What Does It Mean To Follow Your Passions? [Part 2: Five Ways To Be Courageous]

Almost a month ago, I posted an article, What Does It Mean To Follow Your Passions? Part 1 (of a three-part series). In it, I used some pretty extreme examples including sex and chocolate cake. (Why does that remind me of so-called “Better-Than-Sex Cake” and how ridiculous a name that is? Sorry, the Mind Monkeys at work again.) Everybody these days is talking about doing what you love and following your passions. (Well, at least, everyone who writes on this blog.) But what does that really mean?

We talked about how Plato believed the human soul is comprised of three parts: reason, spirit or passion, and appetite or desire. Plato believed that in order to follow one’s passions, one needed courage. The funny thing about courage: it’s one of those things you have to work at maintaining every day. It’s not like a college diploma, where once you have it, you have it. Even people who do outrageously courageous things one day can be scared to do the same thing the next day.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”  

-Ambrose Redmoon

Courage is not something any of us are perfect in, nor will we be for the rest of our lives, for each day we are presented again with the choice of whether to be courageous or to be cowardly. The natural inclination of human beings is toward the latter.

For example, I recently wrote a novel in 30 days. Each and every one of those 30 days I tried to find excuses to not work on my novel. It was a daily ritual. I’d find distractions, excuses to put off working on my novel, until i finally got up the courage to set aside those excuses and just do it.

“Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.” (From War of Art by Steven Pressfield.) If you aren’t either a film buff or someone who grew up way back when (a round about way of saying “you’re old”) you might not remember who Henry Fonda was. He was one of the greatest American actors who ever lived, acting in such classics as The Grapes of Wrath. It makes me feel better to realize that even Henry Fonda had to struggle with finding courage.

If the big H.F. had to struggle with finding courage every day of his career even until he was seventy-five, then you can be sure the rest of us will have to, too. Which leads us to our next question:

How do we find the courage to follow our passions on a daily basis?

Five Ways to Be Courageous

1. Stay Stupid

All the people who impacted history the most were the people that stayed “stupid” despite all the pressure from others to be “smart.”

The Wright BrothersThe Wright Brothers? Stupid. They thought men were birds. All the “smart” people of the time knew that we humans couldn’t fly.

Christopher Columbus? Stupid. Trying to sail to India? Everyone knew it couldn’t be done.

“Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.”

– Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

Stay Stupid. The stupid people of this earth are the smart ones.

2. Disrespect the Status Quo

Conformists don’t have courage. It doesn’t take courage to agree with everyone else.

For example, I honestly thought The Dark Knight was a very mediocre movie, especially compared with Batman Begins (a great film about overcoming fear, by the way). But Rotten Tomatoes, and almost every male with a pulse around me thought it was God’s gift to movies. That type of attitude may not make me the most popular guy at male-bonding parties, (but who wants to go to those anyways…?) but it does help me to have the mindset needed to be an artist. I have something different to say, and I’m not afraid to say it. If you’re afraid to share your opinion, chances are you’ll have a hard time creating something new and different. If the Wright Brothers had given into peer pressure, we’d have no human flight.

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

– Bill Cosby

Also check out my article on The Power of Unpopular for more info on disrespecting the status quo.

3. Seek to Be Criticized

In his book Tribes, Seth Godin suggests that we ask ourselves this question: “How can I create something that critics will criticize?”

When you create something that is criticized, you know you’ve accomplished something: you’ve gotten people’s attention.

When we cower in the fear of being criticized, we don’t do anything but crawl into our shell and hide.

Anybody can be a critic, but it takes cajones to actually create stuff and put your work in front of the public eye.

When you muster up your courage to create, tell yourself: “I’d rather be someone who creates and is criticized for it, than one of the people who are only doing the criticizing.”

4. Do Something Scary Every Day

I’ve heard this quote a lot, and I’m not sure where it originates, but I like it: “Do something every day that scares you.”

I used to think, “That’s hard.” Not the scary part, but to keep thinking of things to do every day. Well, now that I decided to follow my passions, I dont have to keep thinking up something new every day. I already have something to do every day that scare me: create.

That’s right, every day when I sit down to write, I’m scared all over again. Why? You’d think after writing every day for so long I’d get over it. While I was writing the first draft of my novel, each day I was forced to take a leap of faith. Just like Indiana Jones in his last crusade, I had to take a step out over the chasm and trust that a bridge would appear to catch me. Each day, I took another step, and each day, I was confirmed that I made the right choice when the bridge came out to catch me.

So do something scary every day: follow your passions. Seek to be good enough to be criticized. Seek to make a difference.

5. Ask Yourself the Courage Questions

Sometimes mustering up the courage to do something wild and creative can come down to asking ourselves a few simple questions:

1. Why Not?

While others are asking “Why?” ask yourself “Why not?”

“The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”

– Ayn Rand

Don’t be a “Why?” person, be a “Why Not?” person.

2. What Do I Have To Lose?

Most of the time the answer to the question is “nothing” or “very little.”

It’s awesome to come from a place of having very little to lose. For example, if instead of being rich and famous, we are (relatively) poor and unknown, then we really have nothing to lose in getting a novel (or film, or song, etc) out in front of people, because nobody has heard of us anyway. The worse thing that can happen, if it is a failure, is that we will continue being obscure. We haven’t lost anything. Now if Stephen King wrote a terrible novel, that could definitely damage his reputation. We, on the other hand, don’t really have a reputation to damage in the first place…so what do we have to lose?

Having one’s back against the wall can be vastly empowering. When we have nothing to lose, we can be truly fearless. And most of the time we really don’t have anything to lose when we create and put our work in front of people. We just have to ask ourselves these questions and remind ourselves of that fact.

Bonus: The B.I.A .(Bureau of Idea Approval)

Seth Godin, also in Tribes, writes about how some of us act as if there is a Bureau of Idea Approval. In other words, there is some kind of global quality control on what people create. This “B.I.A.” determines which ideas are good and which are bad.

If this organization really existed there would be no Harry Potter, no Hunger Games. Those ideas got out into the wilderness because their creators created fearlessly. They ignored their fear which said “What if this sucks?” Alas, it does suck. But they put it out there anyways, and people crave something to consume.

Note: I’m purposefully trying to rack up my unpopularity points in this article. I’ve blasted The Dark Knight, Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games. Is there anybody out there that still likes me? If so, send me an email, because congratulations…you are my one true fan!

This kind of makes it seem like it’s all about marketing. Maybe it is, but I will continue to believe in creating the best that I can, and the most honestly that I can.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

—Cyril Connolly

Ignore the “what if it sucks?” fear because if we kill an idea before it has been allowed to come to full fruition, we may never see the greatness that is in it. Sticking with one idea, and following it through to its conclusion, is like sifting for gold. If you give up immediately, you won’t find the gold.

Conclusion: You Are Smart and Courageous Enough, You Just Need To Do It

What separates the “great ones” from the mediocre crowd is not that they were smarter than anyone else. It’s that they overcame their fear of creating. You don’t have to be a genius to create something of value and change lives. You just have to overcome your fear of doing those things.

What made Thomas Edison a great contributor to society was not superior intellect. It was that he overcame fear. 99% of us never try to do anything. We just accept the life we are given. The other 1% who decide to do something are the creators, the inventors, the artists.

You don’t have to be a genius to make a difference in the world. You are already smart enough. All you have to do is conquer your fear. And you must conquer it every day. For example, if you write one page a day, in a year you’ll have written a 365 page book. So why don’t more people write books? Fear. (Also called Resistance. But Resistance’s essence is fear. It’s the fear that lives within us. The fear of greatness.)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

– Marianne Williamson

If you made it all this way, you owe it to yourself (and yours truly) to leave a comment! (Smiley-face, exclamation point!) So thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts on overcoming your fear and being courageous in following your passions!

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12 comments

  1. […] What Does It Mean To Follow Your Passions? [Part 2: Five Ways To Be Courageous] […]

  2. todayiwatchedamovie · · Reply

    Another great read, as usual. Plus, Batman Begins is definitely better than The Dark Knight. You’re not alone!

    1. Thanks, I’m glad somebody out there agrees! And a curator of movies, no less.

  3. This came at a time when I really needed it. Thanks again Daniel for something so true, poignant and really needed.

    1. Thank you, Carla. It seems the journey we artists share can be quite similar. Glad I was able to help in some small way. Thanks again for your kind words, and best wishes in your writing!

  4. I haven’t watched Dark Knight yet, but I loved Batman Begins. I think I have point one nailed, stay stupid. Seriously though, great advice and it is helpful to remember that even successful people like Henry Fonda had their own demons to conquer. All of us are human and all of us have fears. Don’t let that stop you.

    1. Batman Begins was a modern classic in the superhero mythology, IMO. But my favorite parts were the “non-superhero” scenes: the human story of Bruce Wayne learning to turn his bitterness into a positive force, as well as his search for a father figure. TDK was lacking on the human side and heavy on the explosions and summer blockbuster fare.

      I think this life is all about overcoming our fears and living the life we dream of. And you my friend, are an excellent example of that!

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  5. […] From Daniel Bean Blog, What does it mean to follow your passions? […]

  6. “If this organization really existed there would be no Harry Potter, no Hunger Games. Those ideas got out into the wilderness because their creators created fearlessly. They ignored their fear which said “What if this sucks?” Alas, it does suck.”

    Haha, love that! Great post, man! I have to agree with you. It seems that everywhere I turn there are messages and info about living authentically and following your passions in life. Or maybe it’s just me. As Stephen Covey has said, “We see the world as we are, not as it is.”

    Thanks for great insights as usual. Inspired me today to do more to live fully.

    1. Thanks Ryan!

      I have to agree, I’ve noticed people talking about authenticity a lot more lately too. But I wonder if it is like several years ago when I bought a Scion, and I had never noticed many people driving around Scions, and then all the sudden I noticed them everywhere. Whatever is on our minds at the time sticks out to us.

      But one thing that has bugged me is that it seems like authenticity has become a buzzword. I hate buzz words. Why? Because once a word becomes a buzzword, it loses all meaning. When people say it, we aren’t thinking about the actual meaning of the word, we are thinking about how that’s the cool thing everyone is doing right now. Which makes it the exact opposite of what authenticity really is! It’s frustrating. That’s when you can whip out other words like “real” or “honest” to counteract the buzzword phenomenon and make people actually think about what it means to be authentic.

      But whether it’s a buzzword or not, you exemplify authenticity, so thanks for being an inspiration to me!

      1. I actually saw a cartoon the other day that showed a bunch of people wearing t-shirts that say “non-conformist” or “authentic” or something of that nature and then one dude off on the side with no shirt on at all and the rest of the group is calling him a non-conformist. So maybe the best way today to not conform is to conform? Nah.

      2. LOL. I’ve been laughing to myself about how I’ve grown to conform to some of the things Guillebeau teaches his group of nonconformists. Seems like a paradox, but oh well. I think the main thing is to be free and do what you want to do, regardless of if a lot or a few people are doing it, and not worry about what anybody thinks.

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