This week I had the opportunity to practice an ability that seems especially uncomfortable and is rarely talked about when it comes to moving through the unknown: The ability to fully surrender to my underlying doubts and fears in a healthy and freeing way. – Oh, and “moving through the unknown” is something we do all the time but we become more aware of it when we voluntarily or involuntarily try something new in life or business or in our creative process.
(If you are here for watching me draw the animated gifs on my iPad, you can jump to the end of the post and the video here.)
A normal day on the surface
At the beginning of the week, on Monday, I experienced one of those days where the fear connected to the unknown crept up on me and slowly built up throughout the day until I had the pleasure of facing it. First, I did not notice that it was going to be one of those fragile days. I went about my day as I had set out in my new routine of playing, being, making and sharing. So, in the morning I filmed a video of me writing and drawing about the creative process – footage that I wanted to edit and share throughout the week. Around mid-day, I picked up our daughter from day care, cooked lunch, built a magic wand with her, had a Zoom call and then another.
Doubt and Fear under the surface
On the surface, it looked like I was just going about my day but as the day progressed, an underlying stream of doubt and even hopelessness that had silently been present all day was more and more building up. A large part of me was busy managing these feelings, trying to suppress them, to discuss them, to find conclusions so they would be silenced. But all these efforts of mine of course left my doubts and fears unfazed and instead they grew stronger and stronger: What am I doing here? Who needs this? Who is interested in my playing and being? Who do I serve with this?
This is of no use to anyone.
I am of no use.
Let me back up a little and be really compassionate with myself. – It is no surprise to me that these feelings of self-doubt and shame are bubbling under the surface. Why? Well, because I am doing something that is unknown and huge and scary to me. After having lost all my client projects in the COVID-19 pandemic, I have decided to dedicate my working time to playing, being, making and sharing. I want to follow my inklings on creating things. I want to then dare to share my process and whatever comes out of it. While I have always been pottering and playing in the background and semi-openly for instance by participating in Inktober or The 100 Day Project, I have never committed to make this a fixed part of my days and share my self, my process and my outcomes online. I am showing myself and I do not know where this will lead. So, as much as this is me following a deep desire to fully be me, I am also scared and freaked out in this unknown land.
Let me just acknowledge this with great kindness towards myself.
Back to Monday. When the evening arrived, these feelings were dominating me and I finally surrendered. I stopped fighting them and instead became compassionate with myself and allowed these feelings to fully be present in me. Whenever doubt and fear build up in my system, there comes this moment where I stop suppressing them and rather let them be. It is the moment when I dare to feel the unknown and ALL aspects that are connected to it. Yesterday it meant that I tuned into my body and noticed:
- Yes, I am scared about sharing my drawings, play sessions, writing and videos.
- Yes I have doubts.
- Yes, I have no idea where all this is leading.
- Yes, I could be making a fool of myself.
And going deeper, I found that
- I am ashamed about having lost all my client work during the pandemic.
- I am ashamed about coming across as clueless, scattered, useless.
- I am scared of sharing what is most me and by that destroying it somehow.
How to surrender in a self-compassionate way
The type of surrender I am talking about here is a body experience. It is me pausing, turning my attention to the doubt and fear I have and not fighting or judging them but just letting them be. When this week I dared to feel the bodily representation of the thoughts and feelings I described above, it was neither a dramatic event, like an explosion of tears and screaming, nor was it like falling into a bottomless pit of anguish and hopelessness. I simply experienced waves of sadness going through my body, my belly tingled, maybe my body was shaking a bit. All in all this was quiet and unspectacular, yet it felt like a relief. My body was so happy about me letting it feel all aspects of the unknown: the sense of excitement AND the fear that is connected to it. So in a paradoxical way, it is very easy to surrender… because it means to do nothing or better, to stop doing all the extra stuff.
(By the way, I have learned this wisdom of surrendering to all feelings that are present and feeling them in the body from my wonderful somatic coach Rivka Halbershtadt.)
Why surrender is good
This type of surrender is a good thing. For me, it is healing, life-affirming and part of moving forward through the unknown. – It is not giving up or falling into a depression, it is the opposite of that: it is energy and life. Allowing all that is takes the burden of the part of me that is protecting me by trying to control the events. By surrendering, I say, ok, let there be fear and shame and the worst outcomes I can imagine, I can feel all this and hold it. Once I surrender, I usually smile. I arrive at a space that is larger than my fears and that feels more playful and free. In that space my desire to create outweighs my fears… or maybe it is more like the two merge, become one and I am able to continue to make my way through the unknown.
Failure is an Option
Yesterday, what revealed itself as the big fear of mine in this journey through the unknown is the fear of failing. Failing for me would mean to embarrass myself, to create mediocre work and that my actions are meaningless, my outcomes worthless. – Surrendering leads to integration. I started allowing this fear of failure as an option and by doing so, it loosened its grip on me. If I allow failure in all its facets as an option, I can move on and just create and share.
If we do not surrender, we freeze or jump back to where we came from
There are many tools and techniques that support us in navigating through the unknown, like for instance:
- Understanding your underlying purpose
- Using tangible and visual techniques for idea generation and prioritisation
- Making smart and ‘agile’ plans
- Building good systems and habits
- Firing up your excitement and motivation
- Being in a supportive team or community
- And many more
In my work with teams and individuals I often use these tools and techniques and create formats and materials that help navigating the unknown… which might be the unknown of creating a new product or project or of a new point in life, or it might be the unknown regarding next steps to take or goals to reach.
One skill that is rarely talked about is our ability to surrender to the difficult feelings of doubt and fear that we will inevitably encounter in the unknown. In my experience it is one of the most powerful tools for our journeys through the unknown. It is the ability to be in the unknown and feel all there is to feel while taking one step after the other. It scares me, you, all of us to not know where things are leading and to possibly fail. This fear bubbling under the surface has strong control over us. It leads us to doubt until we freeze or lets us quickly grab onto simple and familiar solutions that unfortunately lead back to the land we came from and have us start all over again. Surrendering to our feelings of fear and doubt and allowing the possibility of failing is uncomfortable, yes, and at the same time it allows us to take the next step into the dark because we do not freeze or jump to easy solutions.
How to notice that it is time to surrender
There are certain signs that signal to me that I am fighting too much against unwanted thoughts and feelings and that it is time to give in:
- Loss of joy around the project. It becomes hard to follow through, the project feels like a chore.
- Questioning everything. Because of the constant inner chatter of doubt and fear, I question everything I am doing, either talking to myself or to others, seeking direction.
- Freezing, giving up or quickly jumping to safe and familiar grounds.
- Lousy mood in general. I become grumpy, sad or angry although I am doing what I love.
In summary, and related to flow theory, these are all signs of being out of flow, or out of the zone, rather than in flow and in the zone. (These signs by the way can also be observed in teams that are in the unknown and in need of surrender.) Sometimes the signs just build up until they are unbearable but more and more often, I am able to notice them early on and consciously allow the underlying uncomfortable feelings to emerge. I find that it is a kind of dance where I move a few steps into the unknown until I notice the above signals of not being in flow. I then pause and surrender and take the next steps. And these next steps sometimes go in an unplanned direction based on what emerged through the experience of surrendering.
What emerged for me by surrendering this week
My surrendering this week lead me to writing this blog post. It is not what I had planned for this week but then again I have been meaning to explore the notion of surrender for a while now. My writing then led me to creating the animated gifs you see in this blog post, also not what I had intended to create this week. So I did not follow through with my plan. True. But how exactly can I plan for the unknown? I can only make my best guess, start, and then go with what reveals itself to me. At the moment, nobody is waiting for my blog posts or play with pen and paper. The only thing that is important for me at the moment is that I continue moving through the unknown and not freeze or go back to what feels safe. Movement for me means that I play and make and fully am me. Playing and making can be the tiniest thing, like for instance the animated gifs that I created this week. In my experience, these tiny outcomes that are born out of a playful desire, are like breadcrumbs that lead forwards. Some time in the future, I can look back and string them together and will see that they already contained all the wisdom I am still looking for now – I just cannot see it today and that is fine. By surrendering this week, I was able to take a next step into the dark. One that was led by my desire to share my play and what is real for me. More I do not know at this point in time.
You can see me drawing the animated gifs here:
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