Why fear and hard times have driven my creativity way beyond my wildest dreams
If it wasn’t for my biggest fear and a heap of sh**ty situations I would never have done crazy-good things like moved abroad, travelled as much as I have for the last few years, or dug deep and designed the creative business of my dreams.
Are you friends with fear? I have to admit to having a love-hate relationship with it. Internally, I’m exploring the possibility that fear really is a bit like Malificent (the 2004 interpretation). An evil exterior concealing a heart of gold. I’m also exploring the possibility that fear is one of the best teachers and creativity lighters out there, but it keeps its bounties shrouded in mystery until we have processed our stressful and traumatic situations.
Fear has (and continues to do so) taken me to some dark places. It’s an ongoing journey. When I talk about fear here I mean inner fear and anxiety. I am NOT that person who can face and get over my physical fears (heights, falling, speed). I wish I was! But I have been on quite a journey in my emotional and creative life and learned first-hand how we can process our way through traumatic situations and come out smiling the other side.
My biggest fear is the aggressive breast cancer I had returning
After being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer four years ago and going through a gruelling treatment process my biggest fear is naturally that it will come back.
Writing this now, it is hard to remember the stress and anxiety of being diagnosed but it is definitely deep-rooted and the moment is imprinted in my brain forever. Sitting in the small stuffy room when the consultant came in and instantly I just knew that this was bad news. I saw my life flash before me. A film-like collage of key moments streaming through my brain and wrapping themselves around my mind. How was I going to get through it? My kids were small (4 and 2), I was nursing my mum through an aggressive, ugly and ultimately terminal lymphatic cancer. I had a creative content business with full-time staff and well-known clients that needed my full-time attention. To say I was overwhelmed and petrified is an understatement.
Cancer fears never disappear.
The thing is with cancer that the fear gets worse with time. While I was going through treatment I felt protected to a degree. The drugs, the constant check-ups, the blood tests. Now I am more fearful than ever of it returning. Every ache and pain sends an alarm to my brain and can make me freak out big time.
Oddly it’s when I’m in the happiest situations that the overwhelming fear and anxiety strikes. Like climbing to the top of a mountain, or watching my kids and husband walk in front of me and imagining them going through life without me.
But it’s not just about my fear. The thing I know from experience is that whatever your fear and trauma, I know that it can be all encompassing and unpredictable.
It’s not just about the big life events either. There is a lot of fear about changing, about doing something new, doing what it is your heart is burning to do. Maybe your fear is driven by a bad relationship and you are too frightened to love again. Maybe your heart is aching to do something you love but you don’t know where to start and are fearful of making the leap. All of these can cause traumatic emotional responses and take time to accept.
Fear drove me to make big changes.
It was my fear of the cancer returning that spurred us on to making some big changes. That “lets move somewhere cool AF” moment that happened while I was having a chemotherapy treatment would never have happened without the fear that drives it. That fear of not being around for much longer prodded us into action to move to Barcelona for two years, to do something new and regroup and heal in the bright blue Catalonian sunshine.
Healing is an underestimated part of the creative process.
When we arrived in Barcelona I was in no state to decide what I wanted to do. My brain and body were so washed out from the chemotherapy and radiotherapy and radical surgery. I felt like all my creativity had been drained out of my body.
So what did I do to regain it? I listened to my gut and tried not to sweat what direction my life was going in. I stopped blogging and creating and social media and just kept on a handful of freelance jobs that brought in the income I needed.
Instead I walked and ran along the beach, got as much vitamin D as I could and started taking 1-2-1 yoga classes in the park. I threw myself into learning Spanish, having long lunches and siestas and exploring Catalonia.
I really didn’t stress about what I was going to do, I knew something would reveal itself to me when I was ready for it, and that is exactly what happened.
Everything was too raw to be able to give myself the space to start something new.
What I learned here – and this is so important – is that if you’ve been through a traumatic situation – maybe a bad break up, or you’ve lost someone you love, or a traumatic birth, or someone has let you down, or you’ve been dealing with a horrid boss. It isn’t until you carve out the space and time to go through the process that you can work with our old friend fear and move forward with intention and purpose.
As creatives, we need to be able to honour and represent our emotions. Once healing has happened we can go forth on an even more awesome creative path than before. We just need to believe in ourselves, carve out space where we can and trust the process.
You’ve got to dig deep to find your creative sweet spot.
Two years ago I only knew what I didn’t want to do.
After working with some awesome brands and businesses there were a lot of options open to me but working for businesses just wasn’t making me as happy or excited.
Since I left university almost twenty years ago, I have always worked in the creative and digital worlds. I’ve worked in-house for a global not for profit, as a client partner in a London agency, I founded my own creative content business and I have been freelance.
But I was bored of selling someone else’s vision. I wanted to work with real people in real world situations. I wanted to give something back and do work that felt valuable, honest and authentic – a true representation of who I am.
So I knew I didn’t want to work exclusively with businesses, and I knew I definitely didn’t want a “job”.
I also set boundaries for myself.
It is so important to me to be able to work around our family life, be at the school gates everyday and to have the freedom to travel for 16 weeks of the year that we have school holidays (you can read more about how I juggle travel for at least 16 weeks every year with my family and make it work with our business here).
To test out my creativity, I started a travel blog, based on our adventures in our campervan (I had previously been a blogger alongside my business back in 2010). I found it easy to start being creative again but I knew I had more to offer than stories about our travels.
I was 42 and had been through some big life experiences. I had been orphaned and adopted, almost died of meningitis, lost both my parents, and had had cancer. I couldn’t leave this out somehow and starting weaving it in to my travel stories.
I wrote about being adopted, the grief I experienced losing my mum, how moving abroad had helped me deal with it all on Instagram and on my blog. I felt like I had to be real.
The stories I told were almost falling out of my heart.
What was happening was that just sharing a tiny fraction of my story had sparked my creativity and I knew I was going to be able to bring it more than ever.
Then something small but magical happened.
I started getting DMs and comments from people saying I had really inspired them, made them feel better about the situations they were going through and that me writing honestly about feelings made them feel so much better.
I started to think I was slowly finding my sweet spot. A place where my skills, passions and experience can add value to others. My passions of creating and sharing content and community and my life and creative experience were all converging to help other people.
I got inspired and moved with intention.
I used to walk for hours in Barcelona. Along the beach, around the city, up in the hills and I started listening to some wonderful podcasts on a daily basis.
I was listening to the Hashtag Authentic, Being Boss and Ctrl Alt Delete podcasts but when I listened to Jen Carrington’s Make it Happen podcast I knew I had to work with her. I remember hearing her say, “what we showed up like we’ve arrived?” and I just felt an instant connection.
At that point I started seeing a vision of what my future business could look like. And the Palm Creative Tribe came to me. A bit like when you meet “the one”, this is what all my life, creative work and experience was leading me towards.
I was almost giddy when it hit me. It felt so right and so real that I could see my future purpose so clearly. Thanks to Jen’s guidance I found that when I had dug deep and examined myself and made a life plan, the rest just slotted into place.
The most mind-blowing thing I learned here was that my fear drove all this. I felt like I had important work to do, I had to share and help and guide and contribute to the creative community.
A bit like a great yoga session or a long walk, this is a happy place for me – a safe haven away from the dark place that my fear can take me. A sense of clarity and purpose.
The beautiful thing here is that now I know all of this, I know I can help all of you dig deep and unleash your creativity beyond your wildest dreams.
My vision is to create a tribe of incredible and awesome creatives where we can share our dreams and overcome our fears to create our own happy, sustainable place and purpose.
Does that sound good to you?
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