7 Tips For Breaking Through Creative Fear From 3 Rule-Breaking Women

By Molly Shea

Sad Girls Club founder Elyse Fox, art world maven Kimberly Drew, and journalist Sophia Li have more accomplishments between the three of them than can fit in this article. They’ve built teams, broken boundaries, quit dream jobs to chase even bigger dreams, and inspired countless women to follow in their paths. At each step along the way, they’ve had to face their fears in a major way.

A recent panel on the subject of overcoming fear, taking place at HBO's Inspiration Room in Downtown Manhattan, brought these three accomplished young women together. Moderated by Bustle Digital Group's Editor in Chief Kate Ward, this discussion was part of a night hosted by Bustle. Opening with a spoken word performance from Ashley August, and closing with an acoustic set by Sonya Kitchell, the night explored the dialogue between creativity, fear, and the process of overcoming fear.

To celebrate Women's History Month, HBO brought the unedited diary entries of real women together in this space, which ran from March 18 to March 24 in New York. The entries were displayed in various different ways — from giant book pages, to "stream-of-consciousness" ticker tapes from which women's stories printed in real time. New Yorkers sipped complimentary glasses of wine, perused hundreds of women's stories — moving, funny, raw, bizarre, and uplifting all at once — and listened to some inspiring young women in conversation about everyone's emotional backseat driver, fear.

To fuel your own inspiration, here are some things we learned from the stories of Fox, Drew, and Li from this panel on struggling with, facing, and embracing fear.

1. Learn How To Figuratively "Cover Up Those Vents"

Growing up, Li was terrified of the air vents in her room, convinced that spirits and ghosts would come through them at night. So instead of cowering in fear as she fell asleep, she did the reasonable thing and sealed up the vents up with duct tape. She laughed as she recalled her childhood ingenuity, but Drew pointed out that Li was just being proactive in shutting down her fears, rather than letting them shut *her* down.

“I try to maintain an interest in what the preventative measures are, because I feel like that’s what men do — ‘I’m not afraid of anything!’” Drew told the crowd. She said she’s excited that women are increasingly open about their fears, but wants to see how they move past them, too. “Vulnerability is cool, but how can we be proactive? I want more women to be having those conversations — what is our ‘vent covering’?”

2. Take That Leap Of Faith

All three of these women set out on their respective paths while they were working full-time jobs. And for each of them, there came a point when they had to either stick with what they knew, or set out on their own. Fox knew it was time to leap when she realized she was using all her paid time off to go speak on college campuses for her company, Sad Girls Club.

“I knew I had to make a decision, but I was so damn afraid,” she said. Eventually, she realized that no one would push her in either direction — she had to take that step for herself. “I had this guaranteed thing, and then the risk,” she recalled. “You have to take that step, and I think that’s where people lose that [drive]. It’s part of the journey, and if you don’t cross that bridge, you’ll never know where your full potential will be.”

3. Use Fear To Fuel Creativity

Li said she sometimes thinks of fear as her North Star, helping her to stay on course for whatever it is she wants to do — in her case, leaving a to-die-for job at a top fashion publisher and building a new career as a content creator. “The fear is actually the thing that drives your creativity,” she explained. If something feels exciting but uncomfortable, explore it. “Most people don’t follow that fear, [but] if you’re a creative, sit with the fear, follow it, and know that fear is guiding you,” she said. “If it wasn’t scary, why are you doing it in the first place?”

4. Remember That Failure Is Just A Part Of The Process

“We talk about [failure] as this really big monster in the room, as if it’s not a part of anything,” said Drew. But in reality, failure is just one of many steps in a journey. Thinking of rejection as part of the process defangs it a bit, and makes it seem a little less worthy of fear.

5. Think Of Fear As Untapped Potential

While scrolling through social media, Li came across a phrase that’s stuck with her: “Hell is the place where you meet the person you could’ve become.” She said that in moments when she’s afraid or unsure if she can reach for a goal, she remembers what she has to lose by giving up, then pushes forward. “Fear is untapped potential,” she said. “If we don’t lean into that fear that helps us grow, we’re going to always wonder who we could’ve become.”

6. Don't Give Imposter Syndrome Your Time

“One of my mentors said, ‘I didn’t have time for imposter syndrome — I had to show and prove,'" Drew recalled. “I think that in some ways, there's a finite amount of energy we have. I would rather use that energy on the ‘show and prove’ end of the spectrum, than the imposter syndrome end of the spectrum.”

Instead of dwelling on her own hangups, she focuses on the work that has to be done and assumes that others are doing the same. When she talks to friends about their fears, she said, she reminds them that they owe it to themselves — and others — to get over their insecurities.

“You cannot be the one who’s like, what am I doing here?” she said. “These things don’t just happen by chance. If you’re in the room you want to be in, you owe it to yourself to show and prove.”

7. ... But Use Insecurity To Drive You

On the other hand, said Li, keeping those fears in the back of your mind can be a good thing. For every entrepreneur who’s bogged down by self-doubt, there’s one flying too close to the sun, convinced of his own genius. The key, she said, is to find a middle ground.

“I try to channel imposter syndrome in a way that benefits you, because I need to have that insecurity so that I can be constantly improving myself,” she said. “You need this conflict of those two emotions to keep moving forward. You need that idea that yes, I can change the world! But you also need that 20 percent insecurity level to push yourself forward. So imposter syndrome? Necessary.”

Photos: Anthony Tran Photography

This article is sponsored by HBO. To learn more about the Inspiration Room, click here!