Let’s face it. The workplace can be a pretty scary place, especially for designers like myself who engage with their work so personally and emotionally. We have critiques every day, whether it’s from clients, colleagues, or the whole entire world. It becomes all too easy to approach any project with a great deal of fear, and that’s why it’s vital to dig deep and find your audacity, or you’re never going to get out alive.
We creatives are a fearful bunch, and if you think you’re an outlier, you’re kidding yourself. Because to do great work we have to put ourselves into it and bleed a little, and therefore any opposition we face isn’t against the work, it’s against us as well. It becomes extremely personal. That’s why we end up fearing, with even the smallest projects, being wrong, critique, judgment, feeling unappreciated, not being good enough, failure, losing the project, losing our job, the unknown, etc, etc, etc.
Fear is certainly one of the largest killers of productivity. Everyone has reached a point in their process where their fear of failure or rejection has hindered their ability to do their best work, or any work at all. Most of us are capable of muddling through and finishing the project, but we’re rarely happy with the outcome if it’s the product of fear. Not only does fear affect the quality of our work, but it also affects our ability to improve and to truly create. When driven by fear, we revert to our basic skills, and we reach a point where we simply race towards the end in an effort to shake the fear and escape that which makes us uncomfortable.
In order to get past these fears and deliver good, focused creative work, we need to evaluate what scares us. To do so, we must understand that procrastination and creative block are really driven by fear. It may be that we procrastinate because of a fear of rejection. We do not want to produce work that will get overlooked or denied, or worse: torn apart altogether. That’s why sometimes we would truly rather not complete work at all, and we simply tell ourselves we’re blocked. There is a level of trust that we must place in our own audacity in order to drive something great to the finish line.
It’s easy to imagine that audacity is a powerful character trait reserved for the most outspoken, the most brave, or the most disruptive. However, everyone is capable of discovering their own audacity in their everyday lives. The trick is to push forward with no regard for fear. This is not to say that you should execute your life with the delusion that you are without fear. It’s more about understanding your fears and not letting them control you, because creativity and innovation take courage.
Trust in your ability to overcome your fears. The best way to do this, in my experience, is with small mental changes. Instead of coming into work in the morning with the mentality of “Wow, I have way too much to do today,” ask yourself “What can I accomplish next?” By simply changing the tone and focus of your mentality towards difficult tasks, you begin to see them as easier than you may have thought. Essentially, you are evaluating that you have a seemingly insurmountable level of stress and are choosing to ignore it in favor of the positive outcome at the completion of the work.
You can also think about your fears in terms of consumption of energy. Imagine you have 100% of your energy to dedicate to a project. If you spend 30% of that energy being fearful of how the outcome will be received, you only have 70% left to actually execute good work. The more you give into your fears, the more energy you waste and you end up critiquing more than you are creating.
Another approach to overcoming your fears and finding your audacity is to focus on what you’re capable of doing, and ignoring all other factors. Rock climbers call it staying in your three-foot world. When you’re in the moment on the side of a mountain, it’s important you never think of work, errands, stress, fear, or what that guy on the ground thinks of you. You must always stay in your three-foot world — the space before you that you and only you control. Nothing else matters. Let fear of the uncontrollable take you, and you’ve already fallen.
Audacity is all about internalizing and analyzing your fears. In order to reach true audacity we must completely understand our fears, and consume them before they consume us. Action overcomes fear, so let it become a driving force and a source of energy, and never stop pushing forward. And remember, you fear because what you do matters to you. So enjoy the challenge, never run from it.