Make or Break? Overcoming the Fear of Creating Great Work

You’ve put everything you have into starting your new business, and you hit the wall: Do you have what it takes to make this a success? Is your brilliant idea, your incredible work, really all that brilliant, or are you just kidding yourself? Is anyone out there truly interested, or are you just going to make a fool of yourself and fall on your face?

The fear, doubt and anxiety that arise in the act of creating anything that matters, from a business venture to a great work of art, are formidable foes that have blocked many from realizing their vision.

But those same emotions, when understood, reframed and redirected, can actually super-charge the entire creative process. That’s the thesis of Jonathan Field’s new book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance (Portfolio/Penguin, 2011).

Turning Emotional Resistance into Fuel for Creativity
Weaving together a fascinating mix of interviews with individuals who have taken huge creative risks with their careers, current brain research, social psychology experiments, trends in business innovation and media, and personal insights, Fields explains why we resist the risks inherent in making something truly original, as well as how to lean into that emotional resistance to create our best and most challenging work. He writes:

“We are in this game to bring to life art, business, ideas, products, services, companies, and experiences that are signals, not noise—objects and endeavors that in some way add to the experience of business, culture, humanity, and life. That requires us to live with uncertainty and its trusted sidekicks: risk of loss and exposure to judgment. These qualities are signposts, at least in the early stages of any endeavor, that what you’re doing is worth the effort. That it matters to you and, one hopes, to others.”

Techniques for Reframing Fear of Risk and Judgment
Fields offers a variety of research-based techniques to manage and reframe this fear of risk and judgment, including developing a set of “certainty anchor” rituals for the creative process and finding a community of like-minded, supportive individuals—“a judgment-leveling creation hive” modeled after intensive entrepreneurial immersion programs like TechStars and Y Combinator—to foster great work.

He advocates for utilizing the power of social media to test creative concepts in their early stages and throughout the development process, using constructive feedback from your social media “tribe” of loyal followers to adapt and revise your work to better meet the needs you are trying to serve.

The Key of “Attentional Training”
Fields also devotes a thoughtful chapter to the process of “attentional training”—practicing focused awareness or mindfulness—through a variety of approaches, as a powerful tool for the creative process, managing anxiety and stress, and achieving balance between intensive creative pursuits and making time for significant others who enable your work.

Uncertainty is an excellent read and valuable resource for anyone who seriously wrestles with the creative process. And Fields’ recent post on Copyblogger that explains how he harnessed social media to market Uncertainty provides a great lesson in best practices for the brave new world of book promotion.

You can read more about and from Fields on his blog,


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