Tag Archives: fear

Is It Normal Procrastination–or a Career-Killer?

“I’ve gotten to this age, and all this time, I’ve been afraid,” my client said. “I’ve been holding back out of fear, playing it safe. But all this time I’ve been living in a cage.”

And she was ready to be free.

Now, it’s not as if she’d been doing nothing. She has a PhD, and she’s a professor.

But, she was working on a novel now, and when she hit a roadblock, she kept putting it away–sometimes for months at a time. That was how the “cage of fear” showed up for her.

Sometimes the cage is subtle, and we don’t know we’re in it.

Is fear keeping you in a cage?

Here are some signs it is:

  • It takes heroic effort to do your creative work, and you’re regularly derailed by procrastination, resistance, or avoidance
  • You hold back on saying things in your creative work because you’re concerned about how others will react
  • It’s incredibly hard for you to finish projects because they never feel good enough
  • You rarely submit your work because you think it’s not ready
  • People with less talent than you have achieved more success (because they kept at it while you held back)
  • You have successful colleagues who were your equals years ago–but they’ve forged ahead while you’re in much the same place
  • You have connections in your industry but don’t reach out to them because you don’t want to “use up” your opportunities

Of course, creative work takes time and effort. And fear is part of the human condition.

So, it’s easy to assume if you’re afraid, that’s “just how it is”—to think there’s nothing you need to do.

But, there’s a difference between the anxiety of creative tension and being caught in a cage of fear.

Creative tension is part of the process. When we face a blank page, we’re looking into the unknown, with internal pressure to do something. That produces anxiety.

However, if you’ve been in the same position for more than a few months—without making substantial progress—then there’s a good chance you’re “in the cage” of fear.

Photo by Christopher Windus on Unsplash

Take an honest look. You know the truth.

Are you facing normal creative jitters that will ease up once you start your creative work?

Is it just a passing fear related to one aspect of your work–one you’ll move through in a couple hours or a few days?

Or is your fear a lifelong habit that’s held you back more times than you can count?

You can break free

If you’ve realized fear is keeping you in a cage, take heart.

The beautiful thing is, the door is unlocked.

You can choose to be free.

And, just by realizing you’ve been trapped in fear, you’ve taken the first step towards freedom.

In my next post (coming tomorrow), I’ll talk more about what your fear is telling you, what it’s not, and how to get free of the cage of fear.

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P.S. If you ARE trapped in the cage of fear, and you want to get free NOW, email me about my Artist in Action program. It’s designed for ambitious writers and artists who are tired of having their careers dragged down by fear and avoidance.

You’ll stop procrastinating and DO your creative work—regularly and easily—so you can have a successful creative career.

Interested? Email Me and let’s talk.

Life practices: Moving beyond fear

(A follow-up to my last blog past, “Fear and Sitting,” with a focus on what you can do to move past fear.)

Over the years, I’ve discovered many ways to deal with fear—for myself and for my clients. Here are a few that I’m reminded of when I watch William.

1) Feel

I’ve found that the best way to get beyond fear is to let myself feel it.

Here’s what to do:
a) Acknowledge that you’re afraid or anxious. Notice what that feels like in your body. (If you don’t consciously acknowledge fear and anxiety, they will unconsciously run the show. That’s usually when you sabotage yourself.)

b) File these bodily feelings away in your memory. Any time you notice similar feelings, ask yourself, “Am I feeling fear or anxiety?”

2) Take baby steps

Instead of trying to push my fear away, I take huge (fear-inducing!) goals (like “write my novel”) and break them into baby steps—actions so small they don’t trigger (much) fear. I do those steps one by one, focusing only on that one action. (When I started doing this, it changed my life! I started making real progress on goals I’d been struggling with for years.)

It helps to combine this practice with the practice of feeling your fears. If big, apocalyptic fears start coming up, tell yourself, “Yes, I’m afraid. And I’m just going to make a list of people to e-mail.” “Yes, I’m afraid. And I’m just going to outline the points I want to make in this e-mail.” “Yes, I’m afraid. And I’m just going to write a bad rough draft.” Step by baby step, you’ll go from someone who dreams to someone who’s living her dream.

3) Fill up with joy

There’s nothing like a baby who’s showing happiness with every ounce of his body. (As a mother, I’ve realized that there is absolute truth to the words “bundle of joy”!)

William reminds me that filling up with happiness is one of the best ways to dispel fear. Focus on what brings you joy—and really let it fill you. This isn’t just a little positive thinking here and there—it’s a conscious decision to immerse yourself, heart and body and mind, in happiness.

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Fear and sitting

I’ve been deep in the middle of work on my “tea stories” and my coaching business. It’s incredibly exciting and energizing. And, at the same time, I’ll be honest–a lot of fear comes up: the fierce fear of failure that comes up when I go for my dreams.

Along with looking fear in the face, I’m watching my baby grow–and out of this mix come certain thoughts. Here are a few from the period (a few months ago) when William was learning to sit.

Sitting

My baby is learning to sit. At first he sat precariously posed like a little frog–his arms and hands splayed out to keep from toppling over. He wobbled there for a moment, and then, in slow motion, tipped over.

Sometimes, after toppling to the floor, he cries. At other times he tumbles over without complaint, only to find himself on his stomach–and then begins to cry.

Feeling

Each time he cries, I remember a lesson I’ve learned over the years: how important it is to feel my feelings. Whenever I try to stifle fear, frustration, or other “negative” feelings, they go underground, where they sabotage me in other ways: Instead of writing or working on my business, I fritter away time on administrative tasks. I hyperfocus on some minor issue until it drains my emotional energy, read articles on the web for hours, get sidetracked by Facebook, or spend the day “researching” with a barely-relevant historical novel. But when I actually let myself feel my feelings, they run through me. I’m borne along in their intensity, drenched in the storm. And then, when the storm passes, I feel a deep, clean calm.

This is what I see in William. When he’s upset, he cries. He doesn’t suppress his feelings. He doesn’t stew. He lets his feelings out, and then he moves on.

Failure

He keeps trying, keeps failing, and keeps learning. As he learns, I learn too. There’s the obvious lesson: he’s learning because he’s willing to fail again and again. There’s another lesson: even though every attempt to sit ends in failure (he always topples over eventually), in the overall scheme of things, he is succeeding. As time passes, he sits for longer and longer without wobbling–longer and longer before he tumbles to the floor. Day by day, he’s transforming from a baby who can’t sit to one who can.

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Write or Die

Sometimes, as writers, we need a little structure to keep us going. And some lighthearted humor doesn’t hurt either.

Write or Die is a great website that provides both. You open a text box and type into it. As long as you keep writing, all is well. But stop for too long, and the consequences begin: annoying sounds, grating music… or something even more dire.

Personally, I find it really helpful on those days when it’s hard to get going–or keep going. As Dr. Wicked (the mastermind behind the idea) would say, Write or Die helps “put the ‘prod’ in productivity.”