In my work with creatives over the years, I’ve noticed that there are many things that most creatives have in common. Most of them appreciate art and beauty, most of them are passionate about what they create, most of them want to make the world a better place. But there’s another thing they share, too: they all have a lot of fears they need to overcome.
The role of fear
Fear isn’t unique to creatives, by any means. In fact, fear plays a big role in the human race as a whole. In many ways, fear keeps us safe, initiating our survival instincts and urging us to avoid anything that might be harmful in some way. If you look at it this way, fear is almost something to be appreciated (or at least respected).
We talk a lot about the importance of recognizing, acknowledging, and facing your fears (in fact, it’s a key point in our Unleash Your Inner Dragon manifesto), but in this post, I thought I’d highlight some of the most common fears I see creatives dealing with—what they are, the problems they cause, and how you can work to overcome them.
5 fears that creatives must overcome
In my experience, there are 5 big fears that creatives face and need to overcome if they’re going to be able to “create happy” in their lives.
Fear of vulnerability
Creating is vulnerable. When you create, you essentially take a piece of yourself and put it on display for the world to see. The very best creative works are the ones that expose the creator in some way.
It makes sense that this would be scary—even terrifying. In fact, the definition of the word “vulnerable” is: “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon; open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.” Why would you do that to yourself…on purpose? What if you let yourself be vulnerable, and people don’t like what they see? Wouldn’t it be the worst thing ever to put yourself out there, only to be rejected?
The problem is, vulnerability is necessary to creating meaningful work. If you’re going to create something that matters to you or to anyone else, it’s going to require digging deep and sharing what you find. If you don’t (or won’t), whatever you create will lack soul.
How to overcome fear of vulnerability
Fear of vulnerability is very powerful, and very normal. Don’t beat yourself up or get discouraged if you have a hard time opening up. Instead, try these things to help you reject your fear of vulnerability and work through it.
- Be aware of your feelings. It’s a lot easier to share your feelings if you know what those feelings are. Try to pinpoint specific words that describe how you feel at a particular moment (an emotion wheel can help). Describe the emotion as accurately as you can. What does it feel like in your body? What color and shape would you give it?
- Share your feelings (a little at a time is fine). Talk with a person you trust about what you’re feeling. This doesn’t have to be a drawn-out, emotionally-heavy conversation; it can just be a quick and simple share. The objective is to share your feelings and have them accepted by someone else, without judgment. The more you practice, the more you’ll feel comfortable being vulnerable with your creativity as well.
- Recognize vulnerability elsewhere. Think about your favorite movie, song, poem, or book. Chances are, it hits you on a deep emotional level. Now think: how was the creator being vulnerable when they created that? Connect the vulnerability they shared with the feeling it brought out in you. Recognizing this connection can encourage you to be more vulnerable when you create.
Fear of failure
No one likes to fail. No one wants to fail. And creatives are no exception to this rule.
If you think about it, most of us are conditioned to be perfectionists. A wrong answer on a test elicits a large red X. A bad grade gets you scolded by your parents. Messing up on a project at work gets you a negative performance review. Failure doesn’t feel good, and sometimes, it can have real consequences.
But too often, I see creatives who are so afraid to fail that they never really get started. They hold themselves back, they procrastinate, they make excuses, they take on other, less important projects, etc. They’re so afraid to fail at what they really care about that they never even give themselves a fighting chance.
The fear of failure can paralyze you, if you let it.
How to overcome fear of failure
How do you help yourself work through the fear of failure? Can you suddenly just not care about whether or not you fail or succeed? I don’t think the answer has to be that drastic. Here are some more measured ideas.
- Try to try. Make effort the goal of your work, rather than results. This will help you develop a growth mindset—a mentality that is focused on continual improvement, learning, and growth. If all you’re doing is “trying to try,” then as long as you don’t give up, you’re succeeding.
- Create for you. Stop creating for other people. Create because you love it. This takes failure or success out of the equation. You aren’t entering your work into a contest, submitting it for your boss’s approval, or trying to sell it. You can’t “fail,” because the goal was simply to create. This helps renew your passion for your creative endeavors, and can help you fine-tune your craft.
- Embrace failure. Failure is an inevitable part of the creative process. Every person who has ever created something—EVER—has failed. I promise. Pay attention to your failures. Learn from them. What weaknesses do they highlight that you can now strengthen? Does your failure give you any new direction or insight?
Fear of success
It’s true—just as failure is a fear that creatives need to overcome, so is success.
Is that hard to believe? Well, start asking yourself some of these questions:
- How will my life change if this really takes off?
- Will I really be able to support my family with this work?
- What happens if I do well at first, but then I run out of ideas?
- Won’t other people start copying me if this works?
- Can I really sustain that level of success? Wouldn’t it be too good to be true?
If you really start to think about questions like these, you’ll likely hit a snag or two at some point. You’ll feel unsure that your success is sustainable, or real, or profitable enough to support your lifestyle. You’ll have doubts about your quality of work, and may start to feel like an imposter in your field. With a spotlight shining on you, wouldn’t people more easily be able to see who you really are?
The bottom line is this: success means change. And change is scary.
How to overcome fear of success
There’s got to be a part of you that really does want to succeed, regardless of the changes it would bring into your life. How can you tap into that part so you can get over your fear of success and start working towards it with hope and optimism?
- Envision success. The clearer you are about what you want your success to look like, the less “unknown” a successful future becomes. If you can truly picture and describe what success looks like, you can see that success for what it really is: a positive result of the hard work you put into your creativity.
- Build your confidence. You deserve to succeed. Let me say that again: you deserve to succeed. You probably don’t believe that; most creatives I talk to don’t believe it, no matter how much raw talent they have, or how dedicated they are to their work. Work on building up your confidence so you do believe it. Recognize your strengths. Reward your efforts. Give yourself permission to live the life you want to live. Be confident enough to go after your dreams.
- Work on anxiety. A lot of fear of success comes from asking “What if” questions about the future. These questions can make you feel anxious, but often, they also originate from anxiety. All that to say: working on your anxiety can help you know how to handle the unknown in a healthy way, helping you feel less fearful about the future.
Fear of inadequacy
Another fear creatives must overcome is the fear of inadequacy. As a whole, creatives tend to be hard on themselves. We want to create great things, we want to make a difference in the world, but as we compare ourselves to others, we think we come up short.
Where does this line of thinking take us? If we think that we aren’t good enough, we start to feel ashamed and worthless. We disconnect ourselves from others in order to protect ourselves from being hurt. And we stop creating, because we feel like it will never be good enough (and neither will we.)
You might be dealing with this fear if you think things like:
“I’m not sure I have what it takes.”
“I’ll never get to that level. Why am I even trying?”
“I’m just not as creative as I used to be.”
“I’m not as good as that person.”
Thoughts like these aren’t just going to take a major toll on your self-confidence, but they’ll also take a toll on the quantity and quality of your creative work. Instead of feeling inspired and creative, you’ll feel discouraged and “less than.” It’s a fear creatives must overcome if they’re going to “create happy.”
How to overcome fear of inadequacy
Afraid that you might not be enough? Try these ideas to help you overcome that fear.
- Use affirmations. Affirmations are powerful tools that can be used in a lot of different ways in your life. Essentially, you feed your brain positive statements in order to rewire it and train it to think differently than it’s used to. Choose statements that build yourself up and affirm your role as a creative person. (Want help? The Design.org Plus creative community includes access to affirmation packs, along with daily reminders you can schedule to receive when and how you want them. Learn more here.)
- Recognize your strengths (and own them). What are you good at? Dig deep and go beyond the surface level to find things that are unique to you. Recognize how those qualities show up in your everyday life. Give yourself credit for them. Leverage them in your creative work.
- Separate your worth from your performance. Performance varies. Worth doesn’t. No matter how many mistakes you make, no matter how many times you fall, your worth doesn’t change. You will always be a human being that is worth of love, respect, and connection. Don’t let what you’ve done (or haven’t done) get confused with who you are and what you’re worth.
Fear of hard work
Now, before you get all defensive, let me clarify: I’m not saying that creative people are lazy. On the contrary, creative people can and do work very hard to put their work out into the world. But I do notice that many creatives I meet seem to think that their work should be easy, and they get discouraged when (not if) it’s not.
A lot of creatives get into creative work because they have natural talent: they’re good at design, at writing, at drawing etc. Early on, that natural talent is enough to carry them through small hurdles and natural learning curves so that they get to a place where they feel “proficient.”
But what then? Inevitably, they come to a place where they can’t grow or progress without significant effort and hard work. And after a creative career full of success and positive feedback, hitting a wall like that can feel very discouraging indeed.
Creatives don’t fear hard work because they’re lazy; they fear it because they think it says something about their talent. That is, if they were truly talented, they wouldn’t have to work so hard.
How to overcome fear of hard work
How can you work past that fear so that you’re willing to put in the work required to “create happy” in your life?
- Read stories. I find that reading stories of successful people I admire is inspiring—not only because of the great things they end up doing, but because of the insane amount of work it took to get them there. Biographies or articles can often give you a glimpse into how much work it takes to make something look easy.
- Create every day. Look—if this is what you want to do with your life, then do it. Commit to working on your creativity every day. Create something every day. Even if you’re tired, or you feel like you’re out of ideas, or you have other tasks you have to get to. Just create. You can do the work; it’s just a matter of if you will do the work.
Like anyone else, creatives have fears that we need to overcome if we’re going to live happy and fulfilled lives. If any of these 5 fears resonated with you, it’s time to step back and take a good look at how fear is controlling your life, and how you can start facing and overcoming those fears.
Yes, it’s scary. But it’s also totally, completely worth it.
Receive Daily Coaching For Free
Get started with an assessment, see where you are at and receive personalized coaching messages daily, at no cost. You can pause or cancel anytime.