The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow. –Jim Hightower
Reasons or excuses?
Matisse’s famous quote “Creativity takes courage” is almost a cliché, we’ve heard it so often. It’s everywhere in memes and posters but maybe that’s because as artists, we know it’s true. If fear wasn’t part of the creative experience, we’d be neck-deep in new art, products, recipes, gardens, etc., etc.
Sadly, fear holds too many of us back from our creative potential.
It took me a long time to get past my own fears, most of which were related to perfectionism. However, I called it “being responsible”. After all, I had a family to care for and a business to build.
They turned out to be my excuses.
Not what it seems
We all have our own justifications but if you actually look at what’s lurking behind our wall of words, we find fear.
It took me a long time to understand that staying in my comfort zone robbed me of too much. The price is high. Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, it costs our lives.
By avoiding the full creative life available to us, we simply keep repeating what looks (falsely) safe and sure. The same thing, over and over. We never actually live. We become dead fish.
It’s okay to be afraid
Think of your fear as a gift. It’s a signal that you’re up to something and it’s the only way to experience that courage Matisse speaks of. Working through it builds confidence, stretching our capacity to create.
Each of us must come to terms with it because it’s an integral part of the process. The truth is, not one of us can grow creatively without some stress and learning to live with discomfort. Answering the call means a willingness to be seen, warts and all, because art is deeply personal and uncertain. There’s no such thing as ‘fearless creating’, no matter what the gurus say.
Don’t tell me exposure isn’t scary! And, after accepting the risk and doing our work, nothing is guaranteed except a need to continue creating.
How to manage the fear
After all my years of excuses, I finally realized the work itself (and the risk) could be “chunked down” again and again until the fear felt manageable. It needed to be small enough not to wake up my flight-or-fight mode.
With practice, I built a tolerance for discomfort and found myself able to take bigger creative risks. The blank canvas stopped looking like a chasm and more like an opportunity.
If you’re avoiding your own creative nudge, start with small steps. Three years ago, I committed to 15 minutes of creative action every day for 30 days. Often it was just a doodle in a sketchbook but if I spent those 15 minutes, it counted.
I ended up with a book of little sketches but I also built my creative muscle and developed a habit. And I still refer back to those sketches for inspiration.
What you choose may be different (although if my example works for you, please use it!) The point is to make it small enough that it doesn’t scare off your inner child, the muse or whatever you want to call that urge.
Courage is not the absence of fear.
Like sunshine and shadow, we need fear to experience courage. When we tiptoe past our fears, something pretty amazing waits for us. Our real life.