— Too often as artists we allow our self-doubt and lack of confidence to hold us back. We waste energy beating ourselves up and feeling frustrated … when we could instead be busily creating, having fun, and improving in leaps and bounds.
Standing on the threshold of a rich and imaginative creative life, we hesitate … not realizing that everything we fear is on THIS side of the door. What’s on the other side isn’t scary at all. What’s on the other side is everything we dream of attaining.
All we need to do is open it and walk through.
Of course, walking through bravely is easier said than done. Which is why I’ve compiled six suggestions for navigating those times you find yourself tortured with self-doubt.
First … I want you to grab a journal and make some lists. I don’t know why it is, but there’s just something magic about writing down lists. (Not typing them. Writing them. By hand. With a great pen.) And there are three specific lists I’d like you to sit down to write out at least once a month:
List #1 — What are you grateful for and proud of already? Seriously. When you’re feeling your lowest, it’s almost always because you’re so caught up in your own head and focused so much on what you don’t have yet and all the things you haven’t yet accomplished … But if you were to simply spend a few minutes reminding yourself of all the great things you DO have and all the amazing things you’ve already done, you’ll immediately begin to feel better. Your challenges won’t seem so all-fired important or grim. You’ll feel lighter and more relaxed. And stronger at the same time.
List #2 — What are your secret weapons? What immense advantages do you have available to you, if you just took stock of them? I’ll point out two of them it’s easy to forget about: your camera and your computer! If you’re using a modern digital camera and you have Photoshop, you’re already in possession of treasures beyond the wildest dreams of your forerunners. What else do you have at your disposal as a creative artist? Do you have some extraordinary books in your library? If you’re in any of my courses, you not only have all of that training but also have access to an absolute treasure trove of content to work with by this point. You also have the inspiration of everything going on over on Facebook and here in this blog, not to mention the over 3,000 pages of stunning artwork published in our magazine. Maybe you have some amazing additional programs at your disposal (Topaz? OnOne? Lightroom? Auto FX? The NIK Suite?), each of them a monumentally powerful resource. Heck, even an iPhone or iPad is an amazing resource nowadays. Put it on your list. These are your secret weapons. These are the tools and resources that all but guarantee your success once you immerse yourself in them.
List #3 — What kind of artistic life is it you dream of creating? What kind of artist do you dream of becoming? This is an immensely important question, and one we explore in the “21 Days to Creative Abundance” training and concentrate on in depth in the AWAKE core sessions. But sit down and think about it now. Grab a pen. Write out a list of some of the things that would best outline the details of the artistic life you would love to be living. It needn’t be anything big and grand or over-the-top. It could be a very simple, happy, contented artistic life … But what is it for you? See if you can get clear on this so you have a better idea of what it is you are working toward, and what a joy it would be to create it.
Second, after you’ve written up those three lists, I want you to commit to something simple I’m convinced will work wonders on your confidence. I want you to clean off your desk (as well as your desktop on your computer). I mean it. Putting your world in some kind of order, getting your image files organized, and generally setting things up so that the clutter is no longer a distraction — this will imbue your creative work with the feel of something rather more professional than you’ve been used to up until now. In a way, clearing the clutter announces to the universe that you mean business. Do this. You’ll thank me.
Third, commit to hanging out with people who GET you and who take their own creative lives seriously. Shake off the knuckleheads and anyone undermining your confidence. Decide to spend your time with other creative people who are actively engaged in creating artistic lives of their own. (This is definitely one of the advantages of being in AWAKE. The camaraderie and support in our private Facebook groups is priceless.) It’s difficult to feel confident and optimistic about your creative endeavors if you’re always hanging around a bunch of un-ambitious sluggards who do nothing but complain, make excuses, and try to drag everyone else down. Get around some better people.
Fourth (and this is a big one), determine as of right now to STOP comparing yourself to others! Beginning artists make this mistake all the time, and it often cripples their progress. They jump into something new like photo artistry and after a month or so they start beating themselves up for not creating art as strong as the works they see others creating — artists who have often been working hard at this craft for years. You can’t expect to become great at anything overnight. It all takes time. And what’s more, each artist is on his or her own path. That’s just how it is. And how it should be. So look to other artists for inspiration, but stop comparing your work to theirs. You honestly have no clue how much farther along you could be just six months from now. So cut yourself a break. Give yourself time. And just concentrate on pursuing your own creative journey.
Fifth, and toward this end, set yourself the task of continually learning more, expanding your command of various techniques, studying new ideas and looking for ways to incorporate them in your work. Put another way: decide beginning today to work harder. Set yourself a course of study and pursue it with enthusiasm. You’re only going to get better by putting in the time for study and practice. You’ll find that one of your greatest sources of self-confidence derives from the intensity you bring to the process of learning more about your craft. Want to feel more confident? Become more capable. And you become more capable by stepping up your regime of study and practice. (This might be where the “21 Days to Creative Abundance” particularly shines.)
Sixth, make a point to experiment more with your approach to art, and continually push yourself to try NEW things. Take more chances. This will help you accomplish one of the most important things you need to do if you’re to become more confident, which is to shush your inner critic, that debilitating voice whispering that what you’re doing isn’t good enough, that you’re not as good as the other artists you see, that you’re wasting your time and you’ll never amount to anything … Good grief. Tell that voice to jump off a cliff already. And one way to do that is to stop taking this stuff so damn seriously! Decide today that you’re going to start having FUN with your creative work. (Above all else, FUN!) And one way to have more fun is to challenge yourself to try new things, crazy things, delightful things. Take some risks and just see what happens. Some will work, some won’t. But you’ll learn along the way. And with the usual constraints removed, unconcerned with what anyone else might think, you’ll soon find yourself having a blast — living the kind of imaginative life not one in ten thousand ever have the guts to live.
And that’s something you’ll be able to add to your list of things you’re proud of.
Ultimately, so much of your success as an artist (however it is you define success) will come down to the confidence with which you tackle your creative work each day.
If you stand outside the door hesitating, fearful, dreading what others might think, you’ll never achieve a fraction of what you could achieve if you just opened the door and walked through it, come what may.
So step through.
It’s not locked.
And believe me: all of the fun and all of the rewards are on the other side.