By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 5, 2011
My friend Paul is writing a cop novel (I mentioned this in an earlier post, on the subject of trusting your instincts, even the darker ones–particularly the darker ones.) Paul has written screenplays and stuff for TV, but he’s never tackled a novel, which is really his native medium. At the same time, he’s writing more from his true center than he ever has. Paul’s about halfway through and, though he puts up a brave front when I ask him how he’s feeling, I can tell from his eyes that he’s in full panic mode. He looks like a rabbit caught in the open with a hawk dive-bombing onto him at 120 per. He is paralyzed with Resistance.
My message to Paul is this: panic is good.
We panic when we find ourselves on a threshold. We freak when we discover ourselves on the cusp of moving to a higher level. That’s what’s happening now with Paul.
Did you ever see Marianne Williamson’s famous quote about fear of success?
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.
What’s happening with Paul is this:
He is doing the best and bravest work of his life. For the first time he’s really out there, telling a story in his own voice–rather than a “commercial” voice or a voice tailored for the marketplace. And what he’s writing is coming out really good. If he can see it all the way through and keep his nerve, he might just turn out something really, really good.
No wonder he’s panicking. Paul is like a journeyman golf pro in the final round at the U.S. Open who looks up at the scoreboard and discovers he’s leading the field. Gulp. Paul’s puckerstring is seriously tightening. He has a case of “shrinkage” worse than George Costanza.
(Full disclosure: I am not the genius who had this insight about panic. Paul told me the same thing about myself earlier this year–and he was right.)
What’s happening with Paul is he is evolving; he’s venturing into deep waters and he’s pulling it off; he’s moving to the next higher level.
What should he do? First, he should see his current state for what it is: a fabulously positive sign. Second, he must take a chill pill and draw back to a point from which he can gain perspective. Finally, he needs to give himself credit for the work he’s done and the guts he has shown.
Paul is not the writer he was at this time last year. He’s better. Much better. And he’s sitting on something–half of a really promising novel–that he’s never had in his life.
Earlier this year I was panicking and Paul had a little intervention with me. He told me just what I’m telling him now. And it worked. It steadied the ship. What has followed has been one of the greatest bursts of creativity in my life.
The same thing will happen with Paul. I can feel it. The second half of his novel, which right now is looming over him like Sisyphus’s boulder, will turn out to be a breeze, a piece of cake, once he allows himself to step up to that next level and doesn’t look back.
New Year’s is a big time for panic. Self-expectations of what’s ahead, self-recriminations for what’s behind. If you feel a twinge of panic, take a breath and step back. Re-examine the past six months, the past twelve. Are you growing? Is the arc or your evolution upward? I’ll bet the ranch it is, even if it’s hard for you to see because you’re too close to it. Ask a friend. Ask three friends.
So if you’re feeling panic, congratulations! Panic is good. We panic, almost always, when we’re on the brink of success. Happy New Year!