Creativity is hard. It can also be scary. And taking creative risks is even scarier. But what if I told you that those very risks are the things that could help you break free from fear and live a happier, more creative life? Overcoming fears through creative risk taking isn’t something most creatives consider, but I see it as a secret weapon that helps you “create happy” in your life.
Creativity and fear
What big opposition do creative people face on a regular basis? When I ask people what’s holding them back, I often get surface level answers (at least at first):
“I just don’t have any more good ideas.”
“I don’t have the tools I need to really expand my creativity.”
“My boss doesn’t support out-of-the-box thinking.”
Don’t get me wrong: these are real problems that creatives face often. But underneath those problems is something else—something that holds creatives back far more than any external problem ever could. It’s fear.
I work with creative professionals every day, and I’m a creative professional myself. I am well acquainted with how creatives think and why they do what they do. Also, I’m aware of what (most) creative people want out of life; that is, I’ve found that most of them want to do meaningful work that creates positive change in the world while also helping them personally to feel happy and fulfilled.
Most creatives I know aren’t quite there (yet), and many of them don’t know why. But if I was a gambling man, I’d bet that what’s really holding them back is fear.
How fear holds you back creatively
Fear causes us to shrink back and hide, rather than to step forward and share. It promotes inaction, rather than purposeful, positive action. It puts a negative filter on everything, causing you to only see what could go wrong, instead of what could go right.
What are you afraid of when it comes to creativity? How might your fear be holding you back? In other words, how does fear actually manifest itself in your creative life?
Fear affects your behaviors and thoughts
I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but from my experience, there are some fears commonly shared by creative people (particularly professionals). Matching your behaviors and thoughts to the fear driving it can be a powerful first step in acknowledging the fear and eventually moving on from it.
- Waiting to receive instruction/direction from someone else
- Holding back ideas even when given the opportunity to share them
- Passing on projects that would require you to learn something new
The fear: I’m not creative enough.
- Self-deprecating thoughts
- Comparison and jealousy
- Constantly second-guessing your creative decisions
The fear: I’ll never be as good as other creatives in my field.
- Doing work you know you’re good at, even if it’s repetitive or you don’t enjoy it
- Unwillingness to share drafts or prototypes with others
The fear: If I try something new, I’ll fail.
- Hiding your “true self” from everyone
- Not putting emotion or soul into the things you create
- Being hesitant to give honest feedback when someone asks for your opinion
The fear: If I’m vulnerable, people won’t love me.
Recognize any of those behaviors or mindsets? They’re things that I see over and over again in my work with creatives, and yet, so few people tie it back to the underlying fear.
For example, someone might realize that they always wait to receive crystal clear directions from their boss before moving on with a project, but they might blame it on the boss (“She’s so picky!”), instead of seeing it as a fear of their inadequacy. Or, they might recognize that they’re a perfectionist, but insist that it’s only because they want to do quality work—not because they’re afraid to fail.
Whether they recognize it or not, creatives deal with these fears every day. But it’s only if they do recognize it that they’ll be able to move forward and overcome the fear.
And one great way to overcome fears is through creative risk taking.
Why creative risk taking helps you overcome your fears
When you feel afraid, the last thing you want to do is take a risk. But taking creative risks might not only help you overcome a specific fear, but also to be less fearful in general. Here are a few reasons why.
Taking creative risks gives you new evidence that your fears might not be real.
When we feel fear, our “fight or flight” response engages: your brain becomes hyperfocused, you start breathing fast and heavy, your heart races, and so on. You perceive the danger to be real. Many times, we start looking for evidence that supports this. (For example, if you’re afraid you’re not as talented as someone else, all their successes—and your failures—will stand out to you.) Before you know it, your brain has a lot of evidence to support that fear. Whether or not that evidence is valid doesn’t really matter; what matters is that your brain believes it.
When you take a risk, however, you present your brain with new data. You start to see the possibility of the risk paying off. And, no matter what happens after you take the risk, it probably isn’t as bad as your fearful brain would have had you believe it would be.
Taking creative risks builds confidence in your ability to work through your fears.
A lot of times, when we’re afraid, we think that we wouldn’t be able to survive whatever it is we’re afraid of. Failure would mean having to quit your job out of embarrassment; vulnerability would mean you’d be alone forever, etc. The fact is, however, that taking risks rarely leads to these worst-case scenarios.
I’m continually amazed at the ability of people to respond to challenges. People adapt to changes in their financial situation, their health, or their relationships. They survive shifts in their career or in their beliefs. They can (and do) handle hard things.
And guess what? You can, too. When you take a risk, no matter how it ends up, you’ll come out on the other side—hopefully a little braver and a little wiser. And when you recognize that you put yourself out there, took a risk, did something you were afraid to do, and survived it, your confidence in yourself will build.
Taking creative risks forces you to confront the unknown.
There’s a lot of fear in the unknown. When we’re facing something we’ve never faced before, it’s very normal to think of all the bad things that could happen, rather than the good things. Too many times, this leads to inaction. You do nothing, because you simply don’t know how things will turn out.
Taking a risk doesn’t mean you know how things will work out (in fact, the fact that it’s a risk means you definitely don’t know how they will turn out), but it does mean that you confronted the unknown, and that’s something to be proud of.
The more you practice confronting the unknown, the more comfortable you’ll be facing that unknown in the future. And the more comfortable you are facing the unknown, the more likely you are to stretch your creative thinking and try new things.
Finding creative risks you can take
What creative risks can you take that would help you overcome your fears and reach your full potential? Asking yourself these questions can help you find out.
What are my creative fears?
Ideally, creative risks are directly correlated to the things you’re afraid of. Identify your fears (this post about common fears creatives need to overcome, or this one about choosing to acknowledge your fear, can help) and think about the risks you could take that directly address them.
For example, if you’re afraid to be vulnerable, challenge yourself to give honest feedback the next time you have the chance to do so.
What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?
What risks would you take, if fear wasn’t part of the equation? Where would you go, who would you meet, what jobs would you apply for, what projects would you take on, etc.?
What is my biggest dream?
Your biggest dream or goal can guide your risk taking. Whatever your dream or goal is, think about the actions you’ll need to take to get you there (our draw backwards method is literally designed to help you do this!), and identify which of those actions are risks in your eyes. Then, start making plans to make them happen!
What haven’t I tried?
Creative people want to succeed, just like any other group of people. Most creative professionals I’ve talked to have tried many different things to help with their creativity, their work processes, goal development, and so on. It’s easy to get discouraged when you try something that doesn’t work, but maybe you haven’t taken the risk worthy of the reward. Try a method you haven’t tried before (something that scares you) and see what happens.
Examples of creative risks
Just as a quick reference point, here are some creative risks you might consider taking:
- Attend a networking event
- Post some of your work to your social media account(s)
- Apply for your dream job
- Create something just for you
- Use your creativity to create something for a friend
- When you disagree with someone, speak up
- Share your ideas (when appropriate), even if you aren’t sure how they’ll be received
- Show a colleague a rough draft of your work and ask for honest feedback
- Try a new creative hobby you’ve always want to try
- Offer to give a presentation at your next team meeting
- Try switching up your schedule to prioritize your creative work time
Overcoming fears through creative risk taking is scary, but it’s well worth the effort. It’s time to trust your creative side, let go of those fears, and let the risks you take open new doors of opportunity to you.
Take a risk—do something for you!
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