Saturday, February 2, 2013

Karen Thompson Walker: What Fear Can Teach Us

Fear is imagination.  Your mind comes up with all these different scenarios of what could happen in a situation, and all the negative outcomes are your fears.  I hadn't thought of it like that.  Walker points out that some of the most imaginative people in the history of art and literature had the craziest fears.  That does serve to give you hope when you feel like you're drowning in the possibilities of all that could go wrong...

Fear is a story.  It's just a story that you're telling yourself.  It is possible to rewrite the story.  Walker didn't go into this in her talk, but it's something that struck me.  When I find myself shying away from reaching toward a goal because all I can focus on are all the possibilities of failure, there's no harm in just ignoring those stories and making up new ones where I succeed.  Some would call it positive visualization.  In this case, it's just rewriting the story, maybe turning fear into hope, because hope, really, is just the same thing- a story of a positive outcome.

She makes the point that highly successful people don't ignore or hide from their fears, they study them and come up with plans of action.  Contingency plans.  This is called productive paranoia.

So say I want to put all of this work into writing, say, a screenplay, but I'm stopping myself because of a fear that no one will like it, that I will fail at ever getting it made.  I can rewrite that story and imagine scenarios where no one likes it, so I take the criticism, go back to the lab and make it better. I can imagine a scenario where people do like it.  I might even dare to imagine a scenario where it becomes considered the greatest story ever told.  I have a hard time even writing that, to be honest, but hell, if I find myself picturing death, doom and destruction, that frees me up to picture the greatest glory of all time, right?  Why should I allow myself to go toward the negative extreme but only the positive middle?

Say I have a fear that is more realistic.  Say I'm taking my daughter into the city for the first time as a walking (and wandering) toddler.  My mind taps into my mother's propensity toward extreme paranoia and all I can picture are images of her getting hurt, getting kidnapped, getting lost.  I study this fear- it's a normal fear for a mother to have.  It's possible I've been influenced by the stories my own mother told me from as early as I can remember of what to do if, while at Disneyland, someone sticks a gun into my back and tells me to go with him or he'll shoot (answer: say "I haven't seen your face, shoot me if you want to, but I'm going to walk away now," ignoring the fact that this imaginary man probably would have had a firm, manly grasp on my 6 year old arm, of course, because it was made clear to me that being shot would have been much better than whatever he would have done to me once he had me in his car).  Engaging in my own, less extreme productive paranoia I decide to bring a stroller and only let her walk around when we are in a small, contained space, or when she's holding my hand.

We tend to be swayed by the most vivid, tragic fears, but we need to temper that passion with logic.  When I was pregnant with my first daughter I was scared of losing the pregnancy.  I kept that fear at bay with basic statistics.  Odds are, we'll be fine.  Turns out we were on the wrong side of the odds.  We lost her at 7 months along.  When I was pregnant with my second daughter, the fear turned into terror. Logic didn't weigh as much as experience, and there were times when I would go into full on panic mode over the thought of losing another baby.  When I would feel that happening I'd give the nurses over at the hospital a call, tell them I was coming in and get myself hooked up to the doppler so I could hear her heartbeat.  For like an hour.  I repeated over and over again that, in my case (luckily), I had every shot of having a successful second pregnancy.  I refused to let the fear overtake me, partly out of a fear that the fear itself would cause a problem (you can see how this would spiral into insanity in a matter of minutes, right?)  I relied heavily on facts and evidence during that second pregnancy.  We kept a crazy close eye, I got ultrasounds weekly.  Every time, she was doing great.  Granted, that wasn't due to my keeping on top of my fear, that was pure luck, but relying on the logic of the evidence at hand was what got me through.

The point Walker is making here is that in reality the worst threat is probably not the scariest.  I may be more afraid of flying than I am of heart disease, but I am much more greatly at risk of the latter.  Using the example above, if I write a screenplay and try to get it made, it could be rejected.  Over and over again.  If I have a screenplay in my mind and heart that I really want to write but I never do because I'm scared of it getting rejected, the never having taken the shot could (and I believe would) do more damage to my psyche than actually finishing it and having it be rejected.  Part of this is just because of who I am- for me, as I mentioned in a previous post, finishing it would be a success in itself.  Simply having the courage to show it to people, to send it out into the world, that would be a success.  Not doing it at all, that's the real failure because I let the story write my life, instead of letting my life write the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment