How to Get Over the Fear of Creating Things
One answer, and 5 tricks to help
It’s easy to forget how terrifying it is to put yourself out there on the Internet for the first time.
A few friends have recently decided to pursue online creation in some form. And they’ve all expressed some version of the same fear:
“I’m worried about what my friends will think.”
“I’m worried it will be bad.”
“Who am I to start talking about this stuff?”
“I don’t want my parents to judge me.”
And then there’s some explicit or implicit follow-up question: “How do you get over it?”
I’ve been doing online stuff like this blog since 2013. And I’ve gotten some 10s of millions of views over that period. But when someone asks me how to overcome the fear of getting started, I’m never quite sure what to say.
I remember having that fear, but I don’t remember when it went away. And the truth is that it never did. I just got used to it. For a year, I never got more than ten or twenty views on a post. Then one day, I got 200. Then I had my first day with over a thousand views. And now that it’s a few million views a month between the videos and blogs, I still feel basically the same.
This whole aspect of “getting used to fears” seems true for almost everything we can’t imagine someone else putting up with. The first time I hired employees and put them on payroll, I was terrified. Terrified that a mistake of mine would lead to them becoming unemployed. And then, a week or two later, I was used to it.
When my daughter was first born, there was this terrible fear at the beginning of dropping her. Then I just kinda got used to it. The fear is still there. It just doesn’t bother me as much anymore.
This is by far the most important thing to realize about that fear of creating: it doesn’t go away. You just get used to it. But that can only happen if you start making things. If you sit around fretting about how scared you are, you’re not getting used to the fear. You’re just making it bigger in your head. You can’t get over the fear until you start doing the thing that you’re scared of doing. And then your clever little brain will say “well, I guess I have to put up with this now,” and start tricking you into not being so scared anymore.
Aside from that advice to just start doing it and you’ll get used to it, are there other tricks that can help? I think there are.
I say that fear never went away because sometimes I get a little reminder of it. Someone I know in real life will mention they read something I wrote and liked it, and my first reaction is always, “oh shit, you read that? Oh god…” There’s still something a little terrifying about knowing someone I know has read something I wrote. When it’s thousands of abstract people I don’t know, it’s much easier to just imagine it’s like some video game with the score going up. When someone you’re sharing coffee with says they got to look into a little piece of your soul, it feels very different.
Perhaps that’s the first trick, then. Don’t show it to your friends. When I started posting videos to Instagram, I created a separate “influencer” account because I didn’t want to bug my IRL friends with my videos. Last week I accidentally posted a video to the wrong account, and I was horribly embarrassed, even though I know that the videos are decent and some of my friends follow the public account.
Certainly, you’ll have those close friends who are rooting for you and will support you, but it might be much easier to just create things in secret from your existing social network for a while. The growth might be slower without those early cheerleaders, but you’ll get in the reps without having an audience of people whose opinions matter to you.
Which leads me to the second trick: pretend the people reading your work or watching it aren’t real. Yes, I’m sorry dear reader, but it’s psychologically easiest for me to pretend you are not a real person. A typical weekly newsletter will be read by 20,000 to 40,000 people. A viral one might get read by 100,000. If I had to imagine the entire population of my hometown, or a semi-full UT Football Stadium, or ten times the size of my graduating university class, reading each of these posts, I would never publish anything. That’s a terrifying number of people to speak to. So it’s easier to pretend they’re not real.
Another aspect I find hamstrings people in the beginning is “what if people are mean.” And the great part about creating things online is that not only can you easily imagine the mean people aren’t real, but you can also strike them out of existence with a couple clicks. So that’s the third trick: you have permission to erase the existence of anyone who even mildly irks you. Block, ban, unsubscribe, mute, hide their comments, and take joy in pruning the weeds out of your digital garden. No one is entitled to make you feel bad about yourself or your work, especially when you’re sticking your neck out by making things.
The fourth trick is perhaps a bit cruel. Still, I find it helpful anyway: remember that anyone who is secretly making fun of you is just a sad jealous lonely loser who hates their job, life, is having no sex, and will die horrendously empty and unfulfilled. Why would you care if they’re making fun of you? If anything, you should pity them.
But lest this all seem too negative, let’s end with one of the truly most helpful but hardest-to-remember tricks: for every one negative person, there are a hundred quietly cheering you on. You will eventually have something go semi-viral and people will be mean to you. And it will be hard to keep this in mind, but if you have something with 1,000 likes and 10 mean comments, that means 100 people liked it for everyone who didn’t. It will still hurt, but if you can focus on all the people who like what you’re doing and are cheering you on, it will be much easier to ignore the haters.
At the end of the day, though, forget the tricks. The truth is just that you get used to it. It becomes normal. The only way out is through, and every day you delay getting started out of fear is another day wasted.
You’ll get over it, I promise. You just have to start.
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