Creative Confidence vs Your Inner Critic
How many of you have ever let fear stop you from doing something? For me personally I never realized how present my inner critic is in my thoughts until I recently heard the term “inner critic.” Like clock-work, my inner critic has been acutely present in all my creative endeavors.
I didn’t even realize I had an inner critic until I started listening to podcasts like Being Boss and reading books like Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. The funny thing is that my inner critic only shows up for my creative endeavors. It doesn’t show up when I hold positions of leadership or when I’m in jobs that are not traditionally creative; and that’s not to say I’m more qualified to be a leader than I am a creative or that non-creative jobs are less stressful. Then what is it about my creative pursuits that I can’t seem to silence that inner critic?
Have you ever applied to a job that you knew would be awesome but you secretly hoped you wouldn’t get it? I’ve passed up my fair share of cool opportunities out of fear of failure. When I first started getting into graphic design my brother came to me with a friend who needed a cd cover designed. Most people would think that would be an awesome opportunity to start applying the design fundamentals I had been learning. But I turned the project down. My reasons were that I didn’t feel qualified enough but the real reason was fear. My inner critic is like that worried mother that doesn’t want you to take any risks or even go outside even if it means that you’re missing out on all the amazing things going on outside the safe confines of home.
One of my most vivid encounters with my inner critic was when I got my first job as a graphic designer. I was worrying that if I got the job I wouldn’t be able to perform; I did not have confidence in my abilities no matter how much praise and compliments I received. I got the job and about a month after I wanted to quit. I told my boss that I didn’t feel capable and maybe I should wait to get a job until I took more design classes. The work environment was everything I could dream of–countless design magazines for inspiration, cool coworkers, potluck Fridays, and creative freedom on projects but my inner critic was making me miserable. When I brought this up to my boss she looked at me, seriously confused, and said “Do you want this job or not? Your ‘lack of photoshop skills’ that you’re talking about is an excuse and is ridiculous because I’ve seen your work and I hired you based on your talent.” My inner critic was feeding me lies about my abilities and I was believing them to the point that I wanted to quit a very dreamy design position. Long story short, I ended up not quitting after much encouragement from my coworkers and boss.
What I’m seeing in common here is that the inner critic and my creative confidence is always a tug of war. I don’t think there will be a day when my inner critic doesn’t show up but now that I can recognize it, it is easier to push past and recognize that the stories my inner critic tells me are not facts. They can turn into facts if I choose to believe them and not pursue a project I am interested in. The more I practice creative confidence the more it becomes more aligned with my natural state of mind and I start taking on projects even if they freak me out a little bit.
Have you ever met someone who was so wildly confident in everything they pursued? I used to have a coworker like that named Alex. His inner critic was more like that mother that lets you do whatever you want and even lets you play with matches and run with scissors because she knows that the best way to live life is to experience it first-hand (ironically, that’s kind of how my mom raised me). I recently wrote a blog post based off the quote “Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.” That quote so accurately describes my coworker Alex.
Alex was an animation student and had a lot of creative ideas which he executed with confidence even when he didn’t fully have the skills. I remember one day he came in with some logos he created for the environmentalist club and was asking for our feedback. I was surprised that he had the courage to take on a logo project and charge for it despite the fact that he didn’t really have a design background. At that point in my design career I would have never taken on a logo project, let alone charge for it. My rationale would have been that because I “lack” proper design experience and skills I shouldn’t do projects like that. That’s the funny thing about the inner critic, it can make you believe that it is rooted in logic and reason. But Alex didn’t think of any of that. While my first reaction was to say no to projects, Alex’s first reaction was to say yes even if it meant he would figure it out in the process. He has fun in the process and doesn’t let the possibility of failure scare him. In the few years that I’ve known Alex he’s taken on logo projects, entered and sold his work at art shows, made short movies, and started writing a book, among others. He never waited until he was “ready” to do these things, and didn’t let his lack of experience stop him. Instead, he dove right in and had fun with his projects. So how do we embrace creative confidence? I’ve outlined some tips below that have helped me switch my thinking and I hope they help you too!
Challenge Your Inner Critic
- Know when fear-based reactions and decisions could be your inner critic talking.
- Acknowledge that thoughts created by your inner critic are not facts, they’re just stories.
- Your inner critic might never go away but being able to recognize it is half the battle.
- Invite your inner critic for the ride but don’t let it be the driver.
- Thank your inner critic for trying to keep you safe but kindly reject its suggestions.
Embrace a Creative Confidence Mindset
- Don’t let your first reaction to new things be “no,” in fact, start saying yes to more projects.
- Go into new projects with an optimistic outlook.
- Instead of contemplating all the ways the project could go wrong, think of all the ways a project could go right.
- Change the way you view failure. Rather than seeing it as something negative, embrace failure as a learning opportunity and opportunity for growth.
- As a creative entrepreneur making mistakes is inevitable. I was recently told by someone, “If you’re not making mistakes you’re not trying hard enough.”
What has your experience been with your inner critic? How do you channel creative confidence even when you’re feeling doubtful about your creative talents?
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Creative Confidence by David Kelley and Tom Kelley
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius