Using fear as a compass

In inspiration, motivation, stories, upside by Jay ClouseLeave a Comment

4 min read

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of how I accidentally produced a feature-length documentary this summer.

This past week, that documentary aired to a sold out audience at the Film Festival of Columbus, following press from two of the largest business publications in town and a share from the Mayor himself. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

And it was also easily the scariest.

The moment we learned that we were in consideration for a film festival, I was a tense. When we were accepted, I began to get scared. When we shared the trailer and people began texting me about the film, I became terrified.

There were several days in the three week lead up to the premiere that I was full on sick-to-my-stomach with fear. Legitimately,  there were several days when I felt absolute dread.

Throughout the day of the premiere, my girlfriend had to constantly remind me to breathe, relax, and enjoy myself.

And during the screening itself, I’ve never had a more cold, clammy hand.

But we pushed through it, and I think it’s important to talk about that. Not because I want to gloat and say, “Look what I was able to do!” but because there were so many moment when I thought, “I can’t do this” and still did.

For a couple of years now, I’ve realized that I’ve been a little too “middling.” Said another way, I don’t take enough clear stances on subjects.

I first wrote about making it a priority to be more polarizing as a 2018 resolution and later that year emphasized how important it is to make your own assertions.

Why does that matter? Because if you’re going to make anything worth sharing, it needs to be saying something. People resonate with things they believe in — especially the things they are afraid to say themselves. But no one is compelled to share something that everyone already agrees with.

A small thought that has stuck with me for years is something Tim Ferriss said about his own writing. He said that he was more interested in a small group of people loving something he wrote than a large percentage simply agreeing with it.

If it’s been said before, it’s less scary to say it. But if it’s been said before, it may not be worth saying again.

And so as I felt this fear, I realized I needed to lean into it. Seth Godin articulates this well in this 90 second clip about fighting with the lizard brain vs. using it as a compass.

When you try to reason with the lizard brain…you cannot win.

What you can do is dance with the lizard brain.

What you can do is realize that the lizard brain is a compass. And that when it freaks out, it is telling you you are onto something…you are about to do something that is brave, and bold, and powerful…and you should listen to it by doing the opposite of what it wants you to do.

This quote rang in my brain through the whole process of being afraid.

It’s a compass.

I thought about this classic Will Smith video talking about the experience of skydiving and how once you are doing the thing you are afraid of, you find the most bliss.

I thought about this similar Kyle Cease quote about being afraid because you can perfectly calculate what you may lose by making a choice, but not what you may gain.

Those ideas got me through the fear. I was headstrong enough to talk myself into stepping forward and working through the physical sensations of dread.

…and in the end, I am happy to report that I am so thankful that I did.

You can see it in my face from the photos of the premiere, and I can tell you now — it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

The fear you feel is a compass pointing you in the direction you truly want to follow.

But you have to push yourself to the other side of it.


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