Almost a month ago, I posted an article, What Does It Mean To Follow Your Passions? Part 1 (of a three-part series). In it, I used some pretty extreme examples including sex and chocolate cake. (Why does that remind me of so-called “Better-Than-Sex Cake” and how ridiculous a name that is? Sorry, the Mind Monkeys at work again.) Everybody these days is talking about doing what you love and following your passions. (Well, at least, everyone who writes on this blog.) But what does that really mean?
We talked about how Plato believed the human soul is comprised of three parts: reason, spirit or passion, and appetite or desire. Plato believed that in order to follow one’s passions, one needed courage. The funny thing about courage: it’s one of those things you have to work at maintaining every day. It’s not like a college diploma, where once you have it, you have it. Even people who do outrageously courageous things one day can be scared to do the same thing the next day.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”
Courage is not something any of us are perfect in, nor will we be for the rest of our lives, for each day we are presented again with the choice of whether to be courageous or to be cowardly. The natural inclination of human beings is toward the latter.
For example, I recently wrote a novel in 30 days. Each and every one of those 30 days I tried to find excuses to not work on my novel. It was a daily ritual. I’d find distractions, excuses to put off working on my novel, until i finally got up the courage to set aside those excuses and just do it.
“Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.” (From War of Art by Steven Pressfield.) If you aren’t either a film buff or someone who grew up way back when (a round about way of saying “you’re old”) you might not remember who Henry Fonda was. He was one of the greatest American actors who ever lived, acting in such classics as The Grapes of Wrath. It makes me feel better to realize that even Henry Fonda had to struggle with finding courage.
If the big H.F. had to struggle with finding courage every day of his career even until he was seventy-five, then you can be sure the rest of us will have to, too. Which leads us to our next question:
How do we find the courage to follow our passions on a daily basis?
Five Ways to Be Courageous
1. Stay Stupid
All the people who impacted history the most were the people that stayed “stupid” despite all the pressure from others to be “smart.”
Christopher Columbus? Stupid. Trying to sail to India? Everyone knew it couldn’t be done.
“Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.”
- Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
Stay Stupid. The stupid people of this earth are the smart ones.
2. Disrespect the Status Quo
Conformists don’t have courage. It doesn’t take courage to agree with everyone else.
For example, I honestly thought The Dark Knight was a very mediocre movie, especially compared with Batman Begins (a great film about overcoming fear, by the way). But Rotten Tomatoes, and almost every male with a pulse around me thought it was God’s gift to movies. That type of attitude may not make me the most popular guy at male-bonding parties, (but who wants to go to those anyways…?) but it does help me to have the mindset needed to be an artist. I have something different to say, and I’m not afraid to say it. If you’re afraid to share your opinion, chances are you’ll have a hard time creating something new and different. If the Wright Brothers had given into peer pressure, we’d have no human flight.
I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
– Bill Cosby
Also check out my article on The Power of Unpopular for more info on disrespecting the status quo.
3. Seek to Be Criticized
In his book Tribes, Seth Godin suggests that we ask ourselves this question: “How can I create something that critics will criticize?”
When you create something that is criticized, you know you’ve accomplished something: you’ve gotten people’s attention.
When we cower in the fear of being criticized, we don’t do anything but crawl into our shell and hide.
Anybody can be a critic, but it takes cajones to actually create stuff and put your work in front of the public eye.
When you muster up your courage to create, tell yourself: “I’d rather be someone who creates and is criticized for it, than one of the people who are only doing the criticizing.”
4. Do Something Scary Every Day
I’ve heard this quote a lot, and I’m not sure where it originates, but I like it: “Do something every day that scares you.”
I used to think, “That’s hard.” Not the scary part, but to keep thinking of things to do every day. Well, now that I decided to follow my passions, I dont have to keep thinking up something new every day. I already have something to do every day that scare me: create.
That’s right, every day when I sit down to write, I’m scared all over again. Why? You’d think after writing every day for so long I’d get over it. While I was writing the first draft of my novel, each day I was forced to take a leap of faith. Just like Indiana Jones in his last crusade, I had to take a step out over the chasm and trust that a bridge would appear to catch me. Each day, I took another step, and each day, I was confirmed that I made the right choice when the bridge came out to catch me.
So do something scary every day: follow your passions. Seek to be good enough to be criticized. Seek to make a difference.
5. Ask Yourself the Courage Questions
Sometimes mustering up the courage to do something wild and creative can come down to asking ourselves a few simple questions:
1. Why Not?
While others are asking “Why?” ask yourself “Why not?”
“The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”
- Ayn Rand
Don’t be a “Why?” person, be a “Why Not?” person.
2. What Do I Have To Lose?
Most of the time the answer to the question is “nothing” or “very little.”
It’s awesome to come from a place of having very little to lose. For example, if instead of being rich and famous, we are (relatively) poor and unknown, then we really have nothing to lose in getting a novel (or film, or song, etc) out in front of people, because nobody has heard of us anyway. The worse thing that can happen, if it is a failure, is that we will continue being obscure. We haven’t lost anything. Now if Stephen King wrote a terrible novel, that could definitely damage his reputation. We, on the other hand, don’t really have a reputation to damage in the first place…so what do we have to lose?
Having one’s back against the wall can be vastly empowering. When we have nothing to lose, we can be truly fearless. And most of the time we really don’t have anything to lose when we create and put our work in front of people. We just have to ask ourselves these questions and remind ourselves of that fact.
Bonus: The B.I.A .(Bureau of Idea Approval)
Seth Godin, also in Tribes, writes about how some of us act as if there is a Bureau of Idea Approval. In other words, there is some kind of global quality control on what people create. This “B.I.A.” determines which ideas are good and which are bad.
If this organization really existed there would be no Harry Potter, no Hunger Games. Those ideas got out into the wilderness because their creators created fearlessly. They ignored their fear which said “What if this sucks?” Alas, it does suck. But they put it out there anyways, and people crave something to consume.
Note: I’m purposefully trying to rack up my unpopularity points in this article. I’ve blasted The Dark Knight, Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games. Is there anybody out there that still likes me? If so, send me an email, because congratulations…you are my one true fan!
This kind of makes it seem like it’s all about marketing. Maybe it is, but I will continue to believe in creating the best that I can, and the most honestly that I can.
“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”
Ignore the “what if it sucks?” fear because if we kill an idea before it has been allowed to come to full fruition, we may never see the greatness that is in it. Sticking with one idea, and following it through to its conclusion, is like sifting for gold. If you give up immediately, you won’t find the gold.
Conclusion: You Are Smart and Courageous Enough, You Just Need To Do It
What separates the “great ones” from the mediocre crowd is not that they were smarter than anyone else. It’s that they overcame their fear of creating. You don’t have to be a genius to create something of value and change lives. You just have to overcome your fear of doing those things.
What made Thomas Edison a great contributor to society was not superior intellect. It was that he overcame fear. 99% of us never try to do anything. We just accept the life we are given. The other 1% who decide to do something are the creators, the inventors, the artists.
You don’t have to be a genius to make a difference in the world. You are already smart enough. All you have to do is conquer your fear. And you must conquer it every day. For example, if you write one page a day, in a year you’ll have written a 365 page book. So why don’t more people write books? Fear. (Also called Resistance. But Resistance’s essence is fear. It’s the fear that lives within us. The fear of greatness.)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
- Marianne Williamson
If you made it all this way, you owe it to yourself (and yours truly) to leave a comment! (Smiley-face, exclamation point!) So thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts on overcoming your fear and being courageous in following your passions!