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How to Beat the 5 Most Common 'What ifs' for Creatives

Any passionate pursuit comes with a complimentary side dish of fear and anxiety. Dig in.
How to Beat the 5 Most Common 'What ifs' for Creatives
Image credit: Geber86 | Getty Images

Anybody who has ever sat in front of a blank page knows that the creative process is inherently difficult. The act of producing something out of nothing is a strain on the best of days and a masochistic endeavor on the worst. While many view creative vocations as lighthearted pursuits that don’t measure up to the vexation of a hearty day of manual labor, they are in fact quite the opposite.

Sure there are many jobs that require a great deal of physical exertion to complete, but creative pursuits are particularly exhausting due to their mental and emotional drain. There is nothing easy about giving birth to an idea and then painstakingly nurturing it into something tangible that can be seen and held by the world.

With creativity comes emotion -- not the good kind.

With this process comes a feeling that is every bit as real as it is troubling: fear. Any passionate pursuit seems to come with this complimentary side dish -- always served cold, of course. The journey is not finite, and the only direction we receive resides deep within the part of us that drives us to create yet gives us little information on how to actually go about it. Where creativity is spawned, so is an emotional typhoon that comes along with it. 

Related: 6 Obstacles to Creative Thinking and How to Overcome Them

In order to be productive, we have to simultaneously eschew fear while we innovate. The following five forms of fear that manifest themselves in “what if” form are ones that will likely be relatable to creators and innovators of all kinds.

1. What if I suck? 

Many creative minds doubt the one and only thing they can rely on: themselves. Much of this inner unrest comes from comparison. In times of self-doubt, you have to remind yourself that sparks can’t be created in a mind that’s flooded with thoughts of others. Focusing on what they have done or are doing is a cancer to your individuality. Your journey is your own, and measuring your skills or accomplishments against another’s is like placing a coloring book next to an encyclopedia to determine which is better. There is no “better” or “worse” when comparing different backgrounds, experiences, and opportunities. At the end of the day, it’s all about doing you.

2. What if no one even sees my work? 

Welcome to the club. Just think about the millions of talented people across world right now, all silently producing original masterpieces that will never feel the golden glow of mainstream success. Now ask yourself, just because their work isn’t the next viral sensation or even widely appreciated outside their own little circle of influence, does that mean that what they’ve created is somehow cheapened? Of course not.

The success of a particular work should not be based solely on the recognition it receives. Some people are indeed lucky enough to see their work spread across the globe, while others will be six feet under when their creations receive some shine. For most however, their work will touch the lives of a few but remain largely unknown to the world at large. When all is said and done, you will know inside yourself whether what you’ve created is special, and no amount of public adoration or media inquiries -- or lack thereof -- will change that.

Related: The Popularity of Visual Content Will Only Increase, So You Must Be Prepared

3. What if people hate and criticize my work? 

If there is one thing you can count on, it’s that there will always be people who hate your work. And not only that, they will also hate you personally for creating it. Art is an extension of the artist, so while it may be easy to play the victim and ask why your name is being dragged through the mud, it only makes sense that you and what you’ve created are judged together. The sooner you accept this, the better off you will be.

The belief that good work will receive validation just isn’t true. There are plenty of great inventions, companies, apps, films, and books out there that are useful and innovative yet largely unknown or even poorly received. If you use the completely subjective and uninformed knee-jerk reactions of Twitter users to measure the success of your work you will be constantly disappointed and most likely offended.

Remember why you started. You began your journey because you felt an internal calling to do so, not to place the product on a public altar for judgment. All that matters is that you’re using your voice. If you ever find yourself discouraged, just remember that taking the time to pour your soul into creating something will always place you on a higher plane of existence than those who sit in the comfy bleachers of criticism.

4. What if I can’t afford to keep doing this?

The majority of artists and creatives aren’t at the point of supporting themselves entirely on their passion projects. Does this mean they’re any less legit? Not at all. A writer who pays the bills as a social media marketer is still a writer, and a designer who moonlights as a waiter is still a designer. Of course it’s the goal of any serious creative to make a living off their passion, but it usually takes years for that to happen, if it ever does.

Being overly concerned about receiving financial validation for your work is one of the quickest ways to sap your passion and energy. It’s horribly cliché to say so, but the old starving artist’s refrain is true: it’s not about the money. Sure it would be nice to have an inbox full of business opportunities and PR requests that would consistently pay rent and put food on the table, but that’s part of the adventure of creating something new. The path of an innovator is so obscure that we can hardly see the next step, yet we continue to trudge on because we know that any other path would be unfulfilling. 

Related: Genius Loves Company: 4 Ways to Cultivate Creative Collaboration

5. What if I’m wasting my time?

Be assured, watching reality TV is a waste of time, creating never will be. In fact, if there’s one thing in this world that’s not a waste of time, it’s producing something new. After all, what is the purpose of life if not to create something that will last far longer than we will? If all else fails, just remember that what you are seeking to do is perhaps the single most worthwhile thing you could be doing. Only the uninspired are content with reveling in office gossip and performing menial errands to fill the day. Pursuing your passions with a reckless abandon may contain its fair share of adversity, but it will never leave you feeling empty. No forward-moving journey could ever be considered a waste. The fact that you have answered the call of your creativity and pledged your passion to it means that you have a much deeper understanding of your purpose in life than most. Go with it.