some thoughts on fear and art and greatness

I was at the 99U Conference this summer and they had these amazing authors like Gretchen Rubin and inspirational TED speakers like Brené Brown helping us drive our ideas forward.

Then, in the midst of this illustrious line-up, this big dude walks out on stage — biker boots, tattoos up and down his arms — and he just starts screaming. “HEEEY!” and giggling like a little kid.

He says, “I want to talk to you about Escaping Success.”


Turns out this dude is Joshua Davis, the designer who’s done everything from working with deadmau5 to having his work displayed in the Smithsonian. And he says,

“Creativity doesn’t care if you’re successful or not.
But success will fuck with your creativity.”

So he’s constantly working to return to this place of fear because from fear he has his greatest learning and, therefore, does his greatest work.

I believe that fear and art and greatness are all inexplicably tied together. If this is true, then why shouldn’t we all be doing one thing every day — every moment — that scares us?

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about The Resistence as that thing which holds us back. He says the more you feel yourself resisting doing something, the more that means it’s something you need to do. “How many of us,” he asks, “have developed neuroses… simply because we don’t do that which calls to us?”

So my question for you is,

What is calling to you that fear is holding you back from?

Now, just to be clear, when I talk about Art, I’m not just talking painting, sculpture, poetry… It could be. But we all create things for the world to see and feel and experience, be it code or content or companies.

I believe our art is that which we create and put out there for the world. And I believe that uniqueness we bring to it is what makes the world such a wondrous place. But at the same time, that uniqueness is what makes it terrifying.

My friend Mike Troiano says when we overcome fear we practice that muscle and it expands our world. But every time we choose not to do something because we’re afraid of it, we make our world a little smaller.

And so each day we decide. Do we do that which calls to us or that which the world seems to “want” from us? Albert Einstein once said that “if at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” But first, we must have the courage to trust in ourselves.


I believe there’s a bigger world with a lot of magic out there, but we don’t get to experience it by staying in our comfort zone. We don’t get to see that magic, and perhaps, more importantly, we don’t get to create it.


These things that call to us — some of them will be crazy and some of them will fail. But some of them will be exactly the things that make the world a beautiful, magical place. I don’t think there’s anything that compares to that feeling of being part of something so much larger than ourselves because we’re contributing a piece of ourselves back into it.

So I leave you with this one thought, which is

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Thank you.

Do you want to push the edge on what's possible?

Abby Fichtner works with some of the world's top organizations and universities to incite creativity and spur extraordinary results.

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