The Virtue of Fear

a post on Process

Fear can be a designer’s asset, or instrumental in their own creative impotence. As designers, we need not fear fear itself, only be mindful of how it is focused.

31/10/2008 · Plano, TX · I do not consider myself an overly emotional being, so please note that this article’s indulgence in one particular emotion is not to promote all emotions, all the time. In fact, I am particularly focusing on the ways in which we can control these emotions, specifically: fear, so that they need not override our professional behaviors (yes, I am still talking about creative people here).

Fear Itself

Fear is our body’s natural reaction to stress. It is a hold over from our fight-or-flight days, when we might have to urgently summon the energy to outrun a bear, or reign blows upon our next meal. In our cushy little offices of modern days, we generally avoid life-or-death encounters, and thus all that “fear” may seem a bit superfluous.

Nevertheless, it pervades our lives as professionals, especially for those in the creative fields, given the intangible nature of our clients’ fancies, and the perpetual state of preparation for the next presentation of our painstaking efforts. Whether we like to admit it or not, it’s part of the job.

Fear, though, is not a negative word. In fact, the right kind of fear is virtous and cleansing. Anger, anxiety, stubbornness, sarcasm, and rudeness are, admittedly, products of fear, and are disasterous to the state of a creative person, but these are only the outcomes of unfocused, uncontrolled fear… fear itself is purely a motivator in whatever direction you choose to take.

Fear, Virtuous

I am not afraid (ahem) to admit that I always let a bit of apprehension creep in before reviewing a new design with a client. If I have done my job, I have taken a few risks, made a few educated assumptions, and perhaps made one or two leaps of faith in my client’s perceptions of good taste. A designer may, here and there, need to challenge a client’s concept of how this project should turn out. We are, after all, crafting solutions, not turning tricks. Thus, with so many uncontrolled variables, any creative review with a client does come with a measure of fear.

The measure, though, is the indicator of professionalism. Too much fear makes one erratic, of course, and can be dangerous, but too little can also be dangerous. It can reveal a lack of preparation, risk, or thought in the process of the project. In short: where there is a bit fear, I have learned to anticipate success.

Where Fear Dare Not Tread

There is a limit to the amount any professional can allow fear in to his or her work. Fear, when allowed full reign, can paralyze creative processes and create workplace or client frictions. Though there are many permutations of fear run rampant, here are I few I particularly try to avoid:

Fear of Your Clients

Whether they be present, or potential clients, they are paying you (hopefully) for your thoughts and knowledge. Most clients are very appreciative of your insights as a professional in this field. Do not let their expectations overwhelm your thought processes, and always be confident in your own abilities to find solutions, even if you cannot see them yet. If the client is beginning to overwhelm you, though, it’s not time to be afraid… it’s time to reevaluate the scope of the project.

Fear of Criticism

If you are a creative professional and this pertains to you, get over it. Criticism will only make your work stronger and in the end, you can always ignore it.

Fear of the Future

When I was a student, I went to a design conference in Austin with a bunch of supposed “rockstar” designers sitting at an open panel, and every time someone asked about the web, they all squirmed in their seats and answered in generalities (they were all mainly print designers). That was when I knew I wanted to go in to web design.

This is not a complete list, only a few that I see most often. Any fear, left unchecked, can grow to consume an otherwise great creative person. This can lead to anger, jealousy, paranoia, and myriad other emotions that can stifle productivity.

No, Not Prozac

Controlling, and focusing fear as a professional is a skill that is learned through experience. I am much better at it than I used to be, and I strive to improve more in the future. So long as fear merely buttresses passion and intrigue, and is not my sole motivator, I believe it is serving its proper purpose.

To be creative and devoid of emotion is obviously missing the point, but to be only a slave to those whimsical chemical reactions is equally erroneous. Finding the balance in between that allows us the confidence to deliver a consistently effective creative product is what makes us professionals. Fear, in particular, can gnaw holes in creative processes and ultimately paralyze careers when left unrestrained, or can flatline all progress if completely ignored. When harnessed in just the proper fashion, though, fear can push us all past our comfortable routines, and churn our healthy creative obsessions in to bankable successes.

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