Fear is universal. We’re all afraid of something. But fear is also very personal—things that scare me don’t necessarily scare you. Fear comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. And every one of them is a creativity killer. Probably the most famous quote about fear came from our 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” He said it during his first inaugural address in 1932. The great depression was at its worst and he knew that the people needed hope. They needed to believe that as a nation we could overcome our difficulties. It’s the first 10 words of what Roosevelt said that have been most quoted and beloved. But the rest of that sentence is significant as well.
“—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
One significant fact about fear is that it can’t hurt us. It doesn’t have any teeth. It’s an emotion and nothing more. Whenever one of my children would tell me they were afraid of something (like standing up in front of class or asking a store clerk for help), I would encourage them with, “Don’t worry, they can’t eat you.” And with a roll of their eyes and a smirk, they would find the courage to press on. It’s a goofy thing to say, but it’s also true.
“nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes”
FDR really hit on something there. Our fears are usually nameless, unreasoning and unjustified. And when we embrace these nameless, unreasoning, unjustified fears they paralyze us. They stop us in our tracks and prevent us from making the “needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” President Roosevelt was pleading with a nation to face down fear and, together with our fellow citizens, begin doing the work required to press on and overcome.
This very same principal applies to cultivating our unique creative potential. This isn’t about pretending that fear isn’t real. It’s real alright. It’s about embracing the fact that this nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror…can’t eat you.
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