The other morning I had a conversation with a couple of colleagues who were having coffee and discussing an upcoming photo shoot. One is a creative director for an agency in the city and the other a freelance photographer. The photographer was pondering ways to capture a unique perspective on his subjects and the two began discussing the power of fear. Not debilitating horror-type fear, but rather the fear that gives us that adrenaline boost and actually can enhance our performance. As an actor, I know this form of fear very well. One of the greatest phobias people have is glossophobia or the fear of speaking in public.
This conversation resonated for me and I immediately began recalling a variety of artists talking about fear and its various forms in their creative work. The most recent for me was David Bowie’s reflection on the creative process. He spoke of how it is vital to always push yourself creatively to the place where you are just little bit out of your depth. (https://www.facebook.com/couragemylovelegskins/posts/1048790251861766)
In theatre school, my mentor Ken Brown would often talk about “embracing the void.” This meant trying things that you aren’t comfortable doing. The “void” was the place where you have run out of creative ideas and you just have to try for something, anything you can. It requires losing control a bit. Not completely, but a bit.
Another inspirational person for me is Paula Scher. Paula Scher is a designer who has done so many different things. She continually seeks new challenges that are completely outside of her comfort zone. In her excellent TED talk, she speaks eloquently about this notion of deliberately taking on projects she knew nothing about. (https://www.ted.com/talks/paula_scher_gets_serious?language=en)
Most recently, Pharrell was giving a masterclass to a group of young musicians at NYU. One individual Maggie Rogers elicited some very interesting comments from Pharrell. Specifically, he commented on her “seeking” in her music. He also said, “you have to be very frank with your choices.” In other words, you have to not be afraid to be merciless with yourself. One of the biggest fears I see as an educator is a learner’s fear of their own work. Learning to be “frank” is a tough concept. (https://youtu.be/G0u7lXy7pDg?t=18m15s)
Learning to do things that are outside your comfort zone is tricky. It is tricky because most people don’t know where their comfort zone begins and ends. We also learn clever ways of avoiding things that challenge our comfort zone. We trick ourselves into thinking it isn’t worthwhile or won’t produce the results we want. We find other things that are more important to spend our attention on.
So, what are you afraid of? Specifically, what are you afraid of in your creative work? That very thing you fear might be the thing that becomes your breakthrough.