On feeling the fear and doing it anyway



I have a confession to make: I'm a self-help researcher, and I've never got all the way through Susan Jeffers's Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.


My ‘fully revised and updated’ copy has been squished on a shelf between other bestselling pop-psych manuals since I first started studying again seven years ago, yet its covers remain smooth and unblemished, the pages all perfectly intact with nary a corner turned down.


As other researchers have pointed out, a particularly apt title often captures the essence of a commercially successful self-help manual to the extent that whatever else exists between the two covers may ultimately be redundant. So, on one level, the phrase ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ already does a lot of what I want it to — it’s a boot up the arse. I don’t need another 200 pages of repetitive commentary to give myself that regularly required cognitive jolt.


On another level, however (and in a particularly acute case of dramatic irony), perhaps I’ve been afraid to engage more seriously with how thoroughly fear and anxiety — particularly in relation to failure — permeate my day-to-day life. The premise of self-help is that positive results come easily when you enact a codified set of changes; the reality of self-help is that change is fucking hard. ‘Doing it anyway’, which smacks of Nike-flavoured empowerment, is not as easy as it sounds, and for a seasoned self-doubter and the type of person who registers apprehension and unease at the cellular level, I know the journey remains long and arduous.


***


A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a dear friend and beloved colleague who sat heavily in her chair and rubbed her eyes as we exchanged greetings.


‘Actually, I slept horribly last night,’ she explained, scanning the coffee menu intently when I enquired about how she was feeling that afternoon. ‘It’s funny because I actually had a productive day of writing, and I was so excited by what I was working on, but then I went to bed and my brain wouldn’t shut up.’


‘Did you find it difficult to wind down?’ I asked. ‘Sometimes I can’t stop gibbering to myself when I’ve been writing for hours. The thoughts and sentences keep piling in.’


‘No!’ she said. ‘It was weird. Even though I’d had such a great day, I suddenly felt like I couldn’t do it. A nasty voice took over and started telling me that I was stupid for trying, that it’s a silly project, that I’m not capable of pulling it off, that it’s not worth doing.’


The more I thought about it later, the more I realised how common this type of creative whiplash probably is for many.


Only a few days before, I’d finalised the layout of this blog and started publishing some posts. But those initial feelings of delight and buzzy anticipation quickly toppled into overwhelming self-consciousness and despair. Oh shit, I kept thinking to myself. I forgot how frightening it is to read my own writing, the way it reflects and refracts my personality in awkward ways, how it intensifies that deep sense of inadequacy. It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing wonky teeth, a fringe cut wrong. What am I doing? What was I thinking?


Every time I flip open my laptop to write another draft, the words blink back at me. This. Is. Lame. You thought you were ready to come back — stronger, edgier, funnier, something-er. But you’re still just you.


For the last week or so, while having some unexpected downtime due to a health hiccup, I’ve seriously contemplated deleting the meagre beginnings of this frilly little blog altogether. Nobody would have to know! I could make some excuses to the few friends who’ve already taken a look — plausible excuses about being strapped for time or wanting to funnel my attention into more serious writing projects — and they might casually roll their eyes or tell me it’s a shame, because that’s what friends are supposed to say, but nobody would really care.


The urge is so strong, but I can’t stop thinking of Anaïs Nin’s oft-recited observation that 'the day had come when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom’.


I wanted this blog to be a gentle space in which I could reactivate a habit of regular, ordinary writing, a place to deliberately and stubbornly resist the pull of perfectionism, the expectation of online performance, the trappings of ‘content creation’ and a falsely curated life. At the same time, though, I think I've still had some kind of fantasy self in mind, an unconsciously formed set of criteria against which I can never measure up, despite my clearly articulated vision for greater authenticity and less aggressive expectations about quality.


The difficult truth is that my tastes do currently exceed my skill. And although I write for a job, I don't know how to write in my own voice anymore. I'm not entirely sure how to approach the task of confessional writing without constantly fretting about the potential for both self-indulgence and causing serious offence. There are other things, too: I'm still finding my feet professionally after a bumpy post-graduation ride, my confidence is at an all-time low, my cooking often fails, my clothes don't fit, I’m neither photogenic nor a good photographer, I'm retreating from a lot of relationships because they no longer feel OK, I'm committed to my long-term partner, but the day-to-day reality of doing life with another person has its highs and plenty of lows, and I don't know whether I can/should have children. Life as an unremarkable 30-something lady in the world does not make for particularly compelling content in the era of Instagram reels, paid partnerships, and Patreon subscribers.


I’m also aware, from past experiences, that putting yourself out there, no matter how quietly, can attract all sorts of unwanted attention. People I never usually interact with in real life will say 'Oh, I read about that on your blog' if we run into each other. Some readers delight in finding typos and stylistic blunders; others make assumptions about the way you spend your time if you have capacity for any kind of hobby, no matter which candles you're burning at both ends to get there.


All of this leaves me feeling almost paralytically afraid to be myself and simply have a go — to live my life on these modest terms and get some words and pictures on the page.


But I am much more afraid of the alternative: to keep shutting up and shutting down, to keep drifting in this syrupy, stifling place where I want to create and communicate but somehow never feel worthy. I know that I'll never write anything worth publishing unless I'm producing volume — unless I'm getting the junk off my chest, feeling my way through to discover what I want to do, and combing my thoughts and expression for threads of something more promising.


Blogging has always felt like a better fit than journalling for me; I am wary of writers who say that they write only or entirely for themselves. (As Zadie Smith has observed: ‘Talking to yourself can be useful. And writing means being overheard.’) I enjoy the creative possibilities of the online format. The externality of it holds me more accountable than a diary ever would.


So, I will keep talking to myself. I will keep writing even when I know it's not technically very good,


And if and when I am overheard, I hope I can feel the fear and do it anyway.

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