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Review: Uncertainty

Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for BrillianceI read Jonathan Fields’ book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance, on the recommendation of Justine Musk. Read what she had to say about it here. I was drawn to the title because I’m interested in fear. Why are all of us afraid, and some of us, more so? Since we live in an uncertain world, we might as well embrace it.

The book isn’t exactly a manifesto for creatives. Any tome that uses the word, entrepreneur, belongs on an end-cap at Office Max. But, I kept reading because Fields’ voice pulled me in. Before long, I was reaching for a post it note to mark a page or two . . . or seven. Here’s the laundry list including editorial comments:

1. There is often a great divide between creating exactly what you sought to create and creating what you were capable of creating. p. 130.

The book I wrote doesn’t resemble the book I started to write. Thank God for the process because my initial premise sucked in comparison to the actual words on the page. Yeah me!

2. Be true to the process, actions, and rituals that you can commit to. p. 134.

Finally, I don’t have to feel guilty for taking a walk in the middle of the day, or wearing my mom’s old cardigan sweater while I’m writing. Being an obsessive news junky is part of my process. Reading every book on the NY Times bestseller list isn’t. I don’t watch television, but I do collect visual images on Pinterest. I’m a bitch without morning pages, and I like to have the work almost done before I let anyone read it.

3. “Oh, sweety, that painting is so beautiful. You’re so talented” Or, “Great job on that math test. You’ve got a real gift for numbers.” Such comments sound innocuous enough on the surface, but are textbook examples of unintentionally programming your kids to adopt a fixed mind-set, capping their perceived ability to learn beyond what comes easily by attributing success, performance, and mastery to a perceived talent or gift, by implicitly discrediting work as the primary source of growth, mastery, and success. Instead of focusing on talent and ability, . . . say things like, “I’m so proud of how hard you worked on X.” I focus less on the outcome and more on the process, framing tests, trials, or contests as opportunities to see where you’re at and to learn how to use them to inform your work going forward. p.137.

Guilty as charged. My kids are talented, but as a former fine arts teacher, I know that sweat is most valuable gift.

4. Exercise and AT [Attentional Training], are extraordinary creation force multipliers. Together, they are capable of transforming not only what you’re capable of bringing to life, but how you experience the process of creation. p.147.

Fields runs a yoga studio. He carries a Hefty bag of praise for meditation. But, AT can be defined as learning to pay attention. Creative ritual helps. A routine helps. Having a strategic goal helps. Learn about setting strategic goals from writer, Bob Mayer, here at Write It Forward. When I’m stuck, I go for a walk. When I can’t focus, I listen to a sound track I created for my work in progress, or I turn on High Focus by Kelly Howell, beta brain wave therapy. Whatever works, use it!

5. Harvard commencement speech, J.K. Rowling in 2008: I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. . . . The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned. p.183.

If there’s a silver lining to landing on your butt, J.K. Rowling found it. I wanna be her when I grow up.

6. “When you go to zero, all falls away. When you arrive at the bottom, fear of judgment has nothing to grasp on to, because fear is an anticipatory emotion . . . and you’re already there. You’ve cratered, you’ve been judged the whole way down. You no longer have to anticipate how it feels; you’re living that state. How much worse could it really get if you tried to innovate your way out of the abyss and failed again? Why not try?” pp. 183-184. also, “Without fear of judgment, your tolerance for uncertainty skyrockets. . . .”

I’ve been all around the fear of judgment ferris wheel, but until now, I’ve never considered how lucky I am to be judged unworthy by my peers. Why not try? There’s nowhere to go, but up.

7. “In the case of what I’ve identified as going to zero, be sure to explore the three key questions as well: What if I fail, then recover? What if I do nothing? What if I succeed?” p. 190.

Of the three questions, What if I do nothing? is the most pointed. It’s the question I must remember to ask when I feel like quitting. Should I die, sad and miserable, because I didn’t get what I wanted out of life? Or, should I die, fighting for my dreams?

Jonathan Fields’ Uncertainty is a must read. Skim the business guru stuff. I did. The best parts are worth it.

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