How Fear Nearly Ruined My Creative Career – Skinny Artist

How Fear Nearly Ruined My Creative Career

by: Betsy Conlan

I am the queen of indecision.

In fact, before I figured out how to handle this struggle, I spent years stuck in indecisiveness and uncertainty.

While I frequently waffled about which glaze and technique to use to finish a new clay tile, there was an even bigger decision to be made. I could not decide whether to quit my job and devote myself to my new dream business or not.

Part of my problem was that I also couldn’t decide exactly what that business should look like.

Should I stay or should I go?

For more years than I like to admit, I was a stifled creative working as an accountant.

I was good at my job and made decent money, but there was a very important part of me that was dying to get out . . . my creative side. So I started dabbling.

First I tried a drawing class, then some pottery classes, jewelry making classes and more. I loved them all. I also trained to be an interior designer, which I loved too, but I kept heading back to accounting for the money. But, I never stopped dreaming.

I’d fallen in love with the idea of helping others to learn to express their creative side. I wanted to show people the joy that you get from creating. But every time I made a plan and decided to go for it, I’d second-guess myself.

I had so many ideas about how to go about it that I couldn’t decide on a plan of action and then there was the fear of failing. So, I would kick the bucket down the road to decide on another time.

The seductive trap of indecision

Indecision can be paralyzing, especially in the creative process, however, when you don’t make a decision, that becomes a choice in and of itself.

Do you ever have trouble starting a project because you have so many ideas that you can’t decide which one to work on?
Maybe you are a writer who just can’t decide which way to steer the plot, so you put the whole project aside and start a new one.
Or perhaps you make a decision and then spend days (or more) second-guessing yourself.

In each instance, progress becomes excruciatingly slow or worse comes to a grinding halt.

Why do we get stuck?

No matter how many reasons we have for putting off making a decision, the real reason boils down to fear.

Sometimes that fear is justified, but more often than not most of us postpone making a choice because we believe it will save us from making mistakes. Each time that I decided not to start creating my business, I thought I was keeping myself from making a big financial mistake.

Avoiding Mistakes

We all know that avoiding mistakes is impossible, yet if you are like me, you try to do it anyway.

Once you have few failed projects under your belt, whether it’s a show that no one attended or a business that didn’t make it, or even if you have faced some tough criticism, it’s hard not to take a hit to your confidence. Those tough hits make us question our judgment, drawing us even further into the trap of indecision.

Escaping the Trap

The good news at that we can escape the trap! It takes some practice and determination, but it can be done.

Here are a few strategies you can use:

  • Face the Facts:
    First, Look at your choices objectively. Strip out as much emotion as you can. Then list the pros and cons from an outsider’s point of view. Sometimes it helps if I pretend I am advising someone else, like my sister or a good friend. It also helps to talk this step out loud with a trusted friend who won’t let me get away with any lame excuses.
  • Introducing Emotions:
    Next, examine the feelings you associate with the decision. What are they telling you? For example, if my emotions are saying, “I’m not ready yet” I do a fact check. Let’s say I wanted to create a giant metal sculpture, but haven’t yet learned to weld, which is an important fact. The action I need to take is clear . . . learn to weld. However, if I thought I wasn’t ready to get to work because my welding skills aren’t good enough, despite plenty of practice, this is probably an ugly fear (emotion) about how my work will be received. And it’s a fear that is not serving me well. Fear is not the same thing as reality! But it can feel very real, so it’s easy to be fooled.
  • Evaluate the Decision:
    Sometimes it really isn’t necessary to make a decision right away. Many people are so uncomfortable with indecision that they force themselves to make a choice because it makes them feel less anxious. Does that sound like you? I know I am sometimes guilty of making a decision just to get it over with. When this happens, I ask myself if a decision is really necessary at this point or if I have some time to sleep on it.
  • Give it Some Space:
    Often, we can think ourselves into a frenzy over a decision. The more we think, the more difficult the decision gets. When I get to this point, I take the pressure off. I take a break from thinking about the decision. I distract myself with a walk, read for a while or work on a different project for a bit. But just for a short while. This is not the time to stick my head in the sand and hope for the best, but nothing clears my mind better than a small fun creative project.
  • Check in with your Values:
    How do your options fit with the values, ideas, and priorities that are most important to you? I remind myself to step back from my creative self for a minute and remember that I am a whole person with lots of other things going on in my life. The best decisions are those that fit with what I value as a whole person.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice:
    One of the best lessons I learned is that the more decisions I make, the more confident I become in making them. If you want to practice, start with the easiest decision you need to make today and then move on to the next one. You will be amazed at how much lighter you feel when you make a few decisions and begin to move forward.
  • Trust Yourself:
    I have made decisions that I regret. We all do sometimes. However, frequently what seems like a bad decision in the short run can actually turn out to have a positive effect on my work further down the road. It’s hard not to second-guess yourself, but learning to trust my intuition (coupled that with objective thinking) has made me a much more effective decision maker. You’ll spend far less time deciding and far more time to create, which is infinitely more rewarding.

The fear of missing out

One of the hardest parts of making a commitment is the fear of missing out. It’s a fear of lost opportunity. It helps me to remember that every project that I decide not to do is not lost forever. If I decide not to use a particular surface decoration technique now, I can always save it and use it for a future project.

By keeping track of all my different ideas, I can resurrect them later, in a place that will showcase them in a better light. Our ideas are our babies. You can keep your ideas safe by writing them down and organizing them so that you can tend to them later. You can organize them in a loose-leaf binder or in Evernote using categories that you can later search for.

My favorite way to organize these ideas is to drop my notes, photos, and clippings from magazines into an old shoebox. Each shoebox is a different category. When I need inspiration, I simply pull out a shoebox and sift through it.

My current business doesn’t look like my original plan. It is continuing to evolve to incorporate more of what I want to do and to provide my clients with more of what they need and want. I’m sure it will continue to change as I figure out ways to include some of my other ideas and as I learn more about how to help others be at their creative best. By keeping track of my ideas I can come back to them when I need some inspiration.

Because you are an artist

Being an artist means making decisions.

Some will be good, some may not be so great. When you accept this inevitability as part of the adventure of the process, you free yourself to explore your art freely and enjoy the process. Doesn’t that sound better than being caught in the trap of indecision?

You aren’t alone; so don’t bog yourself down with worry that you are the only one suffering from indecision. By taking baby (small) steps forward, you will teach yourself to run head-on into your own artistic adventure. Your self-doubt can serve as a reminder to get to work.

Nothing cures fear like creating and accomplishing!

In the words of Eric Maisel, “Who knows how many artists fail because the light that shines through them is refracted in a thousand directions and not concentrated in a single beam? Pick projects and complete them! It is not really possible to work on a thousand things at once.”

Try it for yourself. If you stop your indecision and focus your light and energy into a single beam, what could happen to you?

What strategies have helped you deal with indecision in your creative life?

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.


About the Author

Betsy Conlan is a creativity coach, ceramic artist, and reformed accounting guru. She is living proof that even the most analytical folks are creative too. Her passion is helping others awaken their inner creative genius. Learn more about Betsy and grab your free Creativity Kickstart mini-course here

I just sit down and think “What’s the worst that could happen? Better to get it over with than let it dwell in your mind.”
Listening to music while I’m working on my creative piece also helps me unwind, and it.

    Betsy Conlan

    I agree! It is so much easier (and more productive) when you just get started rather than swelling in your mind. Getting started is often the hardest part. You can frequently look back after you have a project underway and laugh at how reluctant you were to start!Listening to music helps me to get out of my head and into motion too. Way to go for knowing what you need to do!

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