I’m assuming the former First Lady didn’t mean leaping out of a helicopter when she came up with that famous quotation. Her genius, perhaps, lay in understanding the everyday and how those small daily victories and failures can define us.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt.
It’s good to get the adrenaline flowing, to get that heart rattling against the inside of the ribs, to face something we fear and avoid and would rather leave alone, thank you. But invariably when we do finally confront something, what happens? If you’re anything like me, after the initial blood rush there is a high, a sense of achievement and strength. I feel if not invincible, then happy I’ve taken action, even if that action is as ‘simple’ as sitting down and trying to put words to a thought or feeling.
Overcoming our creative fears is essential. I’m uncomfortable saying that writers, practitioners, makers and artists are courageous, as I feel this undermines the reality of those on the frontline confronting despots or bullets or fire or overwhelming odds, but who press on regardless, with hope and optimism. I’m not a volunteer with médecins sans frontiers (who I really do think are brave), but I must also admit it takes a form of courage to do what we do.
I wrote in my last post about doubt, how it is so often something artists are encouraged not to do. I think doubt can be important – it can reveal possibilities otherwise obscured by the absolute. It is self-doubt that is debilitating. Self-doubt can turn the creative impulse to stone and stop us from making our work, which is why it is important in our daily work we do something that scares us: to defy the fear manifesting itself as self-doubt.
From my own experience, but also from working with other writers, I know we often don’t realise we are sabotaging the integrity of our work and the paths to our future through fear. Often when working as a dramaturg or mentor I’ve had to corner a writer and ask why haven’t they reached the mutually agreed deadline; why haven’t they done the work they outlined; why haven’t they written with passion and to the best of their ability now that opportunity they’ve been wishing for so long is finally here…?
The reason has always come down to fear. Fear of exposing themselves to criticism; fear of not being liked or admired because of their material; fear of not being good enough; fear of appearing not as bright as they’d like…the fear of failing… the fear of succeeding…. I know a writer who turned down the opportunity to work with a production company on developing the screenplay she’d been pitching for two years. In tears and after much baffled questioning, she finally admitted she had withdrawn from the project as she was frightened on two counts: First, that she wouldn’t be good enough and therefore would be ‘found out’. Secondly, if she was ‘good enough’ and the film got made, that would have massive implications on her career and she didn’t want her life to change…
Fear is connected to change, yet that is the one thing in this life we can be sure is going to happen…. So let us try and embrace this rather than resist it.
And so we return to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice. It can be interpreted in many ways, and applied to a host of diverse actions, but as artists and writers perhaps we can take it to mean to DARE. DARE to reach for our ambitions, to express what we really think; to make the best work we can even though this may make us vulnerable.