Tag: Fear

First Anniversary and Some Reflections on 2020

Happy Birthday, an anniversary watercolor

Happy Birthday! Today is my birthday, and the blog celebrates its first anniversary. A few reflections on this first year of creative freedom may be in order.

2020 was not what I expected, and it’s not what you think. Yes, Covid-19 wreaked havoc with our lives and certainly with mine too. But it’s more than that.


I had resigned from my corporate job at Microsoft to do one thing: create. Finally, I would focus on my art and do all the things I was dreaming of when stuck in endless conference calls (I lived quarantine life before Covid-19 imposed it on the rest of the world).

It sounded simple, and I can see now that how deceptive this simplicity was. Hindsight makes things easy to see for what they are. This simple one word, create, encapsulated so many things that I was lost. By trying to do too much, I did nothing in the end. It’s not an excuse, just a late epiphany. Here’s a passage from one of my blog posts in late 2020.

My To-Do list had over 200 items on it (properly categorized, of course). The length was not, in fact, the issue, but the prioritization. What would be the best use of my time? Write every morning, then work on photo projects in the afternoon and read in the evening? What about the blog? I loved blogging and wanted to make room for it. And social media? And I don’t mean watching cat videos on YouTube (even though this may happen more often than I’d admit), but my Facebook photo page and Instagram (posting well-curated photos, of course). 

Where would I then fit drawing/painting/making music/going to art galleries/reading New York Review of Books/going to yoga/making tasty-yet-healthy smoothies/creating a new garden/gardening/listening to thought-provoking and inspirational podcasts/watching interesting and motivational TED talks/learning more about astrophysics, or 19th-century explorations, or psychology, or fractals – to say nothing about the mundane things like cooking (healthy, mostly vegetarian and locally sourced), or nurturing relationships, or just having plain, old fun?


Well, Covid-19 did take care of the art galleries or yoga (although the devil’s advocate could argue that you could manage both online), but the rest? The paradox of choice. So many things to do, so little time … no wonder I was anguished.

Fear played a role, too. Of course. I was afraid to finish anything because that would expose the big fraud that I was to the world, and I realize now that I was just hiding behind that huge to-do-list.

Follow your dreams watercolor

The way I choose to look at it is that 2020 was my learning curve—a year of discovery. I had to be honest with myself and face my fears. Revisit my values, review my goals, and decide what mattered and where my focus should be. Less social media and news, more arts and culture.

Post less, create more.

My 2021 mantra is, “I don’t have time for that.” No time for fear, no time for distractions. Ars longa, vita brevis.


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The Unexpected Desolation of Getting What You Always Wanted

A close up of a Japanese anemone in black and white.
Japanese Anemone. One of the photos that didn’t make it to the photo gallery.

Do you lay awake at night, tossing and turning in bed, thinking with dread about another day at work? Feeling trapped in your cubicle, stuck in a Groundhog-Day, and knowing in your heart that you should be doing something else? I know I did.

I’ve always wanted to write, to paint, to make collages, to make art with my hands, and with my head, and with my heart. When I was ten, I had three library cards and read voraciously. I knew I would be a writer someday. There were no questions about that, no doubts.

I was also taking ballet lessons (not my best inclination as it turned out, but I did try it, didn’t I?). Attending art workshops for kids after school. Making collages with clippings from old magazines, painting, drawing, playing the guitar and writing songs, forgetting time, and forgetting the gray everyday life in communist Romania.

I continued to immerse myself in art in all forms throughout high school and university. 

But something happened.

Reality happened. Or so I thought. 

The Romanian revolution in December 1989 opened the doors to democracy after decades of communism. New opportunities and new challenges. 

When I graduated, my fresh Master of Arts didn’t get me very long in the job market, and I didn’t see myself in the role of the penniless, tormented artist. I focused on getting a job in a multinational company that offered the best career opportunities at the time. I started at Procter & Gamble and learned a lot at one of the best business schools. I continued at Microsoft for over 20 years and learned more and more.

I Should Be Doing Something Else

One of my (few) early photos that I was pleased with.

But despite my “successful career,” I wasn’t happy. I had this horrible feeling that life was getting me by, and all I had to show for it were SAP implementations and business process design. Was that really everything there was to it?

I started on a personal development journey, and the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that I should be getting back to what I loved, really loved. 

Art.

“So why didn’t you”? Fair enough. I was not happy, and I’d discovered what would make me happy. Simple, right?

Yes. And no. Because there’s a big gap between “thinking” and “doing” (duh!) I knew what I should be doing, but I didn’t. For years.

I was scared of what people would think of me when “throwing away my career” to do something so “flimsy.” Scared of the potential financial losses and the change in status. The uncertainty of the future. 

During one of those endless nights, I finally realized that all those obstacles were in me, not in the outside world. My mind created all the hurdles I saw. And that I could change.

And so, after some reflection time, I resigned and changed gears. Almost one year later, I do what I love, writing every day, reading every day, doing photo projects, going back to that art world I had cast aside years ago. I’m happy as one can be. Or am I?

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it – Oscar Wilde

Getting What I Wanted

In the beginning, I thought that quiet-but-growing-stronger apprehensive voice in my head was the “I just resigned & moved country”-jitters. These past months, it’s been a turbulent period, with a lot of bureaucracy and changes related to my resignation and the move. Say nothing about Covid-19.

When we’ve finally crossed the finish line, i.e., moved to our new house in Sweden, job and worries left in Switzerland, I was too exhausted even to celebrate. Slowly, boxes were unpacked (all 250 of them – don’t judge! I have many, many books); rooms decorated; Christmas cards written.

Several weeks later, with the house in order and more sleep under my belt, I decided it was time to get started with my new awesome artist life. 

I had finally reached my lifelong goal.

Now I would finally do what I fantasized about for such a long time. Now I would focus on writing, reading, taking photos, doing photo projects, and a million other things on my list. Drawing? Check. Painting? Check. Making collages? Check. The list went on and on and on …

I’ve got what I wanted. Now what?

I had dreamed about this for such a long time that getting what I wanted paradoxically paralyzed me. I didn’t feel any different. I certainly didn’t feel ecstatic. Or creative. Especially not creative. I felt more like … empty? Given the major changes in my life, maybe it’s not that surprising, I reasoned. I may need some time to unwind. To adjust. Find my zone.

However, after several months, I had to acknowledge that something else was at play. I was struggling to find routines for my new life. At Microsoft, I had honed them to perfection. I was very well organized, had a to-do list, and had my priorities, and I would work through my to-do list based on my priorities. Perfection is the enemy of done, as Adam Savages puts it in “Every Tool’s a Hammer,” so “good enough” was my mantra. I never missed a deadline or let any boll drop. I was the Queen of “Getting Things Done.” 

But now … my To-Do list had over 200 items on it (properly categorized, of course). The length was not, in fact, the issue, but the prioritization. What would be the best use of my time? Write every morning, then work on photo projects in the afternoon and read in the evening? What about the blog? I loved blogging and wanted to make room for it. And social media? And I don’t mean watching cat videos on YouTube (even though this may happen more often than I’d admit), but my Facebook photo page and Instagram (posting well-curated photos, of course). 

Where would I then fit drawing/painting/making music/going to art galleries/reading New York Review of Books/going to yoga/making tasty-yet-healthy smoothies/creating a new garden/gardening/listening to thought-provoking and inspirational podcasts/watching interesting and motivational TED talks/learning more about astrophysics, or 19th-century explorations, or psychology, or fractals – to say nothing about the mundane things like cooking (healthy, mostly vegetarian and locally sourced), or nurturing relationships, or just having plain, old fun? 

Because – and this is typical of me – I had no relaxation in my schedule. None. My days were packed to the brim with “things to do” in an attempt to do it all. How could I not pack them full? I was finally FREE to be an artist, goddamn it!

That was the first problem.

In the end, I had to admit I was too ambitious. I wanted to do too much, too fast, and do it well. So, I slowed down, went for long walks along the shore (one of the perks of living on an island), and thought about it.

However, there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that routines (or lack thereof) were, really, not the issue at hand. Sure, I had to re-orient myself and create new routines, but I was the uncrowned Queen of “Getting Things Done,” wasn’t I? This was more like a challenge to which I was to – successfully – apply my skills, not a crisis.

The routine stuff masked something else, I thought. Now I was getting somewhere. But what? More walks, more quiet time. And, gradually, the growing insight that I was simply scared. 

Fear of success. That was the second problem. The only problem.

Of course. I could see it clearly now. No pretense, no “I’m too busy.” I had all I needed to do what I was supposed to do, and I was afraid that the result would be … lame. Worse than bad, like bad writing or uninspired photos; just ordinary; banal; trivial. You name it. 

This was my time, and I got performance anxiety, all the while the clock was ticking. I only had three (three!) photos in my photo gallery because I wanted to showcase only my super-duper best photos on my website, and very few photos met with my approval. Nothing I produced was good enough for me.

Did I mention that I got a couple of texts published, sold a few photos, and grew my reach on social media during this time? Obviously, other people had a different opinion.

But while everyone congratulated me, I felt evaluated, judged. I felt weighed, measured, and found wanting.

This was the turning point.

Now that I had a clear problem statement, I could do something about it. 

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. – Frank Herbert, Dune

I WILL FACE MY FEAR.

Photo taken with my cell phone. Conquer your fear instead of buying expensive gear.

OK, so maybe my artwork isn’t ready for the Met, or my book wouldn’t even get published. But few artists produced masterpieces from day one. Self-doubt and rejection are part of the process. Ask any creative person. Successful people have their moments of self-doubt or fear too, but they are able to overcome that resistance and push on—every single day. 

So, I decided there and then that I would do better. I may still experience fear or self-doubt but will not let them stop me anymore. If I’m not my own supporter, how can I expect other people to be?

Besides, doing the work, doing what I love is the reward, not the external success. I had to remind myself that I was at my happiest when fully immersed in my work; time flies, and the world is far away. 

Success is getting and achieving what you want. Happiness is wanting and being content with what you get. – Bernard Meltzer

I’m thankful that I can do what I love every day. I have worked hard to be able to do so I won’t let negativism take that away from me. The days are long, but the years are short. – Gretchen Rubin We all have a limited amount of time, and I’d rather spend it doing what I love than wasting it on beating myself up for not being good enough.

What about you?


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The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

One thing that seems to be spreading faster than the coronavirus is fear. I’ve stopped checking social media and the internet in general to avoid conspiration theories, self-appointed pandemic experts, and doomsday prophets. I sometimes browse both for a few minutes (who am I kidding?) for a couple of hours, and it scares me (pun intended)—every time. Fear is now tangible. Palpable. Everywhere.

There are a lot of questions and few answers.

How long will this virus keep the whole world in its grasp? Will there be a vaccine? Will my family or I get sick? What happens with the economy? My job? Will life go back to the normal, ever?

Fear is normal. It’s a complex survival mechanism that serves us well. Living in a constant state of fear is not. Scared people are dangerous people. You never know what they’ll do, how they’re going to react when things get worse or when the reptile brain would simply take over and overwrite common sense and decency.

Others may become completely paralyzed, like deer caught in the headlights, incapable of action.

F. D. Roosevelt knew this. Here’s what he said in 1933, in the midst of another global crisis.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, from the speech at his first presidential inauguration on March 4, 1933.

Another Roosevelt, Theodore, laconically advises us what to do: 

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Yes, fear is normal in the middle of a pandemic with so many unknowns. But we should not give in to fear. As I’m writing this, the sun is shining over Stockholm in a cobalt blue sky, and the birds twitter, drunk with spring and sunshine. This, too, shall pass.

I found the poem below in Tim Ferriss’ newsletter from Friday. A poem speaking of fear and despair, but also hope and resilience. Take a break, take a deep breath, take the time to read a poem, and pause this whirling world for a moment.

Nature is therapy. Pause and smell the flowers. Photo © Mihaela Limberea

Lockdown

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing. 

– Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM*
March 13th, 2020

The Order of Friars Minor, also called the Franciscans, the Franciscan Order, or the Seraphic Order, has a postnominal abbreviation OFM. 

Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 


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