The Things You Fear
“What are you willing to give up? How teachable are you?” Hans, my instructor asked, before we even put pencil to paper. Last week I began my art course at SARA, The Stockholm Academy of Realistic Art, a preliminary course intended for artists who want to apply to their three-year intensive program. I’d determined I was ready to take my art to the next level, but I’d been afraid too. Making this step took not only courage, but a lot of juggling with our family’s schedule. I was making a sacrifice and so were they. I’d made an investment in myself. I was here to learn, but I was also feeling the fear.
“The most difficult obstacle,” Hans continued, “is your own mind. Your mind will tell you it can’t be done, voices will urge you to give up…you’re too old, you’re too inexperienced, you’re not a quick learner, this is too impossible, the standards are too high.” I could feel my head nodding. I’d heard similar voices.
Steven Pressfield, in his book “The War of Art,” calls this “resistance.” Resistance kicks in whenever we try to do something better, different, innovative, or “or evolve to a high[er] station morally, ethically, or spiritually.” If you’ve ever met with negative voices in your head, you know what I’m talking about. Pressfield’s rule of thumb: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the [more] Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
“He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.” –Proverb
Success depends on getting out of your own way. Sometimes you just have to keep your head out of it. Put the ego in the back seat and let your soul drive. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, we were told to say our name and why we were in the course. Most said they were there to improve their “hobby.” One young blond Swede with hunched shoulders said he was going to “give it a try,” see how he liked it. The instructor said: “I don’t like the word try. You’re going to do it.” Gulp.
Another guy said he was scared to death to be there, but that he wanted to be an artist. His voice shook a little. I could feel his fear because it mirrored some of my own self-doubts. I admired his courage.
But fear isn’t all bad. Fear is the starting to point to great things. It’s what we feel when we risk change. If we stop at the point of fear, resistance wins. But if we know what we’re up against, know what fear is—the gateway—then we can perceive fear as a message. Fear is pointing the way to exactly where we need to go.
If you feel a lot of fear, then take it in degrees. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Dream BIG, but start small. In my drawing course we don’t begin with rendering the full human figure, we begin by copying a two-dimensional illustration of a hand. We spend enormous amounts of time training our eyes, breaking down the complex into the abstract. We look at the shapes of things, notice where they are in relationship to each other. It’s the way the Old Masters studied their craft, a technique that has been passed down through the ages. The standards are extremely high, but no one is expected to attain the skills overnight.
And what is the benefit of doing what we’re afraid of? The benefit is that you live. You LIVE and live more fully!
“If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.” –Abraham H Maslow
Remaining stuck in fear will cause all kinds of problems. They’ll take on different names, different forms, you’ll assign different reasons for the chaos in your life, blame others, anything that will make you forget what you wanted to do in the first place. Resistance will tell whatever lie you will believe… until you stop listening.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” –Anais Nin
NOW, is a fantastic word. It’s the word we need to combat resistance. Because NOW, is now. Not yesterday or tomorrow and you can start now, to do whatever it is that you want to do. You don’t have to wait for anything. You don’t have to wait for problems to end, or children to grow up, or for the sun to come out, or for the holidays to be over… to begin. You just start now. Start small. Dream big. Take a risk. What is fear telling you not to do? Go do it.
Yeah, okay…I’m going to go draw now.