Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fear, Justin Bieber and Purpose

“If we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living.”
Seneca, Epistles
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”
Joseph Campbell
“Perfect love casts out fear.”
St. John

As usual, I am starting this blog with fear and uncertainty about what to say and how or even if it will be received.  Then I tell myself what I wrote yesterday:
“None of my emotions matter unless determination is an emotion.”
This remains true today.  The only response is committed, consistent action.  Then the more comfortable feelings will come.  Until then, I keep writing.  I think that most things that prevent us from moving forward come down to one primary emotion – fear.
Fear is a killer.  It is a killer of dreams, of hopes and of accomplishments.  It is said that over 95% of the things we are afraid of never happen.  I don’t know if that’s true, but let’s pretend it is.  In my life, many of the bad things that happened to me were prolonged due to fear.  I didn’t start writing consistently because I was afraid.  I didn’t make necessary personal changes because of fear.  I stayed in a job that made me completely unhappy because of fear, even when the evidence for leaving was so strong.
When I finally did make the necessary changes, I always found that two things happened with regard to my fear:
1.     The thing I was afraid of didn’t happen.
2.     If it did happen, I was able to deal with it and survive it.

I once read an article that said people who experienced the Great Depression became much less afraid of future economic instability.  I don’t deny that there are horrible tragedies.  One look at the history books tells us this.  But I wonder if the Great Depression, the Holocaust, the Killing Fields or many other calamities would have even occurred if there were no fear.
Granted, there are other emotions that cause tragedy, such as greed, rage, hatred, laziness or depression (all of which have some element of fear in them).  But what if the emotion of fear were completely gone?  I’m not talking a lack of common sense.  I don’t need to touch a flame to know I will get burned.   But how much would I accomplish if I weren’t afraid of the effort it took, if I weren’t afraid of rejection or ridicule or criticism.   Here’s a non-dualistic truth.  Although the great majority of things I fear won’t happen, some of them will.  Not everyone will like my work.  It doesn’t matter.
There are only three responses to rejection or criticism that can keep me moving forward:  expect it, learn from it or ignore it.
Expect it.  I have always found it interesting how much hatred and criticism have been leveled at Justin Bieber. I once asked someone why she didn’t like Bieber.  She got quiet for a moment and then replied, “I don’t know.”  Most people say he’s not a real artist, whatever that means.  I think that’s a pretentious argument to make the critic look “hip” and “in” and “cool.” But how many people have done the things he has done?  I mean, in the history of the world.  How many of his critics have sold out a concert at Madison Square Garden?
I’m not asking anyone to like his music.  We all have our preferences.  But do our preferences have to include unthinking hatred and criticism for other peoples’ preferences?   It’s easier to criticize than do.  It’s also more cowardly.  Still, it’s to be expected.
Learn from it. Some of my best work came from some of the harshest criticism.  That doesn’t mean I liked the criticism, but if I can maintain the strength to not be defensive, then criticism and rejection can be my allies.  I find out what I can do better.  I’ve lost more opportunities in life by not listening to correction.  Lately, I’ve tried a new tactic.  I pretend that every word of criticism aimed at me is 100% correct and that it comes directly from God.  So I listen quietly and I even say thank you.  Then I think about it.  Almost always, something that was said, even in the harshest way, has a grain of truth that can help me improve. 
I remember having my entire day ruined once because a supervisor walked past me and leveled a criticism at me without as much as hello.  I carried it the whole day and it affected my work.  Then a friend said, “Next time, just say thank you.”  That was brilliant counsel because it put me in control of my responses. 
Finally, ignore it.  This may seem to contradict the previous idea, but some criticisms are literally not worth the time of day.  Again the example of Justin Bieber applies.  So do the examples of the Beatles, Elvis, Abraham Lincoln (or any U.S. President for that matter), Vincent Van Gogh or any artist, athlete, musician or anyone who wants to express his or her gifts.
Steven Pressfield says it best in The War of Art:
If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of resistance.  When we see others living their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived our own.
(Page 38)

Fear comes with the territory.  Dealing with it is part of the job.  If I weren’t afraid, then I would be afraid that I wasn’t afraid.  The beauty of this fear lies in my ability to turn it into creativity.
            Fear can stop me from being in Purpose or it can help me to Get Started and to Keep Going.