One of my favourite things about blogging is getting to know amazing, creative people that you otherwise would never have met. Jen from Classic Play is one of those people. And we get to collaborate too! She's over in Baltimore and I'm here across the continent in Vancouver and we're back talking about creativity.
You know already that I'm all about the creative process - how do we create and how can we encourage each other to create better. Jen and I have already talked about making art and having a life, jealousy, and copying vs. inspiration.
Here's the deal - I pick a topic at random and email Jen and she responds IMMEDIATELY after reading it. Then I do the same. Unrehearsed, unedited, as real-time as we can get it. No second-guessing or back-pedaling possible.
Today it's self doubt. Let's do this thing.
I've been thinking lately about how being someone who creates is such an up and down experience. The inspiration is always there - I never have a problem with what to do. And I'll always (at least for now) have more projects and ideas than I have time to execute. For me the up and down is the riding the wave of self-doubt. As I am writing this I see that I wrote "someone who creates" rather than "artist". For me, claiming that artist mantle or name is not easy.
So what's that doubt about? Well, I find myself steaming ahead with all sorts of inspiration and then the doubt hits - why am I doing this? Am I any good at it? Will I ever be any good at it? Am I just wasting my time?
Self-doubt is like an obnoxious party guest or drunk uncle who arrives, even though they weren't invited, and brings the whole party to a screeching halt with some asinine comment. We all hate the party guest but we can't seem to get rid of him/her, no matter how hard we try. They're there at every event.
I suffer from extreme bouts of self-doubt. Did you ever see Julie & Julia? You know that scene where Julie is laying on the kitchen floor crying? They could have called the movie Jen & Jen. Where at times I'm puffed with confidence and others I'm wallowing on the kitchen floor crying about how I suck. Pfffffffft!
There is one thing that sticks out in my mind about this phenomenon and probably why I continue the cycle when I really just feel like giving up. When I was a few years into my early intervention gig, there was a family I worked with that I was burned out on. I had started out on the lowest rung working with the kid 10 hours a week and worked my way up to case manager. I had been with them for a while and they could never keep the case staffed for various reasons. I mustered the courage to walk into my supervisor's office (a psychologist who I feared and respected immensely), which was a huge task for me in my early 20s, and I said, "I want off this case."
She looked at me, leaned back in her chair and said something that shot from her mouth like an arrow right into my heart.
"I didn't take you for a quitter."
She knew me too well. That's part of the problem of working for a psychologist. It's been both an asset and my downfall. I'm beyond stubborn. But that stubbornness doesn't shield me from bouts of self doubt and yes, wondering if I'm just wasting my time.
I find that some comments just blow right by - they don't stick and they don't bother me. In fact, I have actually burst out laughing at a comment that someone else has made because it seemed so NOT true about me. Call me stupid. Call me disorganized. Call me...hmmm...lazy. Whatever, those don't stick.
But even whisper about something that I have created - those stick. And it's not like anyone has actually said anything to my face recently - I think it's all comments that have been rolling around in my head for years. I don't even know if I can even remember who said them in the first place.
This blogging thingy is a tough one for self-doubt - at least for me. The feedback loop is so all over the place. Does having a zillion page views mean that you did well? One comment or five? Or none? I mean, it's great to be all confident but don't you need a bit of outside feedback too? When there IS that silence, do you assume the best or the worst?
When I get silence, I assume the worst. Naturally. I'm sure the fact that I started out by analyzing data doesn't help either. I need measurable outcomes to feel successful. It's an illness I tells ya!
Well actually, that's not always true. If there was something I made/wrote/etc that I thought was really good and I couldn't have done better, then I still have pride in it even if no one else saw it/thought it was good.
Speaking of things people say to you that sticks, here's another one: What's the difference between an artist and a designer? The artist makes art from their point of view, the designer makes art from another's perspective. So if you're an artist you can say eff you everyone when they don't "get" what you're doing. But as a designer, you need that feedback so you can tweak and mold things that work for the audience. Either to communicate more effectively, or to be more useful or efficient.
So I think, for me, I fall much more into that designer mentality. So I do look for that feedback.
But silencing the inner critic is one of the most challenging things anyone does. But I suppose we could look on the bright side... I fear the person that has no inner critic at all. Talk about megalomania. Eek!
Yup - some kind of measure - hey, it's evidence-based blogging! Seriously, though, it's great to know that someone out there is reading and appreciating what you are trying to do.
I have a few posts/areas of interest that I write about and I DO pour my heart into it but they don't necessarily go over like gangbusters. Like you, I still can take a lot of pride in them. For those ones I don't hear any inner critic. It's more about, "how do I get this in front of the people who are going to be interested in it". The beauty of the 'net - all of us geeks can find each other.
Thinking about your artist vs. designer mentality....I wonder too if you (the proverbial "you") are operating in designer mode that it there is a distance as well that makes it easier to take the feedback. It's not so personal to you when you aren't the artist. When I am the "artist" I may still say "eff off you don't get what I am doing" but it's more from a lonely place rather than a strong place. "Eff off is there ANYONE who gets what I am doing???!!!"
I find for me that it depends upon the mode of expression. I have played classical and jazz music for many years as an amateur (and sang too). I get WAY more nervous before a gig playing jazz piano that I do singing a jazz standard. My expectations of my piano playing are much higher than my singing. Expectations about where I want to be with my music. With the singing, I feel like I have enough proficiency and I am happy being more of a beginner/amateur.
And music is so close to my soul, so much a part of me and has been as long as I can remember that it is REALLY hard to separate me from my performance.
Maybe that's a piece of the puzzle - when your skill level is closer to where you want to be, or where you expect to be, then it's easier to put it out there and take the criticism/feedback.
You are a jazz musician?! GET OUT! I want to hear you one day. I love jazz.
Over the years, I've gone through periods where I've had a super thick skin and periods where I'm embarrassingly fragile. But I think you hit the nail on the head: I have a thicker skin with the things I feel more confident in or when I'm able to give myself some distance. Usually that distance comes in the form of time.
But I'll be honest, even as someone who wants to produce great stuff, there's only so much input I can take. Especially, if I didn't ask for it or it didn't come from someone I respected. You know? I may struggle from time to time with my inner critic but that stubborn streak can be pretty domineering. Ha!
I guess what I want to say is, I think it's easy to say "I don't care what anyone thinks!" or "you shouldn't care what anyone thinks!" and I genuinely believe there are people who posses that skill, but in practice? For the majority of us? It's insanely hard. Part of how we're wired as human beings is to connect with others. So of course we want to be liked/understood ESPECIALLY when we're producing something—be that art, a blog, writing, a design, anything! It's the dichotomy of the human experience isn't it? We're wired to connect and yet, at times, it can be incredibly lonely. Bah! Stupid humanity. ;)
Okay my friends, time for you to weigh in. What are your thoughts about self doubt? When do you feel it and how do you handle it? Any advice for the rest of us creative types?