The end of a year, the beginning of something unknown… it’s just the tick of a clock, an entirely fictional concept, but New Years always gives me a sense of the thin sliver of my time against the backdrop of eternity.
Let's back off from such an immense theme, and return to one more at hand... fearlessness.
Apart from the lovely image it conjures (the staunch adventurer bravely set out, through dangers unknown and hardships unnumbered), it’s a key word for getting past a sticking point. Facing up to an uncomfortable truth, doing an unpleasant task, making a difficult decision… These all take courage.
Sometimes the courage is warranted. If the worst possible rational outcome* is a truly dreadful scenario, then you will need genuine courage to face it.
Other times, it’s not courage you need, but willpower. If you find yourself saying, “This is all too hard for me, I don’t know if I can make it through this next six weeks,” then you have two choices. You can seize the courage to change the situation – or at least talk to someone who's not so close to the situation, who could give advice or help – or you can call on your iron willpower to stick it out. After all, you are an enduring entity; you will outlast this situation; you are a rock against which the waves break, and when the foam and fury sizzles away, you will still be there, damp but impervious.
* The worst possible irrational outcome is: the audition won’t go well. They won’t cast you. And then zombies will eat your brains.**
** There are more colourful examples of worst possible irrational outcomes at Deep, Dark Fears (frankrause.tumblr.com)
Today I want to talk about one of those times when you need courage.
Last month we talked about authenticity, about finding a message that resonated with your core values and beliefs. Ensuring that your style is consistent with those values. Let’s say your core value is hope, and your style is therefore upbeat, optimistic, sunny. Your theme will be from the “hope” category of themes (something like endurance, love, never surrendering, the triumph of good) and your message is going to depend on the context of your work, your audience, and the topic. But it will probably say something hopeful.
In order to be authentic, you have to know your core values, and own them fearlessly.
Where do values even come from?
We acquire values through innate preference. I don’t like loud noises and that has translated into a distaste of guns, sirens and balloons.
We absorb them as The Rules which governed our family when we were kids. You knew The Rules, whether they were explicitly stated, or Never Spoken.
We are inspired by the words of others, whether it's through books, films, or hearing them speak.
We reason them out while wrestling with our thoughts at 4am.
Of all of these, the ones imprinted on you by your family are probably the strongest, and also the ones which you may have purposely flipped during your rebellious teenage years, so that now you are as firmly anti whatever-it-is as you were once staunchly for it.
I have two simple tests which tell me my core values.
1. “Love me, love MacGyver.”
When a friend transgresses one of my core values, I think, “Right. That’s it. You’re dead to me now.“ I'm a flexible, easy-going person. But these core values are a line drawn in the sand.
2. ”I will put down my comic book for you, core value.”
When I see someone abusing one of my core values, I'm already across the room, doing something about it, before I have even stopped to think about how tired/busy/none-of-my-business I am.
The reason I cite courage as a requirement for knowing and owning your core values is that sometimes we tell ourselves that we have a core value because we think we should, or because others expect it, or because we’re pretending to have it in order to sell something. Because we’re human.
It takes courage to look yourself in the eye and say, “What do I stand for? And can I stand for that, even when other people are pressuring me to say or be something different?”
Your core value could be a word, or a phrase, or a whole sentence. It may be a crisply defined ideal that you live by, or it may be a fuzzy group of related ideas, with tendrils of meaning that branch out into other concepts. What fun to look through that lens at each problem you encounter, each piece of work you do. I believe in X. How does this problem connect to X?
When you connect your core value to the message that you’re delivering, you are at your most confident, articulate, passionate… in a word, authentic.
Shouldn't you adjust your work to fit what your client wants? Of course. You have to meet your clients' needs. Even so, you can stay true to your core values without becoming rigid or uncompromising: your suit of values should not be so tight a fit that they constrain every choice you make.... just the big ones.
I'm now heading off somewhere I can be simultaneously fearless, and kind to animals.