Fear is the creative’s worst enemy, which is why it comes up in a lot of our discussions here at Design.org. We’ve talked about insecurity and fear, reframing your fears, childhood fears, and how fear only exists in the mind—and that’s only the beginning. But today, I want to talk about fear from a slightly different angle. Specifically, I want to talk about the power of being fearless and unattached.
What does it mean to be fearless and unattached?
Fearlessness is something that most people are familiar with (or at least, they’re familiar with the concept). Being fearless doesn’t mean having no fear at all. Rather, it means not allowing your fears to get the best of you. When you’re fearless, your fears don’t hold you back. You act, despite being afraid. You push through the fear, motivated by something you believe is more important than the fear.
But what about being unattached? What does that mean, and how is it related to being fearless?
When I talk about being “unattached” in this context, I’m not talking about not feeling or caring. Instead, I’m talking about being able to separate yourself from one particular desired outcome. I’m talking about learning to accept what is, rather than what you think should be.
Because the truth is, if you are attached to a certain outcome, you’re making yourself more vulnerable to fear. That attachment makes it less likely for you to take a risk or explore new ideas.
How attachment holds you back
Let’s say, for example, that you are looking for your soulmate. You’ve always been attracted to people with brown hair and brown eyes, and you’re sure that your soulmate will fit that description.
If you’re attached to this idea, you’re going to turn down every blonde that comes your way, no matter how compatible the two of you are. You won’t want to “waste” your time on someone that doesn’t meet the specific criteria you’ve set, because that could cause you to miss out on finding “the one.” Ironically, of course, it could be that very attachment to that “ideal” that keeps you from finding the person you’re meant to be with.
This type of attachment holds people back more than you might think, and creatives especially. They don’t want to write a book if it isn’t going to be a bestseller, or show the design to the boss if she isn’t going to love it. They don’t want to try something new if they aren’t going to be naturally good at it.
When you’re attached to a result, there’s also a fear that you won’t get it. And when you’re attached and afraid, you’re less likely to even try.
Why is it powerful to be fearless and unattached?
So why, then, is there power in being fearless and unattached? There are a few big reasons.
Being fearless and unattached fosters optimism.
When you’re fearless and unattached, it’s easier for you to be optimistic. Rather than see one singular path to success and happiness, you see many. You recognize that even if things don’t turn out exactly the way you wanted them to, you can still find meaning, and even joy, in a different result.
Part of our Inner Dragon manifesto is that we believe in stubborn optimism. When you’re stubbornly optimistic, you insist on looking for the potential good in every situation. Being fearless and unattached allows you to do that.
Being fearless and unattached leads to action.
Because you aren’t attached to a single outcome or result, you’re able to move forward fearlessly. Fear tends to stifle action. When you’re afraid, you don’t want to take action. You’re worried that you might make a mistake, or that things might not turn out the way you want them to.
But when you’re fearless and unattached, you don’t overthink, second guess, or doubt yourself. You’re able to move forward with more confidence, knowing that even if you run into hurdles or make mistakes, you’ll be able to handle them and get to an end result that you can be happy with.
Being fearless and unattached creates willingness to learn lessons.
What is life, if not one big lesson? The more we learn—about caring for ourselves and others, about finding peace, about expanding our creativity—the happier we’ll be.
Of course, if you’re going to learn a lesson, you first have to be willing to learn the lesson. Many people are closed off to learning—possibly because they’re afraid of what they might find and the subsequent changes they have to make, or because they’re attached to a certain way of thinking or living.
Either way, that type of fear and attachment will hold you back from learning what life needs to teach you.
Being fearless and unattached frees you from perfectionism.
Perfectionism is harmful. It lowers your self confidence, leads to dangerous “all or nothing” thinking, and again, can keep you from taking important action. (It’s also correlated with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, hoarding, headaches, fatigue, and even suicide.)
Perfectionism is tied to a specific desired outcome: namely, perfection. When you won’t settle for anything less than perfection, you’re afraid to move forward, unwilling to even take the risk that you might mess up.
When you’re fearless and unattached, however, you free yourself from perfectionism. You allow yourself to make mistakes, trusting that you’ll get back on your feet and end up on the path you’re supposed to be on. You’ll let go of the need to think, feel, and act a certain way, and you’ll learn to embrace what is.
How can you be more fearless and unattached?
Clearly, there is power in being fearless and unattached. But how do you become those things? How can you let go of the things you’re attached to—and the fear that attachment brings—so that you can be more proactive, fearless, and free?
Set goals you can control.
It’s very easy to get attached to a specific outcome. While it isn’t wrong to set a specific goal, getting attached to that goal can create serious problems, particularly if the goal is something you have no control over.
Let’s say you’re writing a book. What parts of that process do you have control over? You control what the book is about, how long it takes you to write it, how much you listen to your editor/publisher, and so on. What you don’t have control over is how it’s received. There is no formula you can follow that will guarantee your book ends up on a bestseller list.
In this example, “finish a book” would be a better goal than “write a national bestseller,” because the result is under your control. You can finish the book; you can’t guarantee it will be a bestseller.
Recognize what you can control, and what you can’t. Don’t allow yourself to become attached to something outside your control.
Along those same lines is this: learn to embrace failure.
No one naturally enjoys failure. We’re taught from a young age that failing is bad. But the truth is that some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have come from things that most people would categorize as “failures.” And I’ve met a lot of people who feel the same way.
We have to start seeing failure as an opportunity to learn, rather than a disaster. We have to recognize that failure isn’t the end; it’s just another step. If we can learn to see failure for what it really is, we can detach ourselves from the harmful, paralyzing stigma surrounding failure, and start using it as a tool to help us progress.
Don’t make it about you.
Part of the reason we get so attached to ideas or desired outcomes is that we make it personal. We start believing that the outcome says something about us. If you succeed, you’re lovable, capable, smart—a winner. If you don’t, not only have you failed, but you’re also a failure; you can’t do anything right, you’ll never achieve what you want to achieve, you’re a loser, etc.
When you make it about you, you’re putting too much skin in the game. You’re allowing yourself to become even more attached to that outcome. Your fear is going to grow as your goal is now tied not only to your success, but to your identify and personal worth.
What you do is not who you are. No matter what you do or don’t accomplish, you are worthy and capable of feeling happiness. If you can learn to believe this, you can start to live a more fearless, unattached life.
Take (imperfect) action.
Part of the power of being fearless and unattached lies in the fact that it frees you to take action. But this connection can work both ways. The more you take action—especially imperfect action—the more you learn that you don’t have to be afraid.
If you’re struggling to move forward on a project or decision, stop overanalyzing and make a choice. Move forward. Take action. Prove to yourself that you won’t allow yourself to be held back by fear. The more you do this, the more fearless you’ll become, and the less attached you’ll be to what you thought you wanted. Instead, you’ll build your confidence in your ability to take courageous steps and face daunting challenges.
The power of being fearless and unattached isn’t something that many of us deliberately access. But it should be. With this power, we can stop holding ourselves back with irrational fears and unrealistic expectations. We can learn to accept what is and embrace what can be. And we can tap into more creativity and happiness as we move forward with optimism, a willingness to learn, and beautiful imperfection.
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