When Fear & Creativity Are in the Same Car

Therpist Toolbox

Back in December, I think around Christmas, my friend showed me a book she had gotten on finger and arm knitting. I had wanted to make a chunky scarf for myself and I was immediately enthralled by the idea of knitting it with my arms (your arms are the needles – how crazy is that?!). We went to Joann Fabrics and just got some cheap, but soft, chunky yarn and 1 hour later, I had a scarf! Now I’m not that fast of a knitter, but arm knitting makes everything go about 30xs faster. I posted a picture on Facebook, so proud of my chunky, very warm scarf I now had, asking if any women would be interested in purchasing such an item. The feedback I got was overwhelming! “I would definitely buy one!” and “I love it! How can I order?” With my abundant free time, my sister and I took a few photos and opened a “shop” on Facebook. I stocked up on yarn and created a google form for orders. We put out the word to all who had enthusiastically requested one, invited hundreds of friends to join and soon we had a following of over 200 friends. Then we waited. And waited. One order! Two orders! Then…nothing. In some ways I was relieved as, even though most scarves only took 30-60 minutes, I didn’t know if I could take on this project. I was a little sad the scarves didn’t take off more, but I also felt somewhat liberated. I just leapt into this – something I very rarely do. I’m the “read tons of reviews, run a focus group, meet with 10 ten people and ask for input, don’t want to fail even though I know the value in it” type of person. But here I was, just putting myself out there for anything to happen – success or failure, both of which terrified me. And one of them would inevitably have to happen and it felt like it would be public and potentially embarrassing.

One month later, in January, I sat down at a Starbucks, ready to get back to working on my actual job – my private practice. I had taken a hiatus from working on my business for the last 5 months as a I taught my first college course (which was totally all-consuming and sent me into a tearful breakdown every few weeks). I sat down and thought “I need to do something, I need a new project, and I’m going to think of it today.” And, by some stroke of luck, that actually happened. How rarely that actually happens for me! By searching through my files of materials, I came up with the idea of creating a “Cliffs Notes” version of helpful tools and tips for my readers. But then, I thought, I’m no expert on every issue that presents to therapy…but I DO have an amazing community of therapists that, when combined, probably could be collective experts. And thus, The Counselor Chronicles were born. But I was terrified – equally excited and terrified. What if no one wants to do this? What if it’s a stupid idea? What if I am not well-connected enough? What if people DO do it, but then I fail them because none of my readers or viewers are interested? On and on the list went. I could have called it the “you’re an imposter, and everyone’s going to know it” story. It would have been a long, very boring story.

But I also felt it was an idea that at the very least, deserved some attention and coaxing. It could turn into something great, it could be helpful and meaningful to others. It could actually be FUN. And it was. And it has been! And it’s been a lot of work. And whether it helped build my business or not, that was not necessarily the point (even though as a business owner, I’m aware most things probably should be about that). But then something bigger happened. In March, I posted a video to a therapist Facebook group I belong to. It was meant to be a video I would share as a part of The Counselor Chronicles, something for the general public. But then…a comment came through. A therapist asking for more details about the video, more information about using the tool I discussed, but really how to use it with clients. And all of a sudden, something hit me. And it was a moment of sheer terror and excitement. And this week I started reading (or rather listening to, on my long commute these days) Elizabeth Gilbert’s bookBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” and until I heard this segment below, I couldn’t define what that moment, and every moment since, has been like.

“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means keep doing your job if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still, your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote, you’re not allowed to touch the road maps, you’re not allowed to suggest detours, you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you’re absolutely forbidden to drive.”

The next day I attended a training on private practice building. And up came a therapist I knew through social media, but we had never formally met. She kindly complimented me on The Counselor Chronicles and then, like she was reading my mind, repeated back to me the idea that had struck me last night. I couldn’t believe it. It was my sign, that even with Fear in my vehicle, I HAD to pursue this idea. It’s like what Elizabeth Gilbert describes in Big Magic, an idea is like an energy that is looking for a home, looking for someone who will take it in and commit to it, even with NO GUARANTEE OF SUCCESS. And I knew, looking back, my idea about the scarves was not meant for me. I committed to the idea for a few months, but felt relief when I knew I didn’t have to commit to it any longer.

That night, I went to the mountains with some friends and told them about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, we grabbed my friend’s daughter’s crayons and drawing paper and drew up our “business plan” (at least the kind of business plan that a 5-year old might draw). For days, this idea just nagged at me – at night when I wanted to be sleeping, in yoga when I wanted to be breathing, and it’s consumed me ever since. My friend, who is now my business partner, agreed we HAD to pursue this idea. And we did.

We are calling it “The Therapist Toolbox,” a community and resource for therapists. We will have a home to share brief videos of clinical tools and interventions and connect with one another. We have run focus groups, we have met with attorneys, we have hired a web developer. It is actually happening. So Fear, whether you like it or not, Creativity is riding shotgun. I know you’re definitely still in the car. And sometimes he (or she?) tries to push us out of the drivers seat or suggest detours. But I am lucky enough that there are two of us and that one of us can usually spot when Fear has taken us on a detour. Fear also likes to say things like “This isn’t going to work…you’re going to invest months and probably years and thousands of dollars into this, and it’s going to fall completely flat…it’s already been done or someone else could to it better…just abandon the idea now, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.” And I hear it, it talks ALL THE TIME, but we know, we can’t allow it to drive. Creativity and the pursuit of creation, even if it “fails,” even if it’s “been done before,” is more important, more meaningful than playing it safe, it’s about living a creative and fulfilling life.

Here’s to the roadtrip, Marybeth, to the journey we’ve embarked on, with the hopes that our little idea baby grows into something magical and magnificent. And you know what – if all else fails, I got a shit ton of yarn leftover.

 



8 comments

  1. Beautiful. Much success and creativity to you on your journey. This was very inspiring to me as I drive in my car and deal with conversations with my fear (he’s called Ned). Thank you Ariel.

  2. Yay! Way to take the wheel and watch your idea baby grow. Best of luck ladies! And great reminder to acknowledge your fear, but never let it rule you.

    • Thanks Emma! It’s helpful to put a name to it so I know that when I think “this is too hard, we should just forget it,” we know fear took the wheel 😉

  3. Love this post, counselor chronicles, therapist toolbox….all of it! You are extraordinarily brave and creative and I so appreciate you sharing the shadow side of this journey. I’m trying to decide what to name my fear now….I’m thinking Oliver or Walter…what do you think?

    • Thank you so much Kirsten! You are so sweet and I so appreciate your support and feedback! Haha I love your fear names – such a great way to spot him/her when he/she arrives! Oliver and Walter are both fantastic names – maybe choose one that feels like a trickster 😉 Trying to trick you into doubting yourself and hampering your creativity!

  4. That was inspirational! I remember when you couldn’t stop thinking about your business plan and how consuming it was and I’m glad you and MB are running with it! I can’t wait to see how the Therapist Toolbox continues to develop.

    • Thanks Afor! You are probably one of the few who got to hear about the whole messy journey from the start :) Thanks for your support and listening ears – as therapists we don’t always grant ourselves the opportunity to pour it all out to someone else :)


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