I got dumped a while ago.
It was kind of a weird situation, to be honest. The girl I had been seeing had become distant and detached over a span of a couple of weeks, and when she texted me to hang out and get drinks, I knew instantly that something was up, and I suspected I was getting dumped. I always instigated our dates, so the sudden shift combined with the detached attitude clued me in.
A mutual friend confirmed an hour later that I was, indeed, getting dumped.
I immediately sent text messages to some friends to ask how I should handle it. Should I pre-empt the breakup and spare her the task of dumping me? Should I sidestep the entire thing and cancel on her? Make it hard on her? Easy?
I was frantic in this new situation; I’ve been dumped before. Many times. I’ve even seen it coming. But never like this. I’ve been unsurprised about a breakup, but never have I gone on a date knowing that the end result was inevitable.
Then I got a text message from her letting me know that she’d be late. I don’t know what it was about that text message that clicked the idea in my head, but I pulled out the stack of index cards and started scratching out notes about an idea I’ve been trying to crystallize for six months: the idea of Frictional Fear.
Fear is awesome; it’s the human body’s natural response to new, uncomfortable stimuli. Fear is the body’s way of telling you that it is growing. Additionally, it’s a great motivator; so many of the things we do on a daily basis — and virtually every thing we use to do them — are born out of fear on some level. At a basic level, there’s the fear of losing our jobs. That’s a very real, very important, fear-based motivator that helps us get things done.
There are also deeper fears that help us get things done; fear of not measuring up to our image of ourselves, fear of letting down the people that depend on us, fear of stagnating in our jobs or personal lives. These kinds of fears are great for catalyzing our work. Embracing them and continuing to move forward is one of the bravest things we can do in our lives.
I have an index card that I edit and re-write every 6-10 weeks that outlines 10 big ideas that I want my life to be about; number 7 is “Live Terrified, Not Paralyzed.” I want my life to be about living in constant fear from the standpoint of keeping myself in uncomfortable situations, forcing my body and mind to grow in response.
Unfortunately, too much of anything can be paralyzing; too much love can feel smothering, too many choices leads to incorrect action (or potentially worse, no action at all), and fear is no different. This feeling of fear-based paralysis in your work or your life is something I’ve taken to calling Frictional Fear; if the idea behind Get Frictionless is to remove the friction that inhibits your best creative work, Frictional Fear is that fear-based friction that cuts to the very core of why you aren’t doing your best work. For everything that fear is good for, Frictional Fear is bad; it demotivates and un-catalyzes, and when action is taken, Frictional Fear leads to safe creative work that doesn’t take chances or push personal boundaries.
Frictional Fear is instant death for nerds. It is fear taking control of your brain and killing the heart of your work.
So how do you continue walking that line between embracing fear and unwittingly allowing it to embrace you?
First, we have to admit that we are often motivated, on some level, by fear. I’ve taken to writing down the things I’m afraid of any time I realize I’m experiencing fear, especially where work is concerned, and file that index card away for review down the road. This accomplishes three important things:
1) it allows me to express my fears in a tangible way;
2) it allows me to identify recurring themes and sources in my fears;
3) it allows me to recognize progress in overcoming my fear. Admit that you are motivated by fear and recognize those fears as they become evident.
Second, you have to continue to create things, take chances, and open yourself up to failure. The fear of failure is one of the leading sources of Frictional Fear; how many times have you declined to do something in your life because you might not be good at it? For me, it’s an embarrassingly big number, but it’s a number I am slowly shrinking by the day. Opening yourself up for failure will lead to some amount of failure, certainly; more importantly, it will lead to quickly developing skills, rapidly expanded boundaries, and more satisfying successes, the benefits of which all outweigh the mishits you will encounter.
Third, continue to iterate. That third function of writing down my fears is the most important; reviewing the things I’ve been afraid of gives me the gift of perspective, and lets me take smarter risks with my work down the road. Get feedback, especially where your fear is concerned, and discover whether or not your fear was founded in reality.
Fourth, develop a habit of being uncomfortable outside of your work life. Learn a new language, take up a new hobby, read a book about a subject you don’t know anything about, ask somebody out who you feel is way out of your league; build up your fear muscles away from work, and then flex them in your creative work.
Fifth, and this is most important, continue to experiment with your fears and how you deal with them. Some of this stuff won’t work for you, and that’s okay. Some stuff that will work for you, I might find completely unworkable. Observe, reflect, experiment, and conquer your Frictional Fear.
Thanks for reading.
I appreciate you.