To those who might read my posts, this title might come as a surprise. Maybe there needs to be some celebration? I wish that was truly the case. There is a deeper meaning behind the title.
Now, I am a big fan of Jordan B Peterson. He is a controversial figure, for sure. It isn’t often that a person comes onto the scene and asks that people take responsibility for their own actions, to focus on themselves — to clean your room, for instance — before thinking you can clean up the world (in following the old Christian phrase uttered by Jesus to “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”) and for such a person to escape the ire of humanity.
Before you read further, this post is not political. It is safe to proceed.
What Peterson teaches has touched me. In this specific instance, it was something he said when asked why he seems so confrontational to certain ideas. He said he was more frightened of the alternative. In other words, he hated confrontation, but was more scared of what would happen if he didn’t make the confrontation. Today, as I write this, I came to a strange realization. I am no longer more afraid of the alternative.
Comfort is the killer of creativity. The obstacle is the way, as Ryan Holiday says in his teachings of the stoic lessons from Marcus Aurelius and others. While I never can say that I totally hated my jobs, the prospect of staying in them for the rest of my life was horror-inducing. In ways, it drove me to put more effort into my writing. Besides the personal drive that I have in wanting to be a writer and the innate need to write, there was something else driving the practice. The alternative. I was more afraid of the alternative.
Then late 2018 happened. In reading my last post, part 4 in my series responding to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s series, I specifically noted that in late 2018, my writing dropped off precipitously. A few things happened then, one of which was the acquisition of the position that I occupy today. It’s a job that I’ve had no interest in leaving. Another way of stating it is that I got comfortable. The alternative no longer was frightening… I even tried admitting to myself that I would be perfectly OK if my writing career never took off.
To be clear, I am not OK if my writing career never takes off. I can accept it, but I am not OK with it. Deep down, I crave being able to earn my living as a writer. Those days, weeks, months, that I was pushing hard to write — even while working a full-time job — were great. I needed to escape where I was. I need to be creative.
Then I did escape. I became comfortable, and my deep need for creativity left me.
Fear still was there, absolutely. Anxiety over failure and success is an ever-present friend of mine. It existed then and was my greatest obstacle back then to becoming a writer. Foolish me, I believed it remained so. Other realizations have come up too as I dig into what keeps holding me back. My writing lacked teeth, though. Whatever I tried to write was flat. The story was there, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was afraid to rock the boat.
Even when I fantasized of the prospect of enough success coming my way that I can leave my job to write full time, a pang of regret for leaving where I work now comes with it. It should have been recognizable back then for what it was. As if I had to leave if I found enough writing success.
Momentum Mori didn’t even quite kick the writing up enough. Even though I am afraid of that image of a frail, old me and his lack of accomplishment writing, it isn’t enough to overcome the complacency of being comfortable with everything I am doing in the now.
But I shouldn’t be comfortable. I should still be more frightened of that alternative — of living the rest of my life how it is now. Or should I?
Perhaps I don’t need fear to really drive this behavior forward. Instead of worrying about trying to create some fear to drive me forward, maybe there’s another way I can manage all this? Fear is indeed a great motivator when applied correctly, but it can backfire, too. And though fear helped to propel my writing forward in that crazy productive year in the actual act of writing, it simultaneously held me back from the next step. So fear of one thing wasn’t strong enough to push me to overcome the fear of another.
Offsetting or combating fear with more fear really is a dumb idea. Why would anyone want to add more fear to their life? The moment that the idea entered my thoughts, I realized how silly it really was. Why try to manufacture such an undesirable thing?
In truth, many of us don’t necessarily enjoy what we do for a living. It isn’t our passion. Whether that passion means that we should abandon a job is a question we all must ask. What we do for a living need not be enjoyable, per se. It should fulfill us in a way — or at least facilitate the ability to do what it is we enjoy. Of course, if one downright hates their job, or is stuck in a situation that can be described as (to use an overused word) toxic, then one should seek a way out. Or if they feel they can’t, they might pursue something like trying to be a successful indie writer… this might sound familiar to me.
I was in-and-out of the latter situation and had dealt with it for too long. I was writing in almost a quiet desperation because I found myself stuck. Writing served as more than just a passion; it was an escape — and a potential escape. So it helped to push through the other fears and such that still kept my writing stuck otherwise. When the situation ended and I moved into another job, the fear of being stuck in the other situation disappeared. Go figure. But I still want to be a writer. Even if leaving my job is no longer a legitimate motivating factor.
And to my point further above, we shouldn’t be using fear to motivate us so much. It’s costly. Then there’s another point of Jordan’s that I believe: treating your job as if it was something worth doing. But what does that have to do with writing? Two things, actually. One, I shouldn’t be so quick to want to quit my job (which I am not so much anymore — at least since 2018) meaning that making it into something to quit over would be a waste, unfair to both my employer and me for that matter. Two, I should probably think of treating my writing as a job and, in doing so, treat it like it is worth doing.
It’s almost always worth doing… writing is. Work too, if it isn’t a bad situation, of course. There are always caveats, even with writing. Some things aren’t worth writing. Some paths in the story aren’t worth taking. Some stories aren’t worth writing. Rather than nitpick over caveats or exceptions, it’s better to focus on the need to make writing more worth doing. Maybe that is a way to overcome the malaise that fear and its examination has stuck me in; this malaise that has allowed the fear to speak more loudly at times than the desire to write.
I feel like this is going to be a continual theme throughout my writing life, though. Even though the fear of my being stuck in a job that is such that I want to flee is gone, that doesn’t guarantee it won’t come back. Situations change. And then the fear that accompanies impostor syndrome and that of other traits of being a creative seems to be ubiquitous. Performers who made it “big” sometimes tell of stories where they still vomit before going on stage. Doubt and fear will continually try to be ever present. I’m stuck with them, but I don’t have to listen to them anymore.
Sticking to the process, treating the task like it is a task worth doing, is the truest way to move forward. Instead of looking for some reason that involves fear, discipline is the best path forward. So maybe losing the fear was ultimately a good thing? Maybe it will allow me to find a better way forward.
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