Self-doubt and creativity
While a creative career can be rewarding in many ways, it can also be a big challenge for our mental health. We are regularly exposed to self-doubt and criticism — our proposals get rejected, we fail with new ideas. We compare our work to others, to see how we perform. We truly want to make impactful and good work, but we also need to earn money. Starting with a blank canvas can be scary but we have deadlines and we need to exercise our brain to be innovative no matter what. We have a huge responsibility in ensuring that our work is not just aesthetic but that it also works.
Acceptance and self-awareness
On December 17th, 2018 I had all of the above feelings. I scrolled in panic through my Instagram feed and I just knew that in fact, I am not good enough. While I didn’t have a problem accepting that, I was also aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I closed the app quickly and I drew the first thing that came to my mind. It was an ugly uterus and not in a good-ugly kind of way. Back to Instagram, I uploaded the drawing and put down my thoughts in the caption. Then I pressed impulsively the “SHARE” button. It was big and scary but I ignored this feeling.
What happened next was surprising. Nobody wrote a negative comment. On the contrary, people ignored the ugly and engaged with me in a conversation that took off to personal stories and conversations I never had before on social media. I felt connected, understood, and for the first time, I felt like I belong to a place that has no physical space — I had a community and through transparency and empathy, we were growing together.
I recommend the book from Austin Kleon “Show Your Work” to everyone who still has doubts that this works. As he said: “the worst troll is the one that lives in your head.”
No judgment, please
Since that unexpected response, I committed to one illustration daily, for the whole year. It was a therapeutic experience to transfer my feelings into my work. It helped me to discover myself in my career and personal life. Sharing the journey on social media made me feel vulnerable but it was also empowering. I had nothing to hide. All my weaknesses were exposed. I was making mistakes, ready for criticism and someone to tell me to stop embarrassing myself. Especially, when I drew on a photo of Schnitzel…
1% better than yesterday
Technical illustration skills were improving every quarter, and the time between was very painful and demotivating. But I knew that every creative went through this process. Just not everyone is sharing it. It was the creative community that kept me moving when the self-doubt was creeping in. My goal was to be just a little bit better than yesterday.
Show your bad work
In October 2019 I joined Illostories folktale week challenge to draw every day according to their prompts. This time, I knew I can’t compete with professional illustrators. I didn’t have any expectations besides doing my best and enjoying the process. I failed with many things, like the above Copic markers attempt, which later on turned into a fun illustration. I even tried making my own video tutorials — another challenge, that didn’t work out.
Eventually, two of my drawings got featured on the Illostories Instagram account. Although it means nothing to most creatives, for me it was time to pop the champagne. Sometimes, what you think is bad, might be interesting for others.
The compound effect
There was no magic formula for it. I just kept doing my thing, unapologetically, even when it was bad. Shortly after the Illostories challenge, I got my first commissions for commercial illustrations. I almost cried. It was well paid, and I was doing what I love. The compound effect was finally paying off.
Back to self-doubt
For a moment, I wanted to retreat. I thought “Who am I, to charge for my drawing?”. I signed the contract with mixed feelings of confidence and fear. In a panic, I scrolled through my Instagram profile. Now that I somewhat succeeded, should I delete all the bad work I did earlier? What if the client sees it? I looked at the button “delete” and it was looking back at me, whispering: “You are a coward”.
Chris Do recently reminded me that there is no win-lose scenario. As Nelson Mandela said: “I never lose. I either win or learn”. I truly believe in it. Because of my transparency and social media without filter, I will not be hired by everyone. But it is OK.
Seth Godin sums it up nicely: “Two things happen when you delight your minimum viable audience: 1. You discover it’s a lot larger group than you expected, 2. they tell the others. On the other hand, if you aim for mass (another word for average), you’ll probably create something average. Which gets you not very far.”
I can stay true to myself and work with people who share my beliefs. Isn’t it a win-win scenario?
Just be yourself
Emotional marketing is a big buzzword in the advertising world. There are hundreds of articles with steps on how to connect to your audience to make more sales. I believe that there is only one step to make emotional marketing work. Be yourself, just the way you are, and be transparent about your beliefs even if they are not perfect.
Joanna’s reading list for self-doubt:
It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business with Impact by 99U
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
Power of Self Confidence by Brian Tracy
How to Get More Clients by Chris Do