Day 9: Fear and Challenge, Part 1

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.

Helen Keller

I feel it’s a good time to talk about this as it’s been a surprisingly difficult first week of the challenge, and it’s largely due to fear. I say part one, not because I have multiple posts planned, but because I expect this won’t be my last word on something this huge.

If you are staring down clear and present danger, fear makes sense. Most of the time the fears we grapple with are not clear and present danger. We feel fear for all sorts of reasons, and usually it isn’t because somebody has physically cornered us.


Sometimes we’re just watching it.

Most of the time the threat is something that is built of layers and layers, over years, until it’s a glowing, fearful pearl. Something that started out small. A little piece of grit that couldn’t be washed away, and in attending to it, merely grew the problem.

The fear I’m specifically looking at is fear of failure. Atychiphobia is fear of failure when taken to an extreme, i.e. when we allow that fear to stop us doing the things that can move us forward to achieve our goals. More about that here.

This topic is a tricky one, because no two people have the same parameters of fear tolerance, or failure. What I deem to be failure usually sounds ludicrous in retrospect. It doesn’t really matter as much as the end result.

The two most common triggers:

  • Frequent criticism, humiliation, undermining in childhood
  • Experience of trauma

How it manifests:

A reluctance to try new things or get involved in challenging projects.

  • Self-sabotage – for example, procrastination, excessive anxiety , or a failure to follow through with goals.
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence – commonly using negative statements such as “I’ll never be good enough to get that promotion,” or “I’m not smart enough to get on that team.”
  • Perfectionism – A willingness to try only those things that you know you’ll finish perfectly and successfully.

End result: small output. While that output may have all kinds of lofty theory and narrative behind it, it’s still something small.

“But the [insert painting/piece/sculpture/etc here] was small! This artist only did x and look at them!”

Fine, yes, but whether that’s due to a fear of failure or something else, I generally don’t know. Second, while that’s fine for other creators, I don’t want that. I already have a lot of fear at going into a lot of things I do. Certain things, like classical music in groups, I am callused to. Solo classical performance gives me so much adrenaline my hands shake too much to even hold a pen. The most nerve-wracking performance was at my  grandfather’s funeral, where I had had one day to learn Massanet’s Meditation from Thais. Afterwards, I was ripping up individual sugar packets to make smaller and smaller origami cranes to have somewhere to send the energy. It got weird.

I can’t point to many things in life and call them a colossal failure, yet. What I deem to be failure is not taking the initiative. In that sense, I never took enough of a risk to gain a greater reward. Even though the reality of that failure would not have been egregious. I have a support network, if I can get over myself enough to use it. I can’t control what people think about my choices or work regardless, and either way they’ll have opinions.

Last year I made a private resolution while watching an Art Battle. I decided I wanted to get rejected as much as possible. It was a start. I’ll talk about that more in the future.

I planned a challenge for myself this year that is different from last year in a few ways. Last year the parameters were simple: play violin for 15 minutes each day. That was not something I had done for a long time, and getting back into it was revealing in multiple ways –  not least in terms of my own standards. 15 minutes a day doesn’t seem like a vast commitment, on surface.

Fast-forward one year and I play better now. I’m not at the level I used to be at, but I know more and I am less neurotic about things related to playing. I can say that I’m a competent player, at least. Picking up a violin doesn’t fill me with apprehension because I’m not ashamed of the lack of work I’ve put in.


Well, so far, so obvious.

Doing 100 days more violin would certainly improve my standard more, and would be unquestionably beneficial. However, there’s another area of my work that is seriously below standard: production. That includes structure, arrangement, recording and mixing.

I work on Ableton 9. I had a lot of help for the first release, and I slapped together a release for last year, but only when an imminent departure lit a fire under me. I sent a mishmash off for mastering in The Cage, and embarrassingly, it was 28 individual tracks and about 5 minutes extra drum loops I didn’t have the know-how to move around. The original vocal recording was at the wrong level and had a crazy buzz before Martin worked magic on it. I couldn’t properly quantize the violin tracks.

My lack of knowledge of sound engineering, levels, envelope, instruments, recording technique, mixing and generally messing around with tracks is sloppy and to purpose. I have little visible structure in my work. These are all elements that can be improved.

The main fear is that I won’t be able to hold to this, because I haven’t been able to adequately set parameters. What counts for 100 days of music production?

It’s a mix of theory and practice. Learning the tools and putting them to work. I worry that I won’t be able to use my laptop or use Ableton if I have to travel, etc., but on the other hand, I made it work last time.

So far this week, I have started basic arrangements, loops, sessions, some filtering and effects, built a small drum rack, made a pop filter, recorded drum effects live. I’ve watched a few tutorials and felt less terrible about it. It’s a small thing that becomes less scary with exposure. Even though there are crying jags and times you take a nap or a walk or make the call of making food, even though it might set you behind, but you’ll have more resources, just opening it and doing SOMETHING means you have something more the next day. It’s all just progress.

I once read that progress is like rowing upstream. If you stop, you won’t stay still. You’ll regress.

Go listen to this, then go do the thing.

You’ll be dead longer than you’re alive.


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