Do It Scared

Boy jumping off boat into lake

I had a chat with my dentist today about creativity.

He was curious about my book, The Creative Heroine’s Path. Because his dental hygienist was unavailable, he cleaned my teeth, which gave us more time to talk. (Or, in my case, mumble.)

It turns out he is a talented musician, songwriter, and singer. Who knew? But then, so many creatives are hiding in plain sight. When I tell people that I mentor creatives, something comes alive in them, and they tell me their stories.

I mentioned that I’ll be giving an encore book talk at Barnes and Noble next weekend, and he asked how I went about getting scheduled there.

“Did you go in to the store and talk the manager?”

“I just called them up.”

He expressed amazement that I could call them like that, as though I have a huge amount of confidence.

I shook my head. “Do it scared,” I lisped.

“Oh, that’s right,” he said. “If you wait until you have perfect confidence, it will never happen.”


We tell ourselves stories about other people who are doing what scares us. That they are special or anointed or supremely confident and strong. Maybe some of them are, but I doubt it. Most of us are doing it scared, at least at first.

Think of something you do well now, that you have mastered. Was it easy from the start? Were you filled with confidence while you were learning how to do it? Were there times you felt quite vulnerable, even scared?

But despite all that—you did it.

What do you want to create next in your life? Will it stretch you beyond your current limits? How do you need to grow? Who do you need to become?

If it scares you a little, or a lot, do it anyway. To create the life you want, you must stand up to your fears. Over and over.

You can do it. Take imperfect action.

Do it scared. No one will know, but you.

Dealing with Anxiety

Recently, someone asked, “How do you handle your anxiety, when the world seems out of balance, and you don’t feel very strong?”

We all feel this way at times, but it got me thinking about how I try to manage my own anxiety.

Stack of rocks on sand

I make myself stop, and take a few deep breaths. Then I do something that grounds me, like taking a walk, and really noticing the details of what’s around me—the sky, the shape of a tree, the smell of the fresh air. Or painting—focusing on the lines, the color flowing from the brush to the page.

Grounding and getting present is key. When you’re in that space, you can often hear your own inner wisdom more clearly, and your emotions, which are like weather, may shift.

If you’re still feeling unsettled, don’t fight not knowing yet. Accept that it’s just where you are at the moment. Trust that your soul is in a deep place; some process is happening deep within you.

It’s dark and full of pressure and currents, in that deep place. It’s not comfortable, but something is preparing to come into your consciousness—an insight, a new idea, an intuition, a way forward.

Get curious. What does your strong inner core want you to know?

My experience in knowing and working with other soulful, creative people, is that we’re wired in sensitive ways that allow us to bring up from the depths, treasures and insights, which we use in our art and in our lives. If, like me, you struggle with anxiety at times—doesn’t everyone, really—I hope this is useful.

Your True Voice is Calling You

Woman on beach listening to shell

Ever have a day when you just feel off? When you can’t seem to muster much enthusiasm? And you can’t seem to write anything worthwhile?

Me, too.

Sometimes, when I try to write anyway, I push through the inertia, tap into a current, and the words flow.

But other times, nothing works. When that happens, I need to sit with my mood to give it a chance to tell me what I need to know. Moods are messengers, and when I’m feeling seriously blocked, something needs my attention.

I resist the temptation to pretend I’m not feeling lost. I don’t dust my mood with sugar sprinkles.

Don’t get me wrong—I value positive thinking—but not as a diversion to keep me swimming safely on the surface.

Woman underwater diving with snorkel

When life gives you platitudes, dive into the profound.

(Yeah, I just wrote a platitude.)

It’s uncomfortable. I fidget a lot. If I’m not careful, I’ll unconsciously try to drown my discomfort with a chai or a cookie. (Or TV, Facebook, the latest New Yorker.) Or outrun it with activity (clean, sweep, go to the store).

But when I shut down the computer, put away my phone, turn off the TV, put down the magazine, stay put in the chair and simply notice—I’ll find a lot there that I haven’t wanted to feel. Grief. Fear. Confusion. Anger. Doubt.

Mixed in is the overwhelming desire to know everything will be okay, that I won’t fail. And behind it all is the existential whisper, “What if it’s all for nothing?”

I know that everything won’t always “be okay.” And I know sometimes I will fail. And existential angst will grip me many more times in my life.

Rocky floor at bottom of sea

These are the times to be with my vulnerability. Instead of trying to rise back to the surface, I need to feel the pressure, my shallow breaths, the tightness in my back against an unseen future swimming up behind me.

Where I’m feeling most vulnerable is a passageway to honesty. I know at some point, I’ll notice something bright and intriguing, and follow it to the surface. If a subtle current brushes against my skin; if a thought, an intuition, a feeling brings me buoyancy, I’ll listen.

But until then, I sit in the deep. This is where the real words come from, if you stay curious and open. Before you can describe the light, you have to brave the darkness. This is the difficult and exciting part of being alive, and finding your true voice.

Sunlight sparkling on water

Listen to what you have to say, especially when it’s just a whisper.

When you push up from the bottom, you might find that your fear and uncertainty brought poignancy and meaning to your words, floating beside you, up to the sun-dappled surface.

Where Are You Now?

You have dreams and goals. You want to open a little gift shop near the beach. Or you want to travel around the world. Or write a novel, or retire early, or lose weight. So how do you get from here to there? It may seem obvious, but you need to start with being clear about where you are now.

Signpost pointing in multiple directions

After all, how do you know how to get to Timbuktu, or even to the new restaurant downtown, if you haven’t first oriented yourself?

It’s the same for other goals, too. But if it’s that simple, why can it be so difficult? Why do we put it off, or make half-hearted attempts at change only to fall back into a stuck place? Why don’t we want to take stock of where we are to help ourselves move forward effectively?

There are many reasons we come up with, and some of them are valid. But the anxiety underneath is often the fear of facing real grief over our lost opportunities and personal failures.

It’s as if we have an inner ogre that tallies up every single mistake we’ve ever made, and taunts us as we move toward our authentic lives.

Stone gargoyle sculpture

Scary stone gargoyle looking way too pleased with himself

If you get on the scale to gauge how much weight you want to lose, the inner ogre taunts you about being heavier than you were the last time you dieted. So you avoid it.

When you start to write a novel, your inner critic bombards you with “what’s wrong” with your writing. (And, “who cares what you have to say, anyway?”) So you end up revising the first chapter until it looks nothing like what you originally intended, and you lose the mojo you had for writing it in the first place. Another “failed” novel goes in the file drawer.

Anyone who’s struggled to fulfill a creative dream—and all dreams are in some way creative—or set personal goals that are never quite met, knows what it’s like to hear those voices.

But here’s the thing: your fear and grief are not going away, even if you avoid them. And staying stuck will only add to the psychic weight of regret.

The mistakes you’ve made, the failures you’ve experienced, and the losses that grip your heart whenever you think of them, have a real impact on your life and others, to be sure. But they’re not who you are.

You are a creative spirit who can interact with your environment, make grounded choices, and live your life in alignment with your deepest values.

You can navigate your life from the core of who you are—where your wisdom resides. And it’s always there. You just have to remember to listen to it, despite the voice of the ogre.

Hands holding a heart

Wherever you are in your journey, remember to be compassionate with yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat a dear friend.

When you take stock of where you are now compared to an (as yet) unfulfilled dream or goal, what do you realize about the path you need to take to reach it?

Changing Your Perspective

There are many ways to describe this experience of life we’re having. But whether the experience feels rich and full—or hollow—depends on our perspectives. And our perspectives depend not just on what we say we believe, but on where we focus our awareness.

Opening your awareness of the world around you deepens your experience, and allows you to see things from a new perspective.

When I was in early grade school, something happened one day that I couldn’t let go of. I can’t remember now what it was—probably someone said something that hurt my feelings or I had been embarrassed in some way.

When I came home, I went out back and sat on the center of the metal teeter-totter to think about it. I knew that it was taking up too much of my attention, but I kept going over it in my head. So I imagined looking down on myself from above. I “saw” myself on the seat of the teeter-totter in the middle of the back yard. From that perspective, I looked so much smaller, and the world seemed so much bigger. What I was worried about was tiny when compared to the vastness of the world; I let it go.

That experience helped me learn that I could manage my own anxiety. By shifting my awareness, I could change my perspective and how I experienced events. I was, and am, deeply sensitive. Learning how to discern what really mattered to me and what was trivial allowed me to stay true to myself in many ways.

I believe that we are—and everything is—connected. We can’t always detect these connections directly, but when we are open and aware, we find meaning in them. And when we sense, or feel, or intuit, some meaning in an experience, or in multiple random experiences, it deepens our experience of life.

If you pay attention to your inner voice and your life experiences, you can see meaningful connections in outwardly unrelated events.

One of my favorite experiences of synchronicity happened in Paris. I went to the Louvre early one day in October. On my way to see the Mona Lisa, I walked down a great hall filled with paintings. Although I was trying to hurry to see the Mona Lisa before the Louvre filled with people, my gaze was drawn to Domenico Ghirlandaio’s 1490 Portrait of an Old Man and a Boy, and I stopped.

Portrait of an Old Man and a Boy by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Portrait of an Old Man
and a Boy
by Domenico Ghirlandaio

I didn’t understand why, but I had the strong feeling that I needed to pay attention to it. I looked at the painting for a while. The old man in the painting had a condition known as rhinophyma, causing his nose to appear large, bulbous, and ruddy. His image, and the kindness in his eyes, stood out to me.

After I left the Louvre, I walked to the Gibert Jeune bookstore. When I left the store, I found a 2 Euro coin on the street. I picked it up and put it in my pocket.

I continued down Place Saint-Michel and passed an old man standing by an iron fence playing La Vie en Rose on the accordion. He seemed like a figure from the past. Passersby had tossed coins into a bowl beside his beat-up instrument case. Like the old man in Ghirlandaio’s painting, he had rhinophyma. For a moment, I felt like I was looking at the same man in the painting. It gave me the sensation that we are eternal, and our souls repeat lives like patterns over and over again.

But more profoundly, I realized why I had found the 2 Euro coin: I felt that it was meant for the old musician, and I, as part of the flow, was meant to bring it to him, the way a wave tosses a shell on the beach. It felt both profound and natural. And it connected a series of random events—looking at a painting, finding a coin, and seeing a street musician, in a way that felt meaningful to me.

So I turned around, went back to the old man, and put the coin in the bowl. He smiled and said “Merci, mademoiselle,” and kept playing. I walked away knowing I had experienced something special. The deep connection of these outwardly unrelated events was simply kindness: the kindness that spoke to me from the old man’s eyes in the painting, and the kindness of dropping the 2 Euro coin in the musician’s bowl.

Our experiences are full of meaning; they are made of meaning. We just have to open our awareness to see it.

When you open your awareness, what do you see?

How does your perspective change?