Updated: Mar 29, 2021
Anyone that ventures into creative projects has probably experienced some sort of stage fright. Whether it is new permission into a creative endeavour you haven’t tried before, or an expansion of your current practice, when we expand our zone of comfort, insecurities feel ignored and they get loud. “You have no right to try that! Who do you think you are to try this? You are not an artist, why are you pretending to be!? What if it’s ugly? What if you waste all that time and material? Whatever you make is who you are, so it better be good or it means you are a failure!” Yikes. Believe it or not, I have experienced a version of this (and still do), and I bet every artist, regardless of how accomplished they are, experiences this to some degree every time they test the boundaries of their comfort zone. It is these insecurities (of various forms) that keep so many from exploring their creative gifts and prevents them from living their best lives. So if the voices are there no matter who you are, what is the difference between those who bow to the fears that keep them down and those who persevere in spite of them? In my experience it is the power you give to these voices and how you respond to them. AKA coping mechanisms. Acceptance. Self talk. Redefining the self. Changing the narrative. The challenge I face is centred around an identity that I have attached to, based on my perceived success. “If I make pictures that people will like and buy then I am successful.” I have grown to understand the limitations around this sense of self and how it inhibits my creativity. As soon as I am fixated on creating art that needs to be approved by someone else, I am no longer creating from a place that is true to myself, and I struggle madly. I bounce around indecision and have trouble picking between too many ideas. I start, get stuck, then abandon the project. I get frustrated with myself and the art and I stop liking it. I become obsessive over details and perfection and stop seeing the work objectively. I even experience physical symptoms when I try to create from this place, often feeling nauseous and drained if I push too hard. My soul is hollering at me to change trajectory, not so much through the voices that took me down this road, but through my body and the barriers I face in the process. This identity is deeply rooted in a security that I grew up building, and served me in the way I lived a good chunk of my life. But when my journey shifted so did my identity. When I try to behave in a way that is in line with my old sense of self I get disoriented. It doesn’t jive with my current approach to life. I can recognize that seeking validation from sources outside of myself is limiting and never quite fulfilling on a deeper level. So how do I change the trajectory? While it is a constant effort, as old habits die hard, my understanding has a persistent grasp on the bigger picture view. For me, currently, the trick is to allow do-overs. The concept is that simple (application takes a bit of effort). This takes the pressure off of having to do it right the first time and makes room to explore, learn and make happy accidents. I approach the canvas with a mentality that the result of whatever I create here today doesn’t really matter...if it turns out great, great. If it doesn’t turn out great, great. At least I got to do the thing I loved today and that is valuable in itself. When I can take myself out of the equation, deciding whatever happens here does not make me who I am nor does it define my worth, the pressure is released. When I move back into emphasizing the process (over product) the result is simply a bonus. To me permission for do-overs, eliminating expectations, and allowing room for change in my art is the most nutritious recipe for growth as an artist. This applies to life too, as I’m beginning to understand (ahh, another delicious example of art’s ability to teach life lessons...). Especially when you have difficult days that don’t quite live up to expectations, or when something happens and you find yourself standing waist deep in a muck of regret. When you can stop defining yourself by your mistakes, thoughts, even actions and come back to the innocence of your innate worthiness, you make room for imperfections. You begin to see the less than desirable situations as opportunities to learn from and try a different approach. Isn’t that the whole point? If we were born flawless, or with perfect artistic abilities, then there would be no reason for the journey. So your mistakes do not define you...but what you choose to do with them may say something about you, and even more importantly, will determine the direction to take from there. What if you woke up tomorrow and said, “Whatever happens today I am allowing myself a do over tomorrow.” I think you might just get out of your way and live the heart-led life you are meant to, fostering the playful forward momentum of your student-hood in life.