1200 feet — aka, four football fields or a little over seven full-size swimming pools. Ladders make me anxious, so in 2018 when I found myself 1200 feet above the Sacred Valley in Peru, nervous was an understatement.
With adrenaline pumping through my body and legs shaking, I perched myself on the small patch of earth next to a rock face. The guide (an avid rock climber) was a little annoyed because this was the “easy” part...the part you could “just walk” along the few inches of rock that jetted out. So easy, in fact, that there was no need to even clip in. That's where he lost me. Nope. Not cool. Already struggling and now knowing I didn't have a rope tying me to the rock. I was not. Ready. To. Move.
Fear is a funny thing. It has saved your life more than you know and maybe your pride a time or two as well. But if left unchecked, it can also valet you to a nice comfy boring parking spot in life. This is a big problem when working in a creative field. Fear actually interrupts processes in our brains that handle information, which can leave us susceptible to emotional, impulsive reactions. Allowing fear to fence in your creativity will stifle you and your career.
The good news:you and fear don’t have to battle... but you do need to be in charge to keep it in check.
The first step in converting fear from roadblock to a helpful creative tool is to recognize the trigger points in your creativity where fear takes over. I’m not talking about just the big client meeting, but the subtle moments as well.
Let’s say you glance at the clock and realize you’ve spent more time than anticipated working on a design concept. Your boss expects a few versions to review by the end of the day and this design is good enough for one version. You wouldn't want your boss to question how much time it’s taking, right? Rather than continuing to push the design, you settle for good enough. And it might be good enough—this time. But in the long run, the habit of, “good enough,” will reflect in your personal growth as well as portfolio.
I live in the midwest, so we have tornadoes, not wildfires. However, I am always impressed by the brave men and women that go out and fight enormous wildfires in California. (Shoutout to the documentary Fire in Paradise and series Fire Chasers). There are times the fire is taking over and it's not going to be put out, but it can be diverted. Using what resources they have, firefighters put boundaries on the fire to protect valuable land.
After you have recognized that fear is taking more than its fair share, it’s time to put some boundaries up to keep it in its place. If a project is taking more time than anticipated, reach out to your team and let them know. Open communication builds trust. If you need more time, ask for approval before the deadline, making life a lot less stressful for everyone. We all get stuck — sometimes the best thing you can do is take a breath, reach out, and get another person’s perspective.
For some reason I think of a Chinese Crested dog with extra large teeth when I think of fear. It's not cute but it wants to protect me. Walking through life, there may be moments when I should listen to the warning bark but there are a lot of times in my career when it's just noise. It takes training to figure out what should be done.
Pushing yourself to be more creative and innovative outside of work will improve your projects exponentially. Learn to bake bread. If you fail, oh well, it's fine... make another. In a small way, you just went through failure and realized it wasn't something to fear.
In case you were wondering, I did make it off the ledge in the Sacred Valley. After centering myself, I took a few more steps. Every time I needed a little more than myself as a cheerleader, I would glance at the best travel buddy I could ask for and he would say, “Seriously Nic you got this, you’re doing great’’ and occasionally, “Why did you agree to this trip again?” The reason — I wanted to see the Sacred Valley, he wanted to eat in a glass bubble on the side of the rock, and I didn’t want to say no to an awesome day because I’m scared of heights.
In the creative field, fear can seriously stifle our creativity and potentially new skills because we fear failure. I started my career in print design and while I touched on digital products, the majority of my days were spent with editors and printers... not web developers.
When I made the jump and started digging into UX/UI design processes, it was not comfortable. I felt like I knew nothing about design and was taking too long to finish projects. But rather than letting fear divert me, I recognized it — then pushed through. The difficult tasks then have become natural steps in my current design process. And the projects I would have shied away from years ago are the projects I am excited by today.
Because I overcame that fear on the rock at the Sacred Valley, I felt more prepared to take on anything that came my way. And it ended in a great trip. With the awesome team at Adventure Heart Peru, our group was able to help a few of our Peruvian neighbors and I was able to celebrate my birthday in a beautiful country with new friends and memories. Both in Peru and in my home office as I work through a website design, I think about how overcoming fear and vulnerability daily leads to breakthrough and growth.
Today's agenda: productivity or squirrel watching?
A fearless facilitator guide for teams that can’t wait for sprint retrospectives.
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