Fear, the Ultimate Foe of Creativity and Success

Does fear hold you back?

Does fear hold you back?

What is the one thing holding you back from finishing that book, opening that business or pursuing some creative idea you’ve been sitting on for far too long? If you said, fear, you’re not alone.

Most people are afraid of failing. So afraid, they never really start.

I lived much of my life in fear. I’ve written about some it before, but not really in the area of creativity or career.

During high school, I was miserable. I was fat and for the first two years, had horrible acne. These are two of the worst things you can have going for you during what is supposed to be one of the most social times of your life. I was made fun of and retreated into a cocoon of my own making – spending my time writing, reading and drawing fantastical worlds I one day planned to share with the world.

Soon, though, my real world came tumbling down.

While I did well enough in school, I couldn’t stand to be in classes where I was treated like an outcast. I started skipping several classes a day, electing to go only to those where I didn’t feel like a freak – namely, newspaper and radio. These were the arenas where I was recognized for my talents and not made fun of for being the fat kid.

One day, I got called into the dean’s office where he told me I had been marked absent a total of 60 days, as skipping any class during a day can count towards an absence if you get caught. He wasn’t sure how I was going to graduate, though it was conceivable I could, if I got my crap together. I was given one chance – straighten up or don’t bother returning. How could I tell him the reason I didn’t go to class was because I was fat? How could he possibly understand? More importantly, why should he care? It wasn’t his problem, it was my hurdle to jump.

By the end of the day, I decided to stick it out. After all, I was doing very well in the classes I loved – newspaper and radio. I could easily envision a career in either.

The last period of the day was radio class. I was informed that my teacher had been in a car accident and we would have a substitute for the remainder of the year, a guy who I didn’t know, but who had a reputation for being a jerk. He came up to me and handed me my report card for the semester, telling me that because my Grade Point Average had dipped so low, I would not be allowed to broadcast on the radio until the last semester – if I managed to raise my GPA.

I’d never heard of this ‘rule’ before and saw no reason I should be penalized for work in other classes. After all, I was exceptional at radio and unfailingly gave it my all. He didn’t care to hear my feelings on the matter, though. He told me, rather snidely, to enjoy my last day in the booth.

I was devastated.

I entered the booth and locked the door. I then proceeded to play the songs I wanted to play, tell jokes and essentially burn my bridges to ever being on the school’s station again. The teacher was angry, I didn’t care. I was going out in a blaze of glory.

I didn’t curse or do anything the FCC could fine me for or that would get the school in any trouble. I had more respect for the station than that. I just wanted to piss this guy off. And I succeeded.

When I left the booth, he told me I wouldn’t ever go on the air again. I smiled and said, “You’re right, because I quit.”

And I left school, just like that.

And I have regretted it ever since.

I got my GED, scored in the top one percent of the state, which made the people who knew me scratch their heads even more. They couldn’t understand why someone who was obviously smart enough to do well in school would choose to leave like I did. Nobody understood the fears which I allowed to hold me back.

And over the years, the fears escalated.

Only it wasn’t my weight so much that held me back, but rather my lack of college experience and the dead end job I wasted the next decade at. While I was able to do anything I set my mind to, I didn’t try because I was afraid of failure. I was afraid I would get in over my head.

It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I finally figured out that not trying is worse than failing.

I realized I could do anything I wanted if I was willing to work at it. I landed a business job I was unqualified for on paper but excelled at once given the opportunity. In 2005, I would repeat the process, landing my dream job as a newspaper reporter and editorial cartoonist for my local paper.

Rather than hiding away feeling sorry for myself, I learned to embrace the things that make me different. I realized that while I am still fat, I’m nowhere near as huge as my high school mindset made me believe I was. I learned to cast away the negative filter through which I saw most things and began to see challenges for what they were, opportunities for growth.

I studied my ass off, learned from the best, and poured countless hours into improving my work. I wrote stories that mattered. Stories that people talked about. Stories that effected change.

When the newspaper laid off all its writers last summer, I was devastated. Again.

I allowed fear to creep back into my life and tell me what I could and couldn’t do. Until I met Sean, my partner here at Collective Inkwell.

Sean and I began working together and gelled perfectly. He convinced me to join him in jumping off the bridge and making a go at working together. He reminded me of the self discipline and strengths I’d discovered a few years ago.

My fears held me back from a commitment at first.

What if we can’t do this?

And then I thought about it. Well, I’m already NOT doing it. So, let’s turn the question around.

What if we CAN do this?

It’s taken some time, we busted our collective tails without anything to show for it for a long time. We slowly built up our profiles, learning from the best, bringing our individual strengths to our projects and I’m thrilled to say that this Collective Inkwell experiment is working better than I would have hoped. We have solid work booked with great clients who appreciate what we bring to the table. We are also working on other creative projects, including our first novel, Available Darkness.

Yes, I still feel fear, it’s natural. However, I no longer let it crush my creative spirit. Instead, I use fear to feed it.

How has fear affected your creativity? Your dreams?

32 responses to Fear, the Ultimate Foe of Creativity and Success

  1. Parth

    Kind of a similar thing happened to me, but I had parents who were able to take me out of the situation before it worsened. When I was 14, I started writing about sex and violence because I thought this was what kids wanted to read and so it would be a great way to fit it. The exact opposite happened. I was getting made fun of constantly, and the school found out.

    So, I was sent to the phychiatrist, who obviously found nothing wrong with me. Its funny what we’ll do just to fit in. From then on, I decided that I was never going to try to impress anyone. And I’m that way since. My parents took me out of the school district.

    We only had to move 5 blocks away from our old home, and the rent was actually cheaper.

    But in terms of fear, I think I have the mentality where I just start something, but I’m afraid of success. For example, I wrote a novel in tenth grade, but never go around to proofreading it and sending it to ap publisher.

    Same thing happened again – towards the end of college I finished a full length feature script, send it out to a production company, which read it, but was rejected. I never proofread it and tried again with another company

    So when I get rejected once, I don’t try again. But that’s all changed. I’ve been blogging for over two eyars, and just recently my blog started turning a profit. I should have it up to the traffic and income levels I wanted soon. But even if it takes me another 2 years, who cares. I’ve found something I’ve loved and I’m not giving up on it.

    – Parth

    BTW – Did you get that weight taken care of? I was a fat kid too, but was able to drop a lot of weight after college. In fact, I run a fitness blog.

    • David Wright

      Parth – Thanks for sharing your story. I would say to always move forward when it comes to writing, as time off leads to rust. Best of luck. As for my weight, no, I’m still fat.

  2. Lori Hoeck

    Love that graphic!

    Someone once said all our choices come either from fear or love. Seems about right to me. Fear — in the form of perfectionism — keeps me from so much, but love of writing, discovery, and teaching somehow keep me going anyway.

  3. Marc

    Fear still holds me back. I don’t think I have overcome it yet. I am in a fascinating rut. Fascinating in the Mr Spock sense of the word.

    There are many things I cannot physically do. And that’s ok. I’m disabled. No one, least of all myself, expects me to be able to do it.

    The trouble is, that attitude bleeds into other areas of my life. It’s fine for me to fail. There are systems in place designed to support me when I fail. Systems which can and do cause more harm than good.

    • David Wright

      Marc – Thanks for weighing in. You’re a hell of a lot braver than I am. If I had disabilities, I’d likely be pretty miserable about it, focused on what I didn’t have, rather than what I did. You have a great attitude and do great work on your blog – I hope that your rut gives way soon. Let us know if we can help in some way.

  4. Vered - Blogger for Hire

    I love your attitude. I love seeing your business blossom. Sometimes I think that trying to make it online is even more scary, because any failure would be very public! But then I remind myself that failing is actually OK, as long as you keep trying. I have to say, I used to be much more scared about failure. 18 months of blogging made me far more brave than I have ever been. I am not as worried about failing and I am not as afraid of conflict, either, after receiving my fair share of nasty comments.

    • David Wright

      Vered – Thank you, I appreciate the nice words. As for bravery, nasty comments will test your mettle quickly. Good for you in overcoming your fears. As for the public failure, I’m very aware of that and was quite honestly, rather afraid to post this post for a number of reasons. Damn fear, though.

  5. Marc

    It never ceases to amaze me. To think there are morally repugnant individuals out there that would leave nasty comments to a blogger like Vered.

    Good for you to sticking with it Vered. And for turning it into something positive.

  6. Tim

    Wonderful post, and isn’t it true that, most of the time, when we face the things we fear they disappear?

  7. Matt SF

    Must have been tough subject to write about considering the subject matter, but you did it very well. Great read!

    • David Wright

      Yeah, I almost didn’t publish it. It was too long and way too personal, but how can I talk about mastering fear if I’m still a slave to it? Thank you.

  8. Daily Links: Fear of the Future Edition | Get Rich Slowly

    […] today, Trent pointed to this fantastic article at Collective Inkwell. David Wright argues that fear is the ultimate foe of creativity and success. Absolutely. It’s when I do the things that scare me that I achieve things that I think are […]

  9. Chris

    Great post! I was feeling sorry for myself about all the things I never tried because of fear of failure. How do you use fear to help?

    • David Wright

      Chris – Thank you. As for how to use fear to help, there are different ways. Mostly, I use it to get myself angry enough to make a change or to take a realistic look at worst case scenarios. Mostly, the anger thing, though. When I am upset with myself, I tend to course correct a whole lot faster. I don’t use the same techniques with my son, though. I use praise and positive reinforcement.

  10. cindy platt

    Fear has always catapulted me to the next rung on the ladder. I try to turn adrenaline into something productive and positive. When I was a music major and I played for a solo spot or scholarship my fear drove me through the music and allowed me to pour my soul of creative energy into the piece of music. 4 out of 5 times I received the accolade or scholarship. I broke my elbow and a tiny bone that connected my thumb and wrist that put me in a cast for 6 months. I lost my scholarship and the fear of what would I do next took me to the education building where I declared my major in elementary education. The travels of a teacher from Asia to Australia gave me lots of opportunities to overcome fear factors especially when trying to get a teaching position with minimal Mandarin. Fear to write the daunting essays for Teacher of the Year for Houston Unified gave me the forum to articulate my thoughts and claim the accolade of teacher of the year. Teaching on a daily basis and finding the creativity to deliver a message for a child to synthesize and apply is my specialty. My roadblock presently is finding a way to repurpose my voice on line. I am inspired by people like you and Vered. I feel this floodgate is opening and your candid thoughts, perseverance and consistency maintains that the human spirit is humbling and real. Thank you for blazing a trail. You are definitely not a cold, timid soul that will let fear get in the way of happiness and progress. This is one of my favorite posts and I love the rad icon. Thank you for writing from the heart.

  11. David Wright

    Cindy – Thank YOU. Your life and accomplishments to date serve as more an inspiration than anything I have done, written or thought up. I am certain that you will prosper in and transcend your online efforts! As for the graphic, I wish I could take credit for it (other than finding it on Flickr), but it seems to be made about 20 or 30 years prior to my birth.

  12. Kaitlin M

    Fear is something that has been a problem with me, like a lot of people.
    I know it sounds horible, but it’s nice to know that it’s not solely my problem along.
    Thanking you sharing your story, I would share all the things that fear has held me back from, though I don’t think there wouldn’t be enough space to list them all.
    Reading this has helped though in moving towards not letting it completely drag me down, so thank you

  13. Tumblemoose


    Fear is a biggie. Ponder this:

    The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear.

    Love is movement towards something and fear is movement away from something.

    I keep this in mind when I’m trying to figure out why I’m not doing what I’m supposed to.


  14. Sean

    Dave, you are the man. The most difficult stretch of your life is already in the rearview. Thank you for swallowing your fear and joining me on the march. I am so, so excited about everything we are doing and I appreciate your partnership.

  15. Mrs. Micah

    Moving to a big city (Washington, DC, but I think any would have done) has really changed how I think about myself and the world. I’m far from fearless, but I’m also much more confident about myself when I see how little I matter in the eyes of most people.

    It’s strange, when you feel like you’re important, you’re more likely to worry about messing up because it’ll be a big bad thing if you do. When you realize that you’re one of millions of people who might not even notice if you do something dumb and will probably forget if they do, it’s very freeing to take risks.

    Living here has had a huge effect on how I feel about my appearance, how I feel about being accepted (I can’t expect millions of people to accept me…and that’s ok, I’m happy with the friends I do have), and that’s transferred into how I approach things in smaller settings where people would notice a big failure.

  16. Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    It’s so refreshing to hear this level of honesty and vulnerability on a blog—and it’s clear you’re sharing it not for your own purposes, but so that others can learn something, seeing themselves and their own challenges in a different light. (I also really like what Cindy said about fear propelling her. We don’t always have to conquer fear; sometimes we can harness it.)

  17. Trina

    Somtimes we hear things many, many, times before they kick in. Somtimes people come in to our lives at the right times. You know that you have inspired me when you previously spoke about your thoughts on fear. Rest assured your message has not been lost. Thanks for having helped us all with your honesty and thoughts about fear.

  18. Bonnie Gray | FaithBarista

    Wow, Dave. I love this post. Just got to it this am. To know that there is life after devastation is very inspiring. As you know, fear has kept me on the sidelines of safety. Collective Inkwell has been a great outlet for me to attempt creativity a bit at a time. With posts like this one.

    I love seeing your story come to blossom here at CI. The wake from your courage to dream and step into creativity is lifting those of us in back of you.

    Go, David!

  19. janice

    “Yeah, I almost didn’t publish it. It was too long and way too personal”

    I LOVE the personal posts, the vulnerable ones that take exactly as long as they need to get themselves born.

    I’ve been enjoying watching you peel away your layers as you and Sean continue to bring out the best in each other and morph into synergistic superstars. Having friends you can laugh with about anything is a great antidote to fear. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your outer ‘protective layers’ start melting away, too, as you write with more and more bravery, kindness and vulnerability and realise that we’ve all seen the real you through your writing and love you.

  20. Estate Taxes

    I loved the article. Fear makes us more human. It let us experience the essence of our existence. Without fear, life will be boring and so predictable.

  21. Yelena

    thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story – sometimes I feel like I’m the only one struggling with my fears.

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