How to face your fears in the creative industry

You’ve been staring at the screen for the entire day. But you’re not working, no: you have fallen into the Youtube spiral of distraction and despondency hours ago. It all started so well: you blocked out time in your calendar to get inspiration for the next project. You had a plan. You went to the profiles of people whose work you like, perused Instagram, filled your Pinterest-account or added images to your mood-board. But then, that little monster woke up: Insecurity. And it started nagging and nagging and nagging: “Oooh! Look at her work! I can never do that! Why do I even try? I haven’t even started yet. How the heck did he do that!? It will take me years! Where do I even start? Who am I kidding – these people are all WAY out of my league!”

And so, you gave up. Again.

The cycle of good intentions, distractions, insecurity, self-abasement and depression is not uncommon in the creative industry. It is hard to put yourself out there, especially in a world where everyone’s a critic.

There is, however, a more useful way to engage the creative process, that can actually produce results.

All creatives have insecurities

Let me reframe that: all humans have insecurities. But the human who creates something – whether it be a meal, article, portrait or sculpture – has to face their insecurities head-on. It’s easier to execute someone else’s idea, but when you have to birth your own, you confront your most vulnerable part, and place it center-stage, in blinding spot-lights.

To one degree or another, all creative work strips you naked – with sex as the most primal example. It is one of the most challenging and courageous acts to expose your intimate ideas to the world, open to scrutiny. And even the most accomplished actors, designers and art directors have these insecurities.

So, how do they do it?!

Start small

At some point of our lives, all of us are confronted with the question: “Am I good enough?” When we create something, though, we don’t ask the question only of ourselves, we ask it of the audience. They get to say whether I am ‘good enough’. Which is why this question carries a particular intensity.

When you are confronted with the question, then, beware of this common pitfall: Stop comparing yourself with the wrong people.

In art-school, med-school, or any decent educational institution, your lecturer will not (or should not) expect you to paint like Monét or Michaelangelo. They don’t expect you to perform heart-surgery on day one (phew!). The don’t think you will blow their minds, but quite the opposite: they expect you to be as uninformed, unskilled, clumsy and annoying as the students that came before you.

This is NORMAL.

However, once we step into the industry there is this strange unspoken expectation that we must be an overnight success, produce some miracle gene and compete with the best in the industry.  This is ludicrous, unrealistic, and very unhelpful. Start where you are at. Have you just launched your career? Then accept the fact that you are a newbie! Take off the pressure! Compare yourself to peers, not princes.

Adopt a prototype-mindset

Life is not black or white, win or lose, fail or succeed, fantastic or horrible. If you look at the world through these narrow parameters, you will make it hard – even impossible – for yourself to succeed. Instead, adopt a prototype-mindset.

The prototype mindset views any project as an opportunity to learn and refine on previous projects. For instance, in stead of trying to take the ‘perfect’ picture, just improve on the previous one you took. Recognise that your skill will continuously develop, evolve and improve. Recognise that you may have 1 great product followed by 3 awful ones, before you create another great product. The three ‘awful’ ones are not failures, they are learning-curves and iterations.

Then jump in…the shallow end

Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you are not Nick Knight, and you have changed your mind from swim-or-die, to one-prototype-at-a-time, you can jump into the shallow end. Many creatives romanticize drama and intensity, often shipwrecking their career from a high cliff. Don’t dive in too deep too soon, break under the demand and conclude that your only option is to become a full-time barista. It is simply not realistic.

Take a few stupid pictures with your out-dated iPhone. Ask friends for feedback on what they like and don’t like. Go online, and chat to other amateur photographers. Get ideas from family and peers. Take baby-steps, learn as you go, and stop comparing yourself to the giants in your industry.

Then, try landing a small job, learn from it, and work your way up to the big fish. Which brings us to the final point:

“Stay hungry, stay foolish, stay curious”

This quote by Steve Jobs makes for a lovely motivational poster. But you may as well leave it stuck on the back of a toilet door if you don’t know how to apply it.

Yes, adopt a curious posture, recognize that you have a lot to learn, and a hunger for more. But then, DO SOMETHING. 

The only way to move forward, is by moving forward.

In summary, the creative process can be divided into a 4-stage cycle:

  1. Do something small
  2. Get honest feedback
  3. Learn from your feedback
  4. Plan your improvements
  5. Do something small (version 2)

Now, get out there, and create something!

Photo by Christina Ambalavanar on Unsplash

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