Fear is the friend who's misunderstood...

I am involved in a project right now that scares me. In fact, I have several projects coming up this month that scare me. Stuff I’ve never done before. Not sure if I’ve thought of everything, not sure how it’ll be received. That uncertainty is what scares me. It all revolves around teaching people how to use Photoshop in scrapbooking. So I’m taking a deep breath, hoping for the best, and diving in. We shall see.

But you know, anxiety about unknowns is really just plain old fear. (Fear is the friend who’s misunderstood, but I know the heart of life is good -John Mayer). And it has me thinking today of that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:

Do something every day that scares you.


I’m officially and forever for the record, not a natural risk-taker. I’m a big dreamer, sure. I have plenty of verbal swagger and hot air to go around, but putting my money where my mouth is, is something else entirely. I will order the same thing at a restaurant for YEARS and be quite contented (Rowen yells “I’ll have a Number Two!” from the back seat every time we pull up to a drive-through, and the people at Baba Ghannouj get chicken kabobs out of the refrigerator when they see me walk in the door). It’s predictable. No risk of a ruined meal.

I will drive on the same road I know, even vaguely suspecting there’s a faster way to get there. Partly this is because I’m mentally lazy. I think most people kind of are (no offense!). Partly this is because with two toddlers, you just need the predictability. They need schedules. I need a schedule. I love naptime! I don’t want to be lost on a dirt road in the middle of North Carolina at 2pm on a Monday.

On the other hand. North Carolina has some tremendously beautiful scenery. I drive on a dirt back road to Target and back, and rarely leave the house otherwise. That’s a little sad. Resolution #648: drive more places, and see more things.

Back to being scared.

I decided to do the default thing I always do when a new idea occurs to me (yes, short attention span at work here). I Google it. I even put the Eleanor Roosevelt quote in quotes so I’d get exact matches.

One of my exact matches took me to this incredible blog (funnily enough, she’s a co-author of several of Jared’s Java certification handbooks). The blog is all about creating a great user experience for users of software. It’s mainly written to engineers. But it is also just plain cool.

Her cartoons are awesome. Her latest posts (which is all I’ve had the chance to absorb so far) made me think. (They also made me miss my old life as a UI designer, but also amazed me how very, very relevant they are to my current life). They are going to help me in my adventures in fear-management.

Here are some excerpts from the post that got me going tonight: The full text is here:

We’ve said before that reducing fear might be a killer app… making something users were previously afraid of feel less threatening.  . . But what about a step beyond that… where you help them do something that just IS really, seriously, scary? Making only things which are friendly and easy is not the holy grail of design.

Reduce my fear or guilt, and I’ll be grateful. Help me do something that really IS scary, and I’ll be grateful and exhilarated. . .

Sometimes, with some products, it’s OK to say, “We can’t make this any easier or less scary, but we can help you come out the other side.”

…And we’re talking moral support, not just tech support, so building a user community is even more important with something really, really, scary.

Isn’t it so COOL that this directly applies to Photoshop? To digital scrapbooking? To the fear that needs to be overcome in order for people to sit down and try it? I hear a lot of criticism and general nay-saying about digital scrapbooking or using your computer for scrapbooking in general (digi or hybrid), but I think the most insulting one is this: A paper scrapper says, “Digital scrapbooking is cheating because it’s so easy. I could do anything on the computer, but give me some scissors and glue, now THERE is the real challenge.”

Clearly this is said by someone who has never actually sat down and tried to do anything in Photoshop. Heh. So maybe this posturing is fear. Maybe they should take Eleanor’s advice and try it one time. ;)

I think it takes about oh, 15 minutes of trying to do something in Photoshop before you realize that you might be in for a little more than you bargained for. Or your head explodes. One or the other. I even said on a 2peas thread yesterday (which I can’t link right now because it’s down…) that I will admit there’s a learning curve involved. Why do we all feel the need to wince and shuffle our feet when we say “learning curve”? Learning is something to be proud of, if the end result is worthwhile. Thanks to Kathy Sierra for her post, helping me see that it’s okay for things to be scary, as long as they are good. Not everything that is worthwhile comes easy (and in fact, most of the things that are the MOST worthwhile to me, have taken a lot of effort to become that way).

But learning Photoshop is hard and frustrating and lonely work sometimes. And it’s okay not to gloss over the scariness, either. She goes on to end that entry with a photo of herself on the “Sydney Bridge Climb” - just what it says, walking out onto the top of the  Sydney bridge. Imagine if the brochure for this had said, “Come on! Join us! It won’t be scary at all!” And imagine what a let-down it would be when you get there and it’s the most terrifying experience of your life.

There aren’t many things more satisfying (exhilarating, even) than working for something and getting it. I get the chance (and the truly scary part - I’m getting increasingly MORE chances) to help a lot of people learn techniques and skills in Photoshop -undoubtely one of the more complicated software programs out there - and be part of that “working and getting it” experience with them. With you. I love getting emails that say, “YES! I did it!” Or when you send me a link to the layout that PROVES that you did it. That rocks so much. Scrapbooking is important. Photoshop is worth knowing as a tool for creative expression and telling the stories of our lives. It can be hard and scary, but it is worth it. That’s why I keep doing this.

So fear (both mine and anyone’s who sits down to learn this stuff) IS the friend who’s misunderstood. Fear gets the blood going, makes us more alert, puts us on the edge of our mental seats. Just where we ought to be, right?

Just where we ought to be.

Have you done something lately that scares you? I’d love to hear about it.