Fear. We’ve all experienced it. It lives within those “what if?” questions that stand between us and our finishes. Especially at the start of our dream creative projects.

What if it’s a lousy idea?

What if someone has thought of it before?

What if it’s never as good as the way I imagined it?

What if people laugh at me?

For over 45 years dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp has been prolifically creative, famous and fearless.

And yet in her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, she re-calls a review from the London Evening Standard of one of her first performances as a dancer in 1966. “Three girls, one of them named Twyla Tharp, appeared at the Albert Hall last evening and threatened to do the same tonight!”


Yet she never let that review or her own fears stop her. According to her official biosince then, Tharp “…has choreographed more than one hundred sixty works: one hundred twenty-nine dances, twelve television specials, six Hollywood movies, four full-length ballets, four Broadway shows and two figure skating routines. She received one Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, nineteen honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, the 2008 Jerome Robbins Prize, and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor.”

Success can be the best revenge…

Fear is common for artists and creative entrepreneurs alike – particularly particularly a fear of failure. According to the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report on Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Attitudes, while 59% of Canadians aged between 18-64 saw good opportunities to start a new business, and 73.4% thought being a successful entrepreneur was a highly respected role; 39% said fear of failure prevented them from moving forward with their idea.

So how do entrepreneurs overcome their initial and on-going fear of failure to become successful? The answer is not to ignore those fears but rather to be aware of them, acknowledge them, face them and conquer them.

In the article “The Relationship between Entrepreneur’s Level of Perceived Busi-ness-Related Fear and Business Performance” in the science journal Procedia, the authors Deniz, Boz, and Ertosun researched over 255 enterprises to examine common fears of successful entrepreneurs. “Fear of the unknown” and “fear of uncertainty” were amongst the top five fears that entrepreneurs listed, along with the more literal “fear of work/stress balance, legal issues” and “non-monetary support”.

But like Twyla Tharp and all successful artists, in spite of these doubts, successful entrepreneurs find a way to face their fears each day and carry on pursuing their creative idea. It is the proverbial mind over matter.

“Recently as several researchers suggest, the capabilities of entrepreneurs to manage their fear are a major contributing factor to business performance…English & Sutton (2001) convey the notion that….an individual’s ability to work with courage and face up to their own fears is central to their effectiveness at work.”


Mind over matter – facing your fears – not only works, it can actually physically change those parts of the brain where you perceive fear and help the way you approach it in the future.

An article titled “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows: A coordinate-based meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies on the regulation of negative affect”, in the scientific journal NeuroImage, the authors (Diekhof, Geier, Falkai, and Gruberofcite) cite the Japanese proverb “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows”. 

Through mapping brain activity, the authors’ research found that facing fears actually changed physical aspects of the brain that “…controlled negative affective responses and reduced the degree of subjectively perceived unpleasantness.”

This finding brings us back to Twyla Tharp, who in The Creative Habit cites one other important way to overcome fear: Getting Lucky. But how do you get lucky?

The answer is found in generosity.

“Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you. If you’re generous to someone, if you do something to help him out, you are in effect making him lucky. This is important. It’s like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune”.

Facing fear it seems is a team sport!

Or, as our Creative Entrepreneurship Program curriculum puts it:

“Your companions on this journey are going to be a major source of knowledge, information, guidance, and support. Being around them is going to become the most treasured element of this experience.

Rare are the days when you find yourself around so many people who are willing to listen to your struggles and provide you with feedback and guidance. Very rare is it to have so many around you who will be there to provide encouragement when you are ready to give up…”

Put mind over matter. Face your fears. Get lucky. Together….

Artscape offers the only business programs designed specifically for artists and creative professionals. Our hands-on workshops and courses give you the skills, resources and support to start or expand a creative enterprise of your own.