brain tigers in the jungle of uncertainty

There is a nip in the air, a hint of color turning the trees, pumpkins at the market, and a tiger in my brain.

I know it’s not Halloween yet, but today’s topic inspired me to go a bit nightmare on myself. Having a brain tiger can feel like a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.

What is a brain tiger, you may ask? Well I have to thank Laura Simms for that analogy. Please read Laura’s post, but in brief a brain tiger is that nagging voice of doubt, AKA fear. This happens when we are uncertain of what we are doing or what the future holds.

While Laura’s post is the one that inspired me to write on the topic, it’s been showing up a lot lately. For myself most definitely, but a lot of people are talking about it. Times are uncertain, and the tigers are laying in wait.

Last week someone (I’m sorry I forget) recommended listening to Oprah’s interview on Facebook. It’s a good interview if you have an hour, but the part that struck me begins at minute 31:00. Here, a young man asks Oprah to talk about facing fear (in work), which she claims she has been feeling for the first time ever since launching her network. First time ever? Really??? Oprah talks about the fear being getting it right when she is playing so much bigger with a network i.e. has less control.

This tells me two things.

Being confident and in control allows greatness to be achieved.

Admitting and speaking about fear (the tiger) is one of the greatest ways to quell it.

What puzzles me is how a poor abused girl from Georgia came out of the gate with so much of the first, but that is another story.

Talking about it, having conversations, working through it not alone. Doh! Charlie Gilkey posted this energetic video of Jen Louden on the “Great Conversation”. Jen talks about what prevents us from having and utilizing these conversations. She talks about leaning into the not knowing and finding out through conversation.

“I don’t really know what I know, but I know I know stuff about this.”

Exactly how I feel about my current dilemma, but first.

Jonathan Fields has written an entire book on this subject, titled aptly Uncertainty. Jonathan tells a really moving story about starting a brand new business in the aftermath of 9-11, and how that led to what he does now. He tells about how the loss of a friend in the towers awoke in him the need to act NOW. “We have one shot”  he says.

I think everyone felt that after 9-11 and we saw a great outpouring of selfless action and community across boundaries. It was the most frightening and still hopeful time I have experienced. Now, as we just celebrated the tenth anniversary of 9-11, I find myself wondering where that went and how we can create it again in these uncertain times when the boundaries are back in place, and the walls seem higher than ever.

For me the uncertainty is in finding my way to serve in the world. I am a visual artist and that is clear. My work is important to me and I love it, but I feel called to teach in some capacity and that is unclear. “I don’t really know what I know, but I know I know stuff about this.” Patience is not my greatest virtue and that tends to fuel my tiger. I want to know now! What I am learning is I need to reach out more, have more great and small conversations. That is the only way to tame my beast and do my best work. I am writing my questions here and on my own blog and that is so helpful, but I am feeling the need for live conversation. I am pondering a master mind group, either in person or on skype.

So my questions to you this week are:

How do you appease your brain tigers and get the work done? Where do you go for great conversations if you do, and if not, why?

Please join me in getting this conversation going!

From the heart,


18 thoughts on “brain tigers in the jungle of uncertainty

  1. Wonderful Post Gwyn! Poignant talk on fear – it just gets you nowhere but fast. In getting the work done, I’ve learned to delegate work when I can and to release that ‘control freak’ in me in letting it just ‘be’, even if that means that things have been left undone or are completed differently than originally planned.

    And I’ve learned to understand that other people’s limitations and abilities, are different than mine – and that allows for contribution, collaboration and communication not conflict.

    As for great conversations, those that inspire you to action, make you imagine solutions that get your brain juices flowing…I follow sites like this one, or Kelly Diels as an example, while running a group blog that was started from Tara’s Art of Action Course last spring. I feel one must engage themselves in various forms to get the most out of these great conversations that can lead to action.

    I also contribute in great conversations with other artists and business owners in my community – by taking classes both online and in person, attending monthly meetings, and being engaged by asking a lot of questions that require more than a yes or no answer. I listen a lot (and could do more with more listening!) I engage a lot. This all equals inspirational action for me.

    PLUS – I always have my little notebook to write everything down I can that inspires me from these conversations so that I may revisit them at anytime (and I do!).

    1. Thanks for the feedback Leah. I love this:

      “And I’ve learned to understand that other people’s limitations and abilities, are different than mine – and that allows for contribution, collaboration and communication not conflict.”

      Yes! That is what is so great about getting these conversations going. Working alone one can forget that others are dealing with their own similar issues in perhaps very different ways. We can do so much more through sharing than competition.

  2. I kid you not, I learned how to quell my tigers this morning while watching Super Why with my daughter. A nervous dancer learned to sing to herself before a performance: Breath, Believe, Dance. Lately I have felt increasingly overwhelmed which makes me fearful and panicked – like I must be doing something wrong because if I were doing it right, I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. So…Breath, Believe, Dance. My dance happens to be one of blogging, sewing, and e-mail answering, but it it the dance of my business. I believe in my business and I believe in me.

    Besides all that, bravery is not the absence of fear – it is doing (dancing) in the face of fear, despite the fear. That fear makes even my failures great – because I tried, learned and grew. If I did it yesterday I can do it again today when I am one day smarter.

    Breath. Believe. Dance.

    1. Oh Janice you make me smile! I had to google Super Why and remember the days when I learned lessons from the Rug Rats, and Doug. Also, don’t tell I told you, but I watched the first episodes of Sesame Street when I was a full blown teenager and loved it :-)

      Indeed bravery is not the absence of fear…Breathe. Believe. Write in my case.

      Thank You!

  3. How funny. I just finished writing my SG post about fear, courage and joy. So timely! I wish I had something more eloquent to say about taming my brain tigers, but basically I just put one foot in front of the other, freaking out along the way, but I get there.

    There is a good German phrase for this: ‘Augen zu und Durch’ it literally means, ‘Close your eyes and go through’ and that pretty much sums it up for me!

    1. Thanks Eleanor, I’ll look for your post.

      My Mother was German speaking and it always amazed me how many incredible short German, and even single words phrases said so much. I need to learn this language.

      Augen zu und Durch. I like it!

  4. It’s comforting to know that Oprah gets afraid, too. Thanks for bringing brain tigers to a wider audience, Gwyn. And thank you for doing what you do so well: making it ok for us to talk about what’s really going on my sharing your story. You. are. awesome.

  5. Crazy you posted this today, I’ll be feeling those tigers all weekend. I was jsut speaking with my husband, on trying to ignore them and carry on.

  6. I would have to agree with just taking one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other to ‘tame’ fear, or get through it.

    Funnily, I had a dream last night of an encounter with a red tiger with black stripes who was part of a circus. He got away and although I hid from him the first time, the second time, he chased me. I was so afraid, I lay down and played dead, feeling his hot breath on my neck.
    My subconscious reaction to fear doesn’t seem to mesh with what I try to do consciously.

  7. Wow! I’m so glad I read this first thing this morning…it explains what I have been feeling…my brain tiger.(Who knew?) It’s been romping around for while now — not pacing, not growling, and certainly not sleeping. My tiger seems to be a ferocious female — wise and persistant — named Bella. And she doesn’t want to be ignored anymore, since I’m kinda slow with this whole realization. Lucky for me, she kept up the constant pawing because it’s taken Forever! for the light to go on. For months now, my discomfort levels have been at a new high and I’ve been trying to figure out Why and What I need to do about them.

    Through conversations with myself (not always reliable), lots of reading and now finally recognizing Bella — I have come to realize:
    1. It’s my turn now.
    2. It’s time for me to move to my geographic comfort zone — Vermont here I come.
    3. I need to do a better job creating community and seeking out meaningful conversations. Been dragging my feet on this one.

    There are still lots of questions about just what it is I’m supposed to be doing with my life, how do I ride out this transition and how can I help others??? Thanks ever so much, Gywn, your posts are always insightful, timely and appreciated.

    1. Thanks you as always for you thoughtful response Maureen. I’m so excited to hear you identified Bella and are dealing with her.

      Vermont is so beautiful. Maybe I’ll meet you there one day!

  8. i have to concur with everyone. how timely.

    my own brain tigers have me stuck with my start up. not a good place to be. i finally realized watching a video of u2 last night what it is.

    my fear is of success. if i succeed in this dream, this huge project. what i will have accomplished is huge. precedent setting. and i’m scared of that. but why. i’ve worked years to get to this place. everything has fallen into place like dominos.

    i’ve got to tame these tigers and get out of my own way. in a hurry. i have a deadline i’m banging up against. it’s make or break time.

    time to step up and become the leader of this circus!

    thanks so much for such a wonderful post!

  9. Beautiful post.
    My Tiger is always in the hunt, right there waiting to attack. Sometimes I get distracted, and it hurts in some ways. My strategy? I just try to concentrate more on visualizing how I want things to be, and aim my thoughts to that. Do I talk about it? Yes, luckily my husband is the best partner I could find for my journey. He keeps me focused on my creativity and all the things I can do and are yet to be discovered. The most inspired days, the Tiger won’t dare to get close to me.

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