Beyond Fear: Creativity

Choosing to be happy with everything just as it is, without trying to change anything, removes the desire to control and the unhappiness that results when things don’t go the way we want them to.  Making the happiness choice daily, hourly and even moment to moment is employing skillful means for conscious living. However, making the happiness choice is not always easy to do. This summer, while grieving the loss of my brother,  I became more closely acquainted with some people he admired. Among them is a designer called  Stefan Sagmeister who has also studied happiness.

A consciousness shift

Stefan Sagmeister

Renowned for Rolling Stones and Lou Reed album covers, posters and his book of life lessons,Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, designer Stefan Sagmeister has a unique way of looking at life and design.  I was surprised to find his book does not contain a lot of written content. It consists of 15 unbound photographs in a laser-cut slipcase and shuffling them produces 15 different covers.  I have also watched several  Sagmeister videos — videos my brother encouraged me to watch so many times before he died.

Stefan Sagmeister: 7 rules for making more happiness

  1. Doing more of what I like to do and much less of what I don’t like to do.
  2. Doing it yourself. What you don’t do properly yourself is never deemed to actually be done.
  3. Having meaningful relationships.
  4. Thinking freely,  without pressure.
  5. Being close to the content and in the moment.
  6. Working on projects that actually have visible impacts.
  7. Keeping a diary that supports personal development.

Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far

Sagmeister’s full list of 20 maxims:

1. Helping other people helps me.
2. Having guts always works out for me.
3. Thinking that life will be better in the future is stupid. I have to live now.
4. Organizing a charity group is surprisingly easy.
5. Being not truthful always works against me.
6. Everything I do always comes back to me.
7. Assuming is stifling.
8. Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on.
9. Over time I get used to everything and start taking for granted.
10. Money does not make me happy.
11. My dreams have no meaning.
12. Keeping a diary supports personal development.
13. Trying to look good limits my life.
14. Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses.
15. Worrying solves nothing.
16. Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.
17. Everybody thinks they are right.
18. If I want to explore a new direction professionally, it is helpful to try it out for myself first.
19. Low expectations are a good strategy.
20. Everybody who is honest is interesting.

Stefan Sagmeister: Happiness by Design

Stefan Sagmeister: Designing with slogans

There’s nothing wrong with fear; the only mistake is to let it stop you in your tracks.

Stefan Sagmeister scaled creative summits in design by determining to journey beyond his comfort zone and live a daring life. Yet, every day he still talks himself into taking risks.

Working outside my comfort zone in art has always been a frightening prospect for me.  It’s not the doing that scares me; it is the assumption that others will reject what I have done that becomes a barrier to creation.

My comfort zone has been Sumei painting and Chinese brush painting.  Though abstract art has always appealed to me until PTSD flashbacks provoked me to I enter art therapy, I had never done anything more than dabbling in it.

Well, the good news is that my brother’s admiration of Sagmeister reached beyond the grave. What I watched encouraged me to go beyond my comfort zone and explore abstract art.  I’ve been painting bizarre and  whimsical abstracts and loving every minute of it.  While the fear monkey still prophecies rejection, I choose not to tune in to its yammering. Today, I’m thanking my brother for being so persistent, because his sharing of Stefan’s Sagmeister life lessons helped set me free to take  risks and go beyond my comfort zone.

What about you?  When working outside of your comfort zone is a scary thing to do,  what do you do to spur yourself to do it?

Related posts found in this blog:
Art Therapy: Abstract Painting
Art Therapy Abstracts: The Depths
Tim Ferris: Smash fear, Learn anything
Constructive approaches to conquering fear of rejection


  1. Part of moving beyond fear for me, is finding creative solutions that are tiny bit more palatable for me. However one cannot always control an external situation.

    This is true: “Everybody who is honest is interesting.”

    • Hi Jean,
      I hear you. Remaining frozen in fear doesn’t provide any opportunities for creative thoughts or actions. As soon as I shift into problem solving mode creative alternatives come to mind.

      Point 12 resonated for me because it’s in my personal journal that I’m most creative.
      12. Keeping a diary supports personal development.

  2. I love his lists and you for sharing them with us! I like to keep a small notebook filled quotes and inspiring things and this has definitely made the cut.

    Most creative people are limited by their fears – of doing things ‘wrong’, of them not turning out the way they’d hope, of people rejecting it… but it’s the creatives out there that could care less about these things or who push through that and take the risk that really go somewhere. Hopefully you’ll find your risk pays off! Thanks to you and your brother for sharing.

    • Hi there,
      I also carry small notebooks. In fact I have several and I’m never without one. I’m so happy to hear this post resonated. I’ve pride invested into the two traditional forms of painting I’m proficient at and the pride was almost as much a barrier as the fear was. It took a huge shift between my ears before I could allow myself the freedom to paint spontaneously. Thanks for commenting.

    • Hi there,
      Japanese and Chinese brush painting are my first loves. If you search for examples on Google you will see what a distinct departure abstract painting is from what I’m accustomed to. I’m enjoying this creative freedom but Japanese and Chinese brush painting will always be my preferred art forms.

  3. Congratulations on moving beyond your comfort zone and enjoying it so immensely. This is such a great question and I’m not sure what spurs me to move beyond my comfort zone. I feel like I’m at a crossroads and this is exactly what I need to be explore. You offered so much richness in this post! I loved the example of the unconscious mind being like an elephant and the rider – the conscious mind – foolhardily thinking she’s in charge!

    • Hi Sandra,
      I’ve finally overcome my grief-stricken paralysis. Functioning normally in my everyday life has been so hard to do these last 3 months. Keeping pace with blogging and commenting has been even more difficult for me to do.

      Leaving my comfort zone becomes scary all over again the minute I allow my mind to become filled with self-doubt.

      We are both aware that mindfulness is the key to taming our ‘monkey mind’ from keeping us in a state of internal chaos, flitting back to the past and forward to the future, obsessing about the minutiae of life. Well, when I am mindful I feel deep compassion for that poor woman who has to put up with that monkey yammering away in her head. That’s progress, for sure. ;)

      I’m so glad the elephant and rider example resonated with you as it resonated for me too. Though we are aware of what follows I want to share it with my other readers. In Buddhism the elephant is a symbol of mental strength. At the beginning of one’s practice the uncontrolled mind is symbolized by an untrained gray elephant who can run wild any moment and destroy everything in his way. After taming one’s mind, the mind is symbolized by a white elephant strong and powerful, who can be directed wherever one wishes and who can destroy all the obstacles on his way.

      • I constantly “struggle” with shyness/private-ness and not wanting to keep posting or to show/expose what I make…what I create often comes out of learning to cope with personal challenges…but then, my braver/more caring nature reemerges and I click publish, in case there might be others trying to come to terms with similar situations or get perspective…but it’s hard…really really hard! btw, I did a screen capture of that “trying to look good limits my life” presentation.and printed it out as an important reminder…I don’t usually post other people’s work, but that one I might…I hope someday I get so I have more ease…oh, that would be such a relief!’s all in the mind, so it’s possible!

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