The Dauntless Creative, or What I learned about fear from the Divergent trilogy

I didn't know much about the Divergent trilogy when I started reading the first book, I just longed for an engaging read. But I soon discovered it was actually perfect books to read this year, the year I'm facing my creative fears.

The fears they face in these books are not the fears creativity bring. Their fears are the ones associated with survival, but different fears work pretty much the same at it's core. They come from the same part of our brain, from the same instinct of survival.

Creative fears often stem from a fear of showing our unique selves, from going a different direction than our group, of standing out and sharing what others might not like. All of these fears come from our survival instinct to blend into the group, because being different is to be vulnerable. And to be vulnerable is a threat to our survival.

To live a creative life means we need to face those fears.
This is what the Divergent trilogy can teach us about that.

1. Choosing a path different from the one people close to you have chosen is terrifying, and brave. 

In the world Veronica Roth has created, society is divided into five factions, each valuing different virtues. The main character, Tris, transfers from the faction she was born into, to Dauntless, the faction who holds courage as the most important virtue. 

Her choice means she refuses the way of life she's grown up with, the way her family and friends live. Choosing to go in another direction is essentially to say she doesn't want to live the life they live. She wonders if making that choice is selfish, if she's a bad daughter. 

She knows no one in Dauntless, she's only seen their life from a distance. She has no way of knowing what it's really like, other than choosing to go down that path herself. No way of knowing if she really have what it takes.

To me, this is very much what life choices are like when we decide to do something that is different in our own small world. Something none of the people close to us have done, valuing experiences the people we love don't value. 

Choosing to go down the path of creativity often means to break away from another, more common path. If for nothing else than the fact that creativity is so deeply personal, each of our paths look different. 

Deciding to go down an unknown path is terrifying, because we don't know what we'll find there, who it will turn us into. What people will think of us.

But if we don't, we refuse the part of us telling us to explore. The part that knows there's something inside of us longing to come to life. If we don't, we turn our backs on who we really are.

We just gotta do it.

2. We all have our own unique fears.

When Tris transfers to Dauntless, she needs to go through an initiation to become a member. One of the tasks in that initiation is to face her own fears, through a simulation.

Everyone goes through what's called their fear landscape, a series of manifestations of their worst fears. Everyone's landscape is different, some are based on memories, others on our personalities.

Creative fears, just like other fears, come in different shapes and forms. To some, the act of sharing may feel like jumping off a cliff, where others only fear negative feedback. Some of us fear using the word artist because we don't know if we're qualified, while others get anxious by the creative process. 

They look different too. Sometimes fear looks like perfection, sometimes like a creative block, other times like a relentless inner critic. 

I think my creative fear landscape would include people telling me I'm not good enough, not creative enough, that I'll never live up to some standard. It would include having to create something under time pressure that I need to compete with. And it would include sharing my deepest, most personal art, having to stand up for it and only meet disgust.

What would your creative fear landscape show you?

3. Some fears go away or change, and some stay the same forever.

Talking about the fear landscapes, Tris and the second main character, Four, says this:

"So they don't go away?"
"Sometimes they do. And sometimes new fears replace them."

In creating and facing my fears this year, I've found that what I feared in January isn't exactly the same things I fear now. Then, calling myself creative and sharing even a sentence of my own writing felt scary. Now, I've gotten used to that. It doesn't scare me anymore, not the same way it did.

Instead, other fears have replaced them. 

Now, I fear sharing the pieces that are different, that I've put more time and effort into, that pushes my own boundaries. I fear working on those projects, because they'll show me where that boundary is, what I'm capable of and not. I don't fear sharing, but I fear pushing my creations onto other people. 

The Divergent books tell us that many of our fears will probably always be with us, but some will disappear or change it's shape. Clicking publish may after a while feel less scary, but what that act is a symbol for - sharing our inner thoughts and feelings, being a little bit more naked and vulnerable in the world - that may always scare us, just in new ways. 

And that's okay. 

4. Facing your fears will give you a strategy to not let them control you.

The Dauntless doesn't get rid of their fears. What they learn is to think and act in the midst of fear.

When we aren't used to facing fears, our instinct is to react like we're conditioned by our brain - fight or flight. With creativity, that means we generally avoid it at all means possible. 

As the character Four says,

Becoming fearless isn't the point. That's impossible. It's learning how to control your fear and how to be free from it, that's the point.

When we actively seek out our fears, we get to know them better and after a while, we find strategies to face them. That's what they do in their fear landscapes, and that's what we do when we learn to create even though we're afraid.

When we find our own strategies, whether it's to schedule blog posts weeks in advance so we forget that we're about to share something, or it's to take one tiny step after another, we break the control fear have over us. Instead of our automatic response, we find other ways to live, braver and more fulfilling ways.

5. To choose bravery is to choose freedom.

In the second book, Insurgent, Tris thinks:

It reminds me why I chose Dauntless in the first place: not because they are perfect, but because they are alive. Because they are free.

Choosing the brave way doesn't make you perfect, but it gives you a freedom you didn't have before. Fear's job is to hold you back and when you stop listening to that voice, your find yourself with more and bolder choices. 

When we stop letting fear and self-doubt make our creative choices for us, we give our creativity more room to play with, fewer rules and restraints.
We give ourselves more possibilities. 

To be brave is to be free from the shackles fear wants to put us in.

6. Sometimes, you just gotta jump without knowing what's waiting at the end of that jump.

One of the first challenges Tris face when she choose Dauntless is to jump off a roof without knowing what's there to catch her, if anything at all. She has to trust that the jump won't kill her. 

Again, this is a choice she makes without knowing what it will bring. 

In creativity, sometimes we need to take that jump. Whether it's to create something we don't know if it'll work or not, or if it's to share something we have no idea what people will think of, we need to jump. If we don't, we will never know what could have happened if we did.

We got to trust our creative process.
Then we have to hope the world gets it.

And if it doesn't work out, at least we tried.

That's the way of the Dauntless Creative. 
Scared, but freed by strategies for creating bravely.