Self-doubts. I feel like it’s the most re-occurring “monster” that just doesn’t want to go away for good no matter what we do. After talking with many artists over the years I think I’ve never met anyone who wouldn’t experience them in some form. My goal is to find ways that could help us to fight those inner demons so their attacks wouldn’t paralyze, limit, or even stop us from achieving the wildest and most wonderful dreams. I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of those🙂
This topic is not commonly and openly explored in our artistic community. We talk a lot about technical things, how to draw or paint this or that, how to sell and advertise the finished products, all super important and essential yet we neglect more internal aspects. I don’t think that those inner struggles should be treated like something separate that each of us must solve on our own. I believe that both aspects shall be approached as a whole. From the one side practicing all fundamentals and technical aspects of artwork creation and from the other side learning how to deal with all those inner monsters that inevitably touch every one of us. Our well mental being and the way we handle those struggles is the core and foundation of everything else. Let’s explore this together, share our experiences and support each other 🙂
In this part, I’m going to share with you my own experiences and thoughts and in the second part insights from wonderful artists: Julia Griffin, Aria Fawn, Juliet Shreckinger, Julia Lundman, and Ethan Price.
I always like to start with “why”. I find that when you realize consciously how certain mechanisms work you can rationalize better what’s happening and use it as your weapon. It’s like shedding light on a monster and now, totally exposed, maybe it’s not so scary after all. Knowledge is power.
So why do self-doubts attack us so often? Where do they come from and what’s their role?
First, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you if you experience self-doubts. Even the most creative and successful people are not immune to those struggles, so be angry neither at yourself nor at those inner critics. Those “monsters” are here for a reason and I’d say that is built in our software as a default. They are simply a protective mechanism trying to prevent us from harm. How so?
Going back to the primal times we were surrounded by danger. Our minds/brains were developing in the times when leaving the cave could literally mean death. So no wonder that it’s been trained to see threats everywhere. We were almost constantly in fly or fight mode trying to simply survive. We are not cavemen anymore yet those primal instincts remained, they just changed forms as our environment did. Nowadays we fear not bloodthirsty tigers but maybe potential bosses, gallery curators, art directors, and… peers. Oh yes, COMPARING with others is such a huge source of self-doubts.
Self-doubt is defined as the lack of confidence in one’s abilities. “You are not enough” it whispers. Not enough in comparison with who? If there was no one to compare yourself with would you be struggling with doubting yourself so much? In this era of social media, this is even more enhanced than ever. When we see all those marvelous artworks people put out there we often fix ourselves that we just can’t do it as someone else’s does. We compare our own progress with those of others. I think that there’s such a thin line between inspiration and doubt. The same person who inspired you can also make you question yourself when you realize that you can’t achieve the same outcomes or meet those expectations you put so high.
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”Suzy Kassem
The reason that I keep coming back to those topics of inner demons is that they had such a big power over me for too long. I feel like they were the biggest obstacle stopping me from going forward and achieving my dreams. Negative voices in my head were sabotaging almost every step. They were the strongest and the loudest at the beginning of my journey when I was learning to draw. “You suck”, “You don’t have a talent”, “you are too old”, “you are not capable to do this”, “you will never learn”… over and over again in my head. I wanted to attend drawing classes, but every time I’ve tried I just couldn’t draw with all those people around me, it was too paralyzing. Even at home, with no one watching me I remember days, especially when I wanted to draw something that I’ve never drawn before, this squeeze in my chest and tummy were just too strong to do anything, anxiety was blurring my mind and vision. I’m sharing this because I know that I’m not the only one and that many of you struggle with those inner demons. Maybe in different forms and with different intensities, but I’ve never met anyone who would be completely immune to them.
THE WAY YOU TALK TO YOURSELF
It’s been a very long way and a lot of work with myself but looking back at those first years of my artistic journey I wish just one thing. I wish I was able to hear my own true voice and realize that I had the ability to use it. The mind and the way you talk to yourself can make you or break you. I’ve experienced how destructive self-talk can be. How harsh and cruel the words you aim at yourself. I talked to myself in a way I wouldn’t to the worst enemy. In my case, low self-esteem was really strong, but if you are either at a similar place right now or struggle with those negative voices periodically I want you to know that YOU CAN change it. You truly have the biggest control and you are in possession of the most powerful assets against those Monsters – the way you talk to yourself.
You must be able to learn how to talk to your negative voice. it can be the most powerful thing to master in life. We all experience it.Michael Strahan
I really didn’t want to live like that, constantly sabotaging and attacking myself. I wanted to grow and enjoy the journey towards my dreams. So I’ve dived deep into self-help books and wrote even more intensely in journals trying to see all from perspective, separating myself from those voices. I’ve stumbled upon a tedtalk on youtube by Carol Dweck and the concept she was spreading really changed the way I thought. She introduced me to the idea of a fixed vs growth mindset. I’d like to make a separate post on this, but let me quickly explain. Most of us have those fixed thoughts, limiting beliefs about ourselves that we take as the truth. Most of them start with “I can’t” or “I’m not able” (to draw, learn, get fitter, etc). Dweck introduced a very powerful word to those fixed statements: YET. “I can’t do this… yet”. It changes the whole meaning, it opens the door for change and opportunity for improvement, a possibility to get there. I’ve trained myself to make that switch… and every time my mind directs me towards “ohh I can’t draw this fuckin hand!” I automatically add “yet”, I can’t draw it yet, but I will keep practicing and after drawing tons of them I will get better, no doubt.
I experience self-doubts on a regular basis. I wish to tell you that they disappear completely at some point but I’m not sure if it’s even possible. I’ve never met anyone (yet) who wouldn’t struggle with them in some form. The good thing that I observed is that they last less time and don’t paralyze me anymore. I am able to talk myself out of them and keep doing what I’m doing. There are days when those voices really creep up on me pretty strong but my strategy is the same. I’d take a longer break if I can, go for a walk to breathe and reflect, or to a cafe to write and reevaluate things. I strongly believe is the most powerful and worth training is your own voice. You are the only person who is always there and who will be there for the rest of your life, so it’s worth investing in this relationship and becoming friends. You can be your biggest support. It took me many years of hard work and countless notebooks of self-exploration to arrive at this but now I know that I can count on myself and whatever happens in life I have the ability to figure things out, It’s a kind of mantra I repeat to myself over and over again every time I feel scared of the future.
POWER OF JOURNALING
Writing is such a powerful tool for cultivating self-awareness. It always helps me to catch this elusive internal processing. When I struggle with something I write to myself in a form of asking questions. The brain is designed to find answers:) Here are examples of questions I might ask myself:
- Do you really believe you don’t deserve it? Why?
- What you are really afraid of?
- What is the worst that can happen? Could you live with that if it does? What would be your next step? What actions would you take?
- What will happen if you’d say no to this opportunity? Wouldn’t you regret not even trying?
I also like to play an advocate and give arguments against those self-doubts. I try to step back and look at everything from the perspective. For example, when I catch myself comparing with others I might use words like:
You are a unique individual Marta. There is no person like you. Therefore you have your own, wonderful perspective and vision based on all your experiences and stories you lived. No matter at what stage of your growth you are, you have this special voice to share and people deserve to hear it. Even if you are not on the level you wish to be, every new project or endeavor will teach you something and keep moving you forward. Embrace your own journey
When I’m afraid to fail at something, maybe not being able to draw well a pose I imagined or finish it on time I might say:
If you don’t “fail”, you don’t learn! Fail, fail a lot! this is the best way to keep moving forward. Every time you are gathering a new experience to your collection. Evaluate what didn’t work in the way and try to make changes and adjustments as you go. And ask yourself this question: At the end of your life, what do you think you’ll feel worst about, failing or never trying?
I’m looking for ways to give you specific examples and ways, show how you can talk to yourself or what actions to take in those situations, instead of drowning in a vicious circle of negative voices. Let me share with you my own example.
This year the strongest self-doubts that I’ve experienced appeared when a couple of galleries invited me to participate in group shows. For the first time ever my works started to get noticed broader and it was absolutely an amazing feeling. I was so happy and excited, couldn’t believe it’s actually happening. I’ve been dancing around and calling to all my loved ones “I will show my drawings in the US, in the US!!!”. This all lasted maybe an hour and then those voices kicked in.
Inner demons: Oh, no, what if I won’t come up with anything good! What if I will screw up everything. I already feel the pressure… I’m so slow, what if I won’t make it on time? I’ve been always drawing just for myself, now I actually must show it! Everybody will see it. What if they won’t like it? and maybe end up disappointed and never invite me again. I’m not ready yet. I just don’t even know what I’m doing, I’m just learning
*You see, those thoughts are like a vicious circle, they may never end. One doubt connects to the other, you start questioning everything. If we won’t stop this it can go on and on until you end up overwhelmed and paralyzed to do anything. It actually happened to me that day. The voices took control and the happy moment turned into almost an anxiety attack. It’s been a long time since it happened to me so intensely. But it’s understandable, my status quo just shattered and I had to adapt to something completely new. Sometimes the best what you can do when overthinking runs out of control is to shut it off, go to sleep and look at everything from a fresh perspective the next day. So I did.
The next morning I took a deep breath and before inner voices started rumbling again I turned into my journal as always.
My self-talk: You got this Marta. Those people invited you based on YOUR drawings, not anyone else’s. That means that they like what you do, they saw potential and gave you those amazing opportunities. You are ready, you know well that there never will be the perfect moment. Take this as a learning and growing experience. every time will be easier and easier. Take just one step at a time, show up every day and just do your best. It is a wonderful step in your career, embrace it and just be yourself.
This journaling session really helped me to calm and just take actions.
I think that the problem in all creative endeavors is that we artists tend to identify ourselves completely with our creations. It’s labor not only of our hands but also heart and soul. We put our emotions, feelings out there and it’s vulnerable. So when we receive a rejection or harsh critique, either from outside or those inner voices, no wonder that it feels as if it was directed straight at us as a person, not at the artwork. It hurts. In our eyes sometimes there’s no separation between you and a work you create. We need to learn the difference and see it all from the distance.
I don’t have any permanent solutions or ready-made formulas to deal with self-doubts apart from all those thoughts. But I believe that by exchanging different strategies maybe we can show to others ways to try that they haven’t thought of before. By sharing and talking about this we can support each other and feel less alone. Now let’s jump to the second part of this post and read insights from my amazing guests: Julia Griffin, Aria Fawn, Juliet Shreckinger, Julia Lundman, and Ethan Price.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with the poem I wrote on this topic: