April 1, 2020

Overcoming the Anxiety of Sharing Your Creative Work

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stick figure dreams about opening a shop - overcoming creative anxiety - daringtocreate.com

"You're so brave! I could never do what you do."

It was a late Saturday afternoon and I was hanging with my friend Sarah.

Now let me tell you about Sarah. She has an enviable gift. My girl can turn trash into treasure. She'll take a rundown side cabinet and magic it into something fun and whimsical.

She fashions wicked-cool trinkets from bits of plastic and metal.

She can even knit her own jumpers, scarfs, hats and gloves.

Sarah can fix pretty much anything in her house.

But Sarah's number one DIY joy is making scented candles and fancy soaps.

She says she'd love to start an online store... one day.

We've talked about it loads. And this is what's holding her back: "What if my candles and soaps aren't good enough and no one buys any? It's a really competitive market you know."

"What if someone gets a rash from my soaps and I get sued?"

"What if people think I'm too old to be selling candles and soaps for a living."

Sarah has her 'what if's' down to a tee. She knows they're robbing her of the joy of realising her dreams. But, she's not ready to go for it. Yet.

She said, "I wish I was as brave as you."

If you ever want to trigger my inner impostor, tell me I'm brave. 

That five letter word will have me looking back over my shoulder to see who you're talking about. 'Cos, in my mind, you sure as hell can't be talking about me.

I don't see myself as brave. 

I see myself as someone who's learned to get comfortable doing uncomfortable things. When it comes to creating and shipping my work, I do it. But 97.9999% of the time, I do it scared.

In my teens, while preparing to leave home for University, I bought my first self help book. It was called Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, by Susan Jeffers. 

And I drank it in.

You could say, I've gotten to know my fears, anxieties, self doubt and inner critic quite well. And guess what?

I still struggle with impostor syndrome, perfectionism, procrastination... you know, the usual suspects. I just don't allow them to scupper my plans.

For creative folk it's grade A scary putting your 'art' into the world. 

We wrap our identity and self worth into our work. We care about our creations, and want others to love our handiwork as much as we do. We worry our ideas will get stolen or that we're unoriginal. We struggle to promote our work for fear receiving negative comments, fear of being judged, heckled, laughed at, misunderstood, rejected, spat at (OK, that last one is a little extreme).

When someone dismisses the thing we've bled, sweated and teared over, it feels like a personal attack of epic proportions. It doesn't feel safe to share our work again.

In 1907, Picasso painted his most controversial piece - Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon.

His work sparked public outrage so great he ended up hiding the painting under his bed for several years. Why? Because people misunderstood his expression.

Picasso painting five nude brothel dwelling prostitutes... yeah, not the best move in those unforgiving times. But the guy was called to do his thing.

Of course, Picasso took this rejection to heart. For a while, it stunted his progress.

A lack of clarity is anxiety inducing too.

There are those times we don't share our work because we just don't fricking know. We don't know what the next steps are. Or whether we're making the right decisions. Or whether what we're doing is good enough. We don't know!

We freak ourselves out with worry, and end up parking our passion project.

I wish I had a magic pill to make creative anxiety and fear go away.

But I don't. 

That awkward uneasiness we get when sharing a meaningful body of work will always be there. What I can tell you is this - it becomes easier to manage in time.

But only, if you break the mental muscle memory that's chaining you to the anxiety and dread. To do that you need to train yourself to 'feel the fear, and do it anyway.'

These next steps may help.

1. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions

Note how you're feeling, and sit with it. Don't dwell. Simply sit.

Yes, that sounds a little cuckoo.

The reverse would be to ignore the existence of any fears or anxieties. To cover them up with excuses and justifications. Do that, and you'll forever be a prisoner of your own mind.

Let those little voices in your head know you're onto them.

2. Identify the root of the matter

What are you really afraid of? Is it that people won't appreciate or value your work the same way you do? 

Are you feeling uneasy about revealing something personal? Not ready to unleash that level of vulnerability? Are you worried how you'll feel if someone criticises your work? 

Know there's validity in feeling the way you do.

Your brain is doing the most to protect you. Its picking up on worst case scenarios, and making a preemptive strike to shield you from them.

Maybe you'll discover what you're feeling isn't fear based at all. Maybe it's because your 'art' isn't ready to be shared. Sometimes I won't post something because I haven't made enough of an effort. I've either rushed it, or it needs more editing, or I need to scrap it and start over. 

Whenever I look at my work and feel uninspired, deflated or disappointed, I know that's a genuine 'I can do better' not an 'I'm too scared to post this' feeling. And if what you're feeling is fear based, you tackle it.

3. Challenge your anxiety and fears.

Ask them this: Do I need your protection in this instance?

What's the worst that could happen if you write that article, or send your portfolio to that big client, or post your manuscript to a publisher?

Is there any chance of actual physical danger to life?

Is there a chance your work could hurt someone else, or ruin your reputation, or break someones trust?

If not, the only danger you need protecting from is the danger of fear itself. Identify the real worst case scenario. What is the likelihood of that happening?

4. Practice negative visualisation.

No, this isn't an instruction to slide into the rabbit hole of negative thinking. It's about allowing yourself to mentally prepare for a bad end result. 

Negative visualisation is a technique used by ancient stoic philosophers. It's a way of releasing emotional attachment to a desired outcome.

For example, before I share a personal story or ask for help (because those things tend to make me feel anxious), I visualise what would happen if my worst case scenario came true. 

For me, that involves some form of rejection. 

By experiencing this rejection in my mind's eye, I've already handled myself in that situation. And, if the worst case does happen, I can bounce back faster, because I've prepared myself for it in advance.

5. Send your masterpiece out into the world.

There comes a time when you have to decide how much you want this.

As Steven Pressfield says: 

“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” 

Close your eyes. Breathe. And hit that send button. 

The only way you'll improve your craft is to get it out there. Let people stew on it. Let them decide whether it's for them, or not. 

Some people will love your work, others, not so much. 

It's all feedback babe. And the feedback you receive, both good, but especially bad, will help shape your work. You'll boost your confidence, output, level of success in ways you'd never imagine.

So get out there. 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

And stamp your creative genius all over the damn place.


If you know anyone struggling to find the courage to publish that book, start that blog, open that online store, promote their work, please share this email with them.

Maybe, just maybe this is the message they need to hear today.

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