Strive for Courage, Not Fearlessness

April 1, 2020

Strive for Courage, Not Fearlessness | Best Life Book Club by Happy As Annie discusses Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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What is necessary to overcome the fear of failure, especially if you’re an artist or creator?

Courage, fearlessness, and bravery are often used as synonyms–interchangeable words that pretty much mean the same thing. But there is a huge difference between courage and fearlessness that makes one far more virtuous and impressive than the other.

In this post, we discuss Part I of Big Magic, the April pick for Best Life Book Club, and why author Elizabeth Gilbert suggests that we strive for courage, not fearlessness, in order to overcome the fear of failure.

Creativity and fear of failure go hand in hand.

In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert insists that living a creative life requires courage because creative living necessarily and invariably involves a lot of fear. In her much more poetic words, “Fear and creativity share a womb, they were born at the same time, and they still share some vital organs.”

Strive for Courage, Not Fearlessness. | Best Life Book Club by Happy As Annie discusses Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

But how can creative people overcome this fear of failure?

After all, to be creative is to expose a very personal part of yourself for the rest of the world to consume. Whether your creation is a novel, a wedding dress, a wooden rocking chair, a scrapbook, a business plan, or a blueprint for a space station, creating is highly vulnerable work and not for the faint of heart.

Why courage is essential if you want to live a creative life

Courage is the ability and inner strength to take action despite having fears about the process or potential outcomes.

People often talk, however, of the need to get rid of such vulnerabilities and fears. The fear of failure. Of unoriginality. Or others’ judgment and ridicule. But Gilbert doesn’t hop on that train. She instead says that the fear will always be there. So to overcome this fear of failure, we need to get comfortable with it and let it know who’s boss because there is no getting rid of it.

We must stop trying to get rid of the fear and learn to be creative despite the fear.

Why striving for fearlessness makes no sense

So if courage is the ability to take action despite the presence of fear, what is fearlessness?

The English teacher in me asks us to break the word down into its parts. Fearless means the absence of fear, which is simply impossible for a normal, well-adjusted human who has any cares or desires or passions in this world. First of all, evolution has wired fear into our brains to help us survive. Sure, our egos get a little excited and overdo the fear response in some of us, but Gilbert’s point is that unless you’re a “reckless three-year-old” or a “straight-up sociopath,” your fear is here to stay.

Strive for Courage, Not Fearlessness. | Best Life Book Club by Happy As Annie discusses Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

What we do despite great fear is the stuff of superhero comic books and timeless fairy tales.

After all, how hard is it to do something you’re not afraid of? You don’t get any kudos for that.

So, stop wasting time wishing you weren’t afraid or trying to cure yourself of your fears and insecurities. Instead, strive for the courage to be scared and do it (whatever your “it” is) anyway.


  • Reply A More Magical Way to Think About Creative Inspiration - Happy as Annie April 13, 2020 at 11:17 am

    […] pressure to continue to produce at this “genius” level can be too much. In Big Magic, Gilbert mentions the anxiety that bubbled up inside her every time a reporter asked her how she would top the success of Eat […]

    • Reply Catie Long April 14, 2020 at 6:42 pm

      I love how Elizabeth states the obvious; we can never rid ourselves of fear! I feel like fear could become much more manageable if you take her advice; let it go on the ride with you if it must, but it will never be the driver!

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