the back every time you fear–you're writing fiction!
Our Brains Fool Themselves
The confusing part is that we don't just create those stories (= the act of imagination). As soon as we make them up, we fool ourselves into believing they are an accurate prediction of what will happen. Our mighty brains, wired to protect us from bad things, overreact. So yes–your fears are friendly voices that want make sure you play your cards right. Yes–they have good intentions. But oftentimes they end up fooling you.
Luckily, you can fight back. Like with all advice, you can be selective in which one you listen to (and whoever knows me will confirm I've mastered selective listening!). While our irrational self is getting creative (dragons! people laughing at you! failure!), our rational self can decide whether something is a predictable reality or just our imagination on the loose!
Entrepreneurs Fear More
This might sound counterintuitive but fear is prevalent in entrepreneurial experience. Entrepreneurs expose themselves to fear by taking more risks. Challenging things are, by definition, scary and there's a lot of the unknown. Entrepreneurs are not fearless. We're not super-humans, neither can we predict the future more accurately. Entrepreneurs are merely the curious ones who want to try and see what happens.
The pattern Karen talks about is that entrepreneurs have what she calls “a productive paranoia”–they don't dismiss fears but read them closely, understand which ones are likely and then focus on making action plans for most possible scenarios. In other words, entrepreneur's creative self can get incredibly creative in writing stories. Yet entrepreneurs remain rational in reading those stories and don't let their own brains fool them. It's a pretty amazing level of self-control when you can be skeptical about what your own mind is telling you, right?
Fear Management 101
So don't fear fear. Only those with no imagination are fearless. When you observe an avalanche of “what if…” questions forming in your head (yeah, they never ask for permission), welcome them. Your mind is trying to communicate something with you, which is awesome! Allow the creative story-teller in you to open many doors and suggest many scenarios. Then ask the rational scientist to limit the set of stories to a manageable subset. Life is not a movie and can be pretty boring so focus on the probable scenarios, not the most dramatic ones. Finally, let the entrepreneur in you come up with a plan to tackle what could happen. When your fear is either in Trash or on your To-do list, you'll be free to move on.
It's a daily exercise and trust me–you get better rationalizing your fears (or dismissing them) over time. Turn this into a habit. Being able to rationalize your own emotions will make you a better manager. You will get better at decision making, you will get better at assessing the real risks to your business versus just the most obvious or dramatic ones. Fear teaches you to ask “So what?”. Fear lets you foresee things and get ready for them. Fear makes you proactive about what's going to happen. Fear forces you to have a back-up plan. Fear will make you run faster, be better, prove yourself you can.
This is part 2 of my “Draft of an Introduction” about the process of writing (and starting). It might be a good idea to read the other post first.
Step 2 of 3 - Draft of an Introduction
I'm going to spoil the surprise and tell you what's the point of this nonsense.
One of the best books I read about creativity is “Choreographer's Handbook”. STOP dozing off! It is actually hardly about choreography at all. The author describes his creative process and says some really smart things like: “think of it as a draft”, “don't be too serious”, “just start with something and polish it later”. So I am being a good student and following his advice. Just deciding to do it publicly–why waste used pixels or, God forbid, entire letters when I can use them all? Maybe someone can learn something from this–at first glance completely unnecessary–little series. Maybe you can see some interesting patterns thanks to my newly discovered pixel-resourcefulness.
Back to my task: “starting a blog” sounds like a massive one. “Writing down some of your thoughts” or “making a quick draft of one stupid post” suddenly makes it sound so easy. Process is my friend!
I just looked at what I wrote in Part 1. Sweet Jesus, I should definitely drop the part about how hard it is to pick the topic. Who cares? Half of you must be thinking: Just fucking DON'T! Or that part with painting the sky. WTF was that? Creative writing doesn't have to be Jack Kerouac-like stream of consciousness. I'm in sweet love with chaos but I guess some structure won't kill me.
Process is my friend. Structure is my friend. That was a repeating pattern
in everyone's feedback.
Yo, Let's Do This
Hey, this is new to me. I've written a lot in the past but mostly persuasive stuff. Marketing, sales, you know. It's so much easier to write something when you have a clear objective in mind. You start with the good old AIDA structure (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), build up your paragraphs, proof read it, make it 50% shorter… and you're done 2 hours later. Right, maybe do some A/B testing on the title. You don't even need to have an opinion on, well, anything to do that.
[Notes] Say hello. Don't make too big of a deal from the fact that it's a new blog/context, it's only new for you. It might be a bad idea to start with excuses. Mention what you're going to write about + how often you will hit “Publish”. It sounds lame but this is what people expect to read in an introduction.
I Have a Draft!
Well, in some form. It's still lame. But if the sheer intention was to write, it's a success. It was a great warm-up and I posted something! The next iteration will be about something. I hope you stick around to read it.
I'm pressing “Cmd A”, “Delete” but apparently not hard enough to delete the most persistent pixels.
I get to write WHATEVER I want? ABOUT whatever I want? All those things I'm compulsively thinking of? This creative writing thing is so liberating! I can have full control over the sequence of letters your eyes are going to read? Pretty. Damn. Empowering.
Hello world! Hello, hello, indeed!
What, restrictions? I can’t write about everything at once? Have to pick a universe, focus on something and limit the range of possibilities to a single coherent topic? It has to make sense? Jeeesus. No-one told me there would be rules. I thought I'd be making the rules. Where do you even start the shameful act of discriminating against your own ideas? Turns out creative writing is not liberating. It's fucking confusing.
Let’s do this step by step.
Step 1 of 3 - Warming up for the Draft of an Introduction
I’m not sure if you’ve connected with what I wrote. If I have won you over. I need more empathy before I can move on. I want you to feel my pain. Let’s do some warming up together.
Imagine you could change the colour of the sky. Your decision would change it forever. Empowering, right? Forever is a long time, which colour would you choose? The paradox of choice. In your face. Licentia poetica in my face. Am I getting any empathy?
Zero. You're being a smart-ass and thinking–red is my favourite colour, I'd pick red! But wait! Don’t be so proud. The only reason you’re able to decide is because this situation is hypothetical. It's not going to happen and you know it. Sorry to spoil your moment of victory. Anyone ever naming a product (or, I'd guess, a baby) knows what I'm talking about.
Picking a color for the sky only sounds like fun. In reality, it would be extremely stressful! There would be no-one to ask for advice (unless you’re both religious and good pals with God). There’s also little historical evidence of what a good decision is here.
Because I have full control over how this story unfolds, I want to pause for a second and say that painting the sky red would be a terrible choice. We would all go crazy. Not to mention we would miss those really beautiful sunsets when the sky turns red for a few minutes before it covers itself in black. That's a huge thing to deprive the humanity of. I'm not saying you're evil if you picked red but maybe you should feel ashamed of yourself. Just a little.
Thinking of it… it would actually also suck if the sky was black all the time. We'd be so sad. If by default the sky was yellow, we would never see the sun in its midday glory. White? Kind of boring.
It brings me to a conclusion that blue is actually a pretty good colour for the sky. It’s kind of perfect. Well done, nature.
An alarming thought just crossed my mind. I used the colour of the sky as a bloody example and now it's striking back. Does the parallel work both ways?! If the colour of the sky is already perfect and it's a waste of time to think about alternatives, does it mean the world was equally perfect without me deciding what this post should be about? Is there a pattern there? Are those events independent? Should I NOT write? Wait, waaaiit. How did I get here again?
Licentia poetica. In your face, this time. Those are the patterns my brain is thinking. I am so sorry.
I'm smiling to myself. I can swear or say things that make no sense. Cause–if I don't make sense–is it really me who doesn't know what I am talking about? Or maybe it’s you who don't understand the depth of my thoughts? Ha! Creative writing strikes back. I can start sentences, never end them and call it intentional. I can have attention span of a squirrel and it's all good because… What was I saying?
The cognitive value of what you just read is questionable. It doesn’t matter because it's just a warm-up for the draft of my introduction.
I'm pressing “Cmd+A”, “Delete”. No-one will ever read this.