This was me three years ago. I hadn't been on a plane in over ten years because, well, if you pretend you don't need to fly then you don't have to face the fear, right? Yep, easier to stay home, keep safe, not look at those crazy metal birds flying up there in the clouds, pretend they don't even exist, because, well... who wants to jet off to far flung exotic, exciting places anyway?
It's a bit like this with our creative ambitions. I've spent a lot of time listening to people over these last three years and I became to see some parallels with my fear of flying and their fear of starting their creative journey, and in turn, mine.
How did I tackle my fear of flying? I got on a plane - and then I got on a plane again, and again, and I keep getting on planes. Now, I'm not saying I'm completely cured, there are moments where I will get hit by a literal wave of panic. The slightest hint of turbulence can set about those old stress responses - but I have developed the skills to recognise that panic for what it is and to wrestle it back in the box because it's not useful, it's not beneficial, and it's pointless.
I didn't get on the plane alone. I had a best friend help me, and they continue to help me, sitting by my side, just being there. That's why community is important. It's a known that facing a fear with somebody else makes that fear a lot less monstrous.
My experience of overcoming my fear of flying is a direct parallel to the creative journey that I have been undertaking in the last three years, too. There's no coincidence that I began to tackle my fear of flying at the same time I began my new life.
I threw in the day job to pursue my creative life, but rather than being faced with a landscape of rainbows and unicorns, the whole landscape was full of monsters and big knives, and bear pits, and a million other terrifying fear walls; was my work good enough? Were my stories acceptable? Was I good enough? What will people think?
The first thing I had to do was learn to call myself an author, and silence those chattering voices that told me I was an imposter, a fraud, a hobby writer, deluded... and like the plane situation, I did that by doing it over and over again. When people asked me what I did for a living, I told them 'I'm an author' - even though it sounded ludicrous in my mind.
I then had to navigate all the fears that come with putting yourself out there, of daring to not conform, of daring to sell my work, my talent, my skill. It was all dares. None of it came easily - and it still doesn't, even though it is 'easier'
- just like getting on a plane is still a dare to myself.
Facing fears head on is no easier for one person that it is another. It's about choice. You choose to be afraid, and because it's a choice, you can choose not to be afraid. It's easy to delegate our fears to natural human behaviour and instincts, an instinctive response to threat - and of course that's where they start; biology is a powerful force. All those chemicals whirling around, all those physical responses that feel out of our control, but they're not entirely out of control and you can negotiate with them.
How to negotiate with your physical fear.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Force yourself to slow down.
- Tap your leg or your hand in rhythm, silently count the rhythm, so it overrides your thoughts.
- Envisage where you are going and think of the reasons you want to be there.
- Imagine all the beautiful things you are going to see when you arrive at your destination.
- Think of all the other people you know who are already up in the sky, flying happily away.
- Slowly open your eyes and challenge yourself to do small things that will establish a routine and a pattern (in the case of flying, order a drink, open a book) convince yourself that this is your new normal.
- Accept that you are not always going to be in control, but there are people who are qualified and skilled who are in charge and they are going to look after you.
Now apply these to your creative ambitions that you're not facing because of the fears.
- Take time. Slow down. Make space for your project.
- Develop patterns and routines for your creative project which normalise it and make it an embedded part of your daily life.
- Envisage where you want to be in a year, two years, eventually and think about why you want to be there. Ensure that you do this often because these things change.
- Get to know people who are already out there doing what you want, who inspire, encourage and support you, who demonstrate in their daily life that this is a norm and it can be your norm.
- Challenge yourself to do small things every day, constantly push against that comfort zone. Be conscious that that's what you're doing and be gentle with yourself but firm.
- Accept that you're not going to be able to do all of it yourself, outsource, hire professionals and trust they are going to look after you.
In two weeks time, I am flying solo to Nashville from London. Three years ago, I would never have thought that possible. I could never envisage me doing that - and now I am, just like three years ago, I never would have thought it possible that my new creative life could fund and enable that trip, or that the reason I would be going is as an author up for an award.
What is it you want to do? What is it that's stopping you? What are your greatest fears about starting your creative path?