The Many Masks of Fear
I hit a Medium milestone last month when an article I wrote was selected for “further distribution” for the first time. It was exciting, to say the least, and led to more reads and views for anything I’ve written on here. By far. After a couple of months of learning the ropes, the validation felt like a breath of fresh air. So why was I suddenly petrified to write the next thing?
I came to Medium because I wanted to write and share something every day. I’m a screenwriter by trade and while I love it, there is a certain loneliness and delayed gratification. The chance to write whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and have people read it immediately felt like a nice change of pace. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much I needed it.
2020 was a weird, terrible year. I fell into many funks, writing and otherwise, but I as the year wound down, I could feel my confidence slipping with each passing month. Posting here every day brought back some writing rhythm and my curiosity. I had never blogged or written internet articles. I was a complete noob and that was liberating. Plus, having a structure to blue-sky ideas and an audience to write towards made writing actually fun again.
Hello, old friend
So when the curation thing happened, it was like a big ol’ bonus of fun. But as I approached a follow-up article, I started second-guessing everything I was going to write about. I didn’t want to mess it up. Which is hilarious because like, who even cares, right? Nobody! The really ironic thing was the thing that got me to write honestly before was not worrying about what to write about!
I finally got an article out and then another but that trip-up shook me. I realized fear was holding me back. Fear, you old buddy, you. Not fear of embarrassment or judgment. This time fear wore a new mask.
Fear is funny like that. So much of our time is spent overcoming it. Gaining confidence by doing what we want to do. Slowly putting our work out there for public consumption. It feels like after we’ve done that for a while, that we’ve conquered it. But the truth is fear can return in many ways.
I was afraid I wouldn’t meet expectations. Mostly for myself but, yeah, for publications and you all. Again, this is silly because who I am? I don’t have thousands of fans or a personal brand or business to uphold. I’m just a screenwriter moonlighting as a blogger. But still, fear was there.
Fear convinces you that you won’t be able to attain the success you had before. It takes your expectations and puts them out of reach. I’ve felt this a few times in my career, always after I reach a new milestone. It’s a bit like imposter syndrome but instead of feeling like I don’t belong, I feel like whatever I create next won’t be good enough. Like I can’t possibly keep this going. That the next thing I create will suck and undo the goodwill of the thing that didn’t suck.
Shine the light
The first of every month, a reminder goes off on my phone with this quote about fear from Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi”:
“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
The only way I know forward is to do what worked before. Face your fears head-on and keep putting your work out there. Try new things. Get curious. Shine the light on your fear and be prepared for it to return in a new guise.
Remember that the expectations we place on ourselves are constructs of our own design. So design a new path. Write your way forward.