The Other Side Of Fear

It might not be a big surprise to you that I was a massive teacher’s pet when I was a kid.

… and also when I was a teenager and also when I was a university student. And maybe for a while as a grown-up.

For my whole young life, I lived for knowing the right answer.

I couldn’t get enough of the approval — from my teachers, my parents, from kids who were cooler than me (although in hindsight, maybe the kids weren’t that impressed).

Even now, I get a massive dopamine hit whenever someone says something nice about my work.

And while it’s certainly a plus that people think I’m good at what I do…

It’s also a problem, because it makes me terrified of getting things wrong.

Even now, I have to work pretty hard to avoid a meltdown when I do anything that’s not My Very Best Work.

Today I’ve been working through a questionnaire about my new book that Jacqueline, my writing coach, sent over.

HOOO MAMA was there a lot to answer. Nothing like dozens of questions about a new project to make you realise how far you still have to go.

In years gone by, those questions — and the rising sense of anxiety that I didn’t know how to answer them all — would have put me down for days.

My internal voice would have ratcheted up an octave or two and started squealing, pelting me with increasingly panicky objections.

You don’t know how to write this kind of book! You have no business here! Who do you think you are? You’re not good enough for this!

This voice, I think, has a little hidey-hole in just about every writer’s brain.

In fact, just about everyone’s brain.

It’s a loudmouth, and an extremely annoying one. It goes off yelling whenever you have an idea or feel inspired or start to feel like you might actually have something good to say.

And so today I would like to share with you some advice I was given by a quite spectacular woman named Serena Savage.

I interviewed Serena years ago for a book of letters from female entrepreneurs to their younger selves.

She had travelled the world, achieved incredible professional success, and all the while, struggled with the anxiety and self-doubt I was experiencing at the time.

She talked about learning to cope with failure, the art of finding compassion for yourself, the power of forgiveness.

And then she said the words that wedged themselves across the shouty loudmouth’s hidey-hole and have stayed there ever since, quieting the fear and noise enough for me to just get on and work:

“Every good thing is on the other side of fear.”

Even though we were talking about her life, I felt like she was telling me my story, laying out my future.

And that’s what all the best writing does, right? It puts words to feelings we didn’t know we had, and didn’t know we needed to express.

It’s powerful, because it makes us realise we’re not alone on this tiny rock in the vastness of space. The right words, at the right time, can be utterly transformative.

I know that, because another key feature of my extremely nerdy childhood was that reading so extensively shaped my expectation that there was a story for every situation.

Every time I had a problem, there was a book to tell me how to fix it.

Every time my imagination ran away, a book told me it was possible.

Every time I needed a friend, or an idea, or advice, a book was there, the words written for the express purpose of helping me.

The trust I placed in books buffered me against everything that was scary and unfamiliar, and this strategy has never failed me.

That’s what I want this book to do.

I want it to buffer people who are navigating scary, unfamiliar stuff from feeling alone.

I want it to wrap them up snug and safe and show them that there’s a story where they belong, and that if they want to, they can write themselves into that story — even if they’ve never written a word in their life.

I want it to be the right words, at the right time, to transform their ability to hear their own voice and to find and address what’s true for them.

That’s a tall order. It’s scary and unfamiliar. I don’t know all the answers, or if I’ll get that big fat hit of approval.

But I know, I know, that on the other side of this fear, are some very good things.