They play through your life all the time. Your dreams. The things you feel a compulsion to move toward. But you sit still instead, calculating all that could go wrong. Calculating the prices your psychology will pay if you fail. You imagine all of the disparaging thoughts the witnesses might think or say out loud. Meanwhile you look on enviously at others lives, assuming theirs are better when really it’s just that you’re not fully living yours. Those fears keep holding you back. And when you think about it, those are strange fears to have. To not live your life because someone else might temporarily hold a judgmental thought in their consciousnesses? That’s what we’re all afraid of.
Back when I was writing exclusively for film and television I ran a BBS chatroom where local writers in my city could ask questions and debate ideas with top Hollywood professionals. There were Oscar and Emmy winners and nominees, and writers of many famous and beloved projects ranging all the way from Woody Allen movies to groundbreaking series and guilty pleasures like Cheers or Baywatch. Young or old, those were very generous writers and producers and we were all very lucky to have their daily guidance. Especially me. Because that experience lead me to meet and eventually become good friends with a wonderful man named Jack Sowards. Jack’s the man who famously killed Spock when he wrote Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.
For several years and for reasons I’ll never fully understand, Jack used to spend at least an hour a day on the phone with me and sometimes we’d be on for over four hours. Jack had learned a lot from other writers and he was known as a bit of a guru in Hollywood because he really enjoyed passing that knowledge on. And with me he had a super eager student. Even though it got to be a daily routine, I never stopped feeling lucky every time he called. As I matured as an artist I later realized I was actually in large part an aspect of his own fearful procrastination.
At one point it turned out that Jack and I were up for jobs at the same time. His was for a million-dollar re-write of some star-filled project and mine was for a smaller (but for me still very substantial), movie-of-the-week. We both found out the same day that we got the jobs and we had a wonderful conversation about how awesome it felt to be the chosen writers.
And then there was the next day.
I was in a panic. Every artist and most others will know this feeling; the feeling that you’re doomed. That there’s no way you’ll actually be able to pull it off and you’ll finally be exposed as a fraud. The feeling like everyone’s finally going to figure out that you’re just faking it. That you’re just pretending to know. That you really can’t do this incredibly hard thing. And you certainly can’t do hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars worth of it. I remember thinking, how can anything I just invent in my imagination be worth this kind of money?! I was so worried I couldn’t write. Every word felt like it had to be worth hundreds of dollars. That makes them hard to choose. So I called my guru.
Wait a minute—what?
Jack was scared too? How could this guy who’d had hits—who’d been paid these amounts lots of times—how could he be worried? He did know what he was doing. He’d proved it numerous times. Oddly though, the news calmed me. Being in a group with Jack felt like a safe place to be as a writer.“You thought you weren’t supposed to be scared?” he said. “Scared’s part of the deal. Scared’s what you get all that money for. Scared is what most people won’t walk past to get to their real life.”
Is it any wonder I loved the guy? I thought all of these artists “above” me were all calm and collected and done. They were finished. They knew all they needed to know. In fact there is no such thing. Just when you’ve figured out how to be 20, you’re 30. And by the time you figure out how to be 30, you’re 40. And so it goes. As soon as a writer has a good list of skills, all they tend to notice are the skills they don’t yet have. They feel like that must be what’s preventing them from succeeding with their current project. But that’s not true. What’s preventing them from succeeding with their project isn’t what they don’t know—it’s their lack of use of what they do know.
Your job isn’t to figure it all out and then live your life in some impressive way. Let me save you the time: there is no figuring it out. That’s like saying you have to know everything about music to create a song. I’m sure Mozart still felt like he still had much to explore. But the music he wrote came from what he knew, not what he didn’t know. You can’t create with knowledge or understanding you will have. So you just march forward and forget what everyone else thinks.
People’s judgments about your life are just words in the wind. Think about people in your family that have been dead for 20 years. Are people thinking a lot about what they did in their life, or does it come up once in a while and without much detail? And even if they did, do you imagine that bothers the deceased? Or the living? So what are you worrying about? The fact is, people are too busy studying their own lives to really focus much on ours, and so their opinions of us have more to do with them than us.
Be bold. Know that every great person dealt with tons of people who hated their choices and yet still they went on. They went on because they weren’t trying to be impressive—that would be impossible. Instead they trusted that strange tuning-fork that lives inside all of us. And by listening they heard it and it told them which way was theirs. They went past their fears simply because they felt that was their way to go.
You have those feelings too but you ignore them in favour of building barriers with word-based thoughts that focus on your fears. Your ego talks your spirit out of enacting itself. But those fears are only an ephemeral curtain of thought. They are the illusion that separates you from your own fulfilling life. Just like other people’s opinions.
Instead of looking at what someone else has look at what you have. Stop trying to get people to be impressed with your life and start actively loving your own life exactly as it is. Because truly loving it in the present moment without changes or adjustments is what allows us to see our way through the fear. And that’s important because past those fears is where your real life is.
Carpe Diem. Life: it’s yours for the taking.