Yesterday I was listening to NPR’s Ted Radio Hour (One of my favorites). This episode was about fear. They discussed the fear factor of being a professional astronaut, the way we have evolved with fear hardwired in our makeup, a folk artist’s method for getting over stage fright, and more. What they didn’t speak of is the most common form of fear that almost every single person faces. The fear of pursuing what we truly love. The fear of failing if we try.
I am so susceptible to this. The only things I have done with bravery in my life are the events I was thrown into unplanned and unprepared. As soon as I start to map out what I want, I begin to doubt myself. What I want is complicated. It feels unachievable. I want to live in so many different countries, I want to work as an artist, I want to impact the world in a positive way, I want to be happy more often, I want fulfillment.
Artist. The word carries feelings of inspiration, freedom, and risk. It seems as though Art History in a nutshell, with the exception of Andy Worhol, is a collection of beautiful minds of wonderful and troubled people who struggled throughout life to support themselves. Their million dollar works held no value until years after their deaths. The term Starving Artist is this commonly used, romantic way to describe young adults today who are pursuing the creation of their dreams for a living. It sounds fun, it sounds cheap, and it sounds adventurous. But it also sounds very scary, especially for someone who would want the security of a humble home one day and the ability to raise a couple little ones in our increasingly expensive world.
There is something about ceramics that sings to my soul. The smell of the clay, the way it gently pulls beneath my fingertips, its abilities that magically change at different stages of dryness. When I am creating with my own two hands I am happy. Happy in the purist most simple form. Happy just because with ease, I am present. When I work with clay I feel complete, and I know it is the professional pursuit that fits who I am. I clean up, I leave the studio, and everything slowly changes. As I walk outside and head home I pass people, houses, cars, advertisments, and businesses. The blissful feeling begins to fade, and I begin to question my confidence. I begin to fear. I fear that my work wont be good enough to support me. I fear the world will not care for what I can create when there are so many other options out there to assist in coffee drinking. I fear I wont be able to work enough hours independent of a pushy boss. I fear all the investments that would lie ahead of me if I choose this path in life, and the risks that come with them. I look at instagram feeds of other wonderful ceramic artists, and inspiration blackens into intimidation. Will I ever be as good as they are?
This morning I believe I hit rock bottom. I woke up in a hurry to get tasks finished and arrange what I needed for the market in town, where I have set up a couple times to sell my work in the past. Nothing was coming together. Mind you, this was largely in part because I left everything to the last possible second. I blame my busy week, OK and myself. I suddenly filled with a despairing rage of frustration. I simply could not do it. I could not go. Completely overwhelmed by the fear of not selling anything I opened the boxes holding my work, nicely packed, awaiting transport. I reached in and grabbed a very average tumbler and examined it, criticizing its ugly glaze that did not turn out the way I wanted. I remembered a time back in school when a graduate student told me that some of the best ceramic therapy was to take his failed pieces out to the shooting range. I walked outside to the edge of our balcony, and slammed the piece down onto the drive below. The shatters flew in all different directions with a satisfying ping. It felt so good. I went and got an other piece and did it again. Release. I let the shards sit there as their shame wafted away. I swept the drive. As I cleaned I thought back to those artists from history. I thought of stories my dad told me of his favorite composers who reportedly burned scores of work in manic frenzies. Perhaps they were getting over their fears too.
I have decided I am not going to be afraid anymore. OK, I will probably always be slightly afraid, but I will no longer let it immobilize me. I will take the steps I know I need to take but have been delaying. I am going to start toward what I want out of this life.
Too many people are in my situation. They know what they want, but are not sure how to get there. They feel too afraid to try. Somewhere we have been convinced that job security with benefits and salary is more valuable and desirable than a job that is secure simply because we love doing the work. Isn’t it more frightning to think of what life will be like if we are forever too scared to pursue what we really want?