Being a creative can be a thorny old bugbear. At times we can be riddled with doubt, feeling anxious, insecure and lacking in confidence. We can nag ourselves relentlessly:
Is my work good enough?
Will people like it?
Will they hate it?
Am I wasting my time?
No one is going to come to this launch, are they?
Should I publish?
Is it worth it?
Why am I even bothering?
Feeling unsure of ourselves is part of the emotional landscape we sometimes have to negotiate as creatives. Why? Because in producing original work, we’re constantly extending ourselves, coming up with new things, breaking fresh ground. We’re always at the forefront of our own development – even if we don’t realise it.
And when we put our work out there, we open ourselves up to two specific issues: being known, and the fear of success.
Being creative means, at a basic level, that we are putting something out into the world. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of that fact, because it’s incredibly important – and a wonderful thing.
Creativity changes the world
Once we’ve made a work, the world will never be the same. We have changed it, even in a small way.
We take the act of creation for granted, but its significance hits home when we throw off the covers and expose our work to the gaze of others.
At this point, our anxiety can go into overdrive, as it contacts a vulnerable part of us that we’re keen to protect.
Our work and process come from a sensitive and precious place – our source, who we are. So when we do go public, it can feel like we’re exposing our selves to critique (and criticism).
All kinds of questions can rear their heads:
Am I going to get bad reviews?
What will happen if I do?
Am I a terrible creative?
Will they attack me?
What will that mean?
Will people troll me?
– and so on.
I was reading recently about the Myers-Briggs Test, which is used for personality profiling, and how creatives identify within it.
The ISFP profile stands for Intuition, Sensing, Feeling and Perception; typically, ISFPs are artists, writers, musicians and teachers. They have a strong sense of aesthetics and beauty, are experimental, empathic, action-oriented, sensitive and… wait for it… find it hard to deal with criticism.
If you’re an ISFP, you’re in excellent company: Mozart, Wordsworth, Steven Spielberg, Kate Bush, Gauguin, Bob Dylan and David Bowie, to name but a few.
What do all of these amazing artists have in common? They’re adventurers. They’ve all ploughed their own, highly individualistic furrow. And it’s hard to believe that none of them have ever had a moment of doubt in their working lives, or that they’ve never had to deal with criticism.
Of course they have.
So, what do we do about the problem of being known?
Be open to being known
The bottom line is that if we want our work to be seen, we need to strap on a psychological carapace and be open to the idea – at least to some extent.
I’ve written before about the self-doubt I experienced when I produced my first photography show. Solo flights are scary, there’s no one else to rely on. You really do have to carry this all by yourself.
However, that isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. If you’re feeling some trepidation, remember: it takes an act of bravery to put your work out there. The very fact that you are doing this says a lot about the kind of person you are. Spirited. Original. An artist.
The call to create is strong, and you’re being courageous enough not to shy away from it.
Here’s something else to bear in mind. When we’re breaking new ground, we feel horribly inexperienced. Which is true – but we’re also forgetting, at the same time, the experience that we do have, and what we can bring to the table.
In fact, despite any feelings of insecurity we might have, the act of showing our work increases confidence and self-belief. It’s a concrete achievement. It gives us knowledge we didn’t have previously.
It also gives us valuable feedback: we’re in a much better position to know what works and what doesn’t. Finally, having stepped outside our comfort zone, we’re no longer confined by fear of that particular situation, and able to expand our horizons even further.
There is a caveat to this. The one thing we must be prepared to do, is to stand by our work. We have to be 100 per cent behind it, which has a very real bearing on quality. Serious creatives are all about standards: they decline substandard collaborations, and are committed to releasing only their best output.
Why? Because they know they will be judged on it.
Being rigorous can really help here. If we’ve taken the time to craft our work, and to analyse and critique it, it goes a long way to instilling confidence and allaying anxiety.
If criticism does come, we’re then in a better position to assess whether it really is justified, or simply a green-eyed put-down to be ignored.
Fear of success
What happens when you become known? You might be seen as a bright new talent, an expert, a poster person for your cause, the go-to person in your field. You might be known for producing beautiful work, and begin to amass a fan base.
This is particularly evident on crafting platforms, where certain makers have a loyal following: every new piece they make sells, simply because people adore their work. (And, of course, in the art, music and book worlds.)
Put impostor syndrome aside
What people are giving back by way of approbation should be taken as a compliment. You’ve given something with your work, and this is the time to put impostor syndrome back in its box.
The thing is, you don’t have to be famous or have a million fans to be known. You don’t need a massive ego or a desire to conquer the world. You can be respected for your specialism or niche, and that’s equally fine.
In fact, creative leadership often involves being sought after for the unique skills and knowledge you possess. Understanding the importance of sharing, using your position for positive ends – this is what we’re all about as creatives: community.
Truly great creatives are leaders, but they’re also generous, giving of their time and selves. They love great work, and encourage it. They want success for themselves, but they also want it for others.
So, if you think about all of this, what is there to be afraid of?
Will people believe in you? Of course they will – why should they not, if you’re authentic and stand behind what you do? Don’t underestimate what you have to offer!
Being real, making quality work, and contributing something valuable to others? If that’s the price of success, surely it’s a worthwhile sum to pay.