By Emma Clark Gratton
Working for yourself or passionately following a creative project requires a level of mental toughness and self-confidence that is hard to maintain. Dealing with rejection, financial challenges, working long hours with just yourself as taskmaster… all these things can build up until you are having an existential crisis before your morning coffee.
To make it even more difficult, these days of stunning Insta feeds and #humblebragging tweets can feel that everyone else is kicking goals while you are still slogging away. The reality? Even Frida Kahlo and Gertrude Stein and Madonna have done crappy work, and spent days pottering around in their pyjamas eating toast and not producing much. The people who are at the top of their game aren’t talking about it on Facebook, they are simply doing the work.
Here are some of the most common fears, self-doubting phrases and negative feelings that crop up, and how to deal with them.
I don’t deserve this!
You do. Whether you are taking the giant leap of quitting your day job, or simply ditching a family Game of Thrones marathon to dig out your old painting gear, all creative pursuits are worthwhile and valid. At the risk of sounding like an inspirational Instagram post, we only get one life, so why the hell wouldn’t you give it your best shot?
It is not a matter of 'deserving' or 'earning the right' to be creative. You don't need to justify it to anyone!
But (insert name here) is already doing this waaaaay better than I can!
You know the feeling: you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, chugging along on your creative projects,when a friend/colleague/stranger makes a big announcement. Perhaps they have an amazing book deal, or a huge solo exhibition, or they landed their dream creative job in Japan. You hug them and celebrate, but deep, deep down you feel a little stab of “Why not me? What is wrong with me? Do I suck?”
Morrisey even wrote a song about it: “We hate it when our friends become successful”, which goes “You see, it should’ve been me / It could’ve been me / Everybody knows / Everybody says so.”
This is a hard feeling. This feeling doesn’t make you a bad person (you can be genuinely happy for someone and still be slightly jealous at the same time), but it can be useful to examine that feeling further. Remind yourself of all the cool stuff you HAVE done, and the awesome things you are planning to do. There is room for all of us, and there is plenty of work to go around.
I don’t know what I’m doing!
Want to know a secret? Nobody actually knows what he or she is doing. It is a total ruse! Making mistakes, failing spectacularly, and starting again is all part of life. There is nothing you can’t find help on, either online or by asking people who have done it before.
When you are feeling overwhelmed and lost, try to cultivate a “what if?” attitude. Just try something that feels like a fairly good idea, then go from there. And remember, no one was born knowing how to code, or design, or knit. Learning new things is part of the fun!
But this is too scary/hard/overwhelming!
All the best things are scary. Sometimes, jumping in headfirst is the only way to give yourself the kick you need. But if you are feeling overwhelmed, then break the task down to the smallest component that you feel comfortable with. Want to start your own Etsy business but feeling totally overwhelmed? Just start by making a list of the kinds of thing you could sell. Take tiny, incremental steps towards your goal, then use the momentum to keep going.
I’m too poor/lazy/busy!
Well then, do what you can. Anything is better than nothing, right? Even the busiest working mother with multiple kids and a busy job can find time to crochet a few rows before bed, or scribble out her plans for starting a ceramics business. Work with what you’ve got. Heaps of resources and creative inspirations are free: go to the library and borrow art and business books, practice your floristry using blooms from your garden, or write your novel on your lunch break from your desk job.
Generally, a good way to deal with these kinds of doubts is to allow yourself to fully experience the negative feeling, acknowledge it, and then get on with your day. Let the fear and negativity in, say hello to it, but don’t let it stop you from getting on with being awesome. A favourite quote of mine is “A garden grows where you water it”, which means the things you nurture and pay attention to are what will grow the fastest. This goes for thoughts and actions as well as gardens: prioritise your creative pursuits and see what happens.
If you are genuinely struggling with anxiety, depression or feelings of overwhelm, I cannot stress the importance of talking to someone. Talk to your partner, your mum or a friend who gets it. Otherwise, seeing a counselor is an excellent way to sort out any issues in an objective way, and can help you get back on track. You don’t need to be in the depths of depression to seek professional help. In fact, seeking help when you are feeling good can help you handle the more serious emotions when times are tough.