The path of my creative process has been a long and evolving one. I’ve traveled it easily and it’s rare that I feel stuck, uninspired or as if I’ve emptied the well and can no longer create something new. However, as long as I can remember, the real obstacle for me and one that held me back was (and sometimes still is) my own struggle with self-worth.
It isn’t that I don’t get a kick out of things I’ve made. In fact, I’ve been known to give myself loud applause and dance around in delight when a piece I’m working on turns out even better than I imagined! Yet, when it comes to feeling that my work is “art” or when I’m viewing it through other people’s eyes, I become stuck and fearful that what I do isn’t substantial enough to count.
This pattern first began to emerge when I was ten years old and sabotaged my dream of becoming a gymnast. I practiced alone with very little family support for several hours every single day for a spot on a team that for the very first time was accepting gymnasts under twelve. Then, after all of my effort, when the big day came I blew off the tryouts.
I was a natural, but I was embarrassed to show up in a secondhand bodysuit (which snapped at the crotch) instead of a real leotard and with my parents’ signature on the slip, but not their presence. Although I knew that my skill level was high, I didn’t feel legitimate compared to the other girls who looked and acted the part with hired coaches.
A few weeks later, I felt angry, hurt and disappointed in myself as I sat on the curb watching a parade pass and blinked back tears when the excited new gymnasts rode by on their float waving while everyone applauded.
This pattern carried itself into my adulthood. Several years ago, I began to draw and this time I was strongly supported by friends and family members. They encouraged me to make some prints and greeting cards of my work. I didn’t. Again, old feelings of doubt and of an underlying lack of confidence in myself surfaced and I was afraid to take a risk…I knew I was repeating old patterns and sabotaging myself, yet I made excuses about being too busy.
In spite of letting the drawings go, I kept creating and soon began making wallets and little purses out of paper and vinyl.
Again, I was encouraged to try to sell them. I agonized a long time before entering my wallets in my first juried fine arts show. I was petrified, but not of being rejected (I’m a playwright…rejection I can handle!), but of trying something “artsy” and demonstrating a clear effort to start something new, I was officially putting pressure on myself to “make a go of it”. Was I setting myself up for embarrassment or feelings of failure if it didn’t turn out the way I imagined?
The thing that finally tipped the scales in the “go ahead and apply” direction was that I knew I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake I made with gymnastics or my drawings. I didn’t want to see promotions for the show and know that maybe, just maybe, I could have been part of it if only I’d tried. Plus, I have a long history of trying too hard for other people and not enough for myself, so I went ahead and applied.
The wallets did win a spot in the show, but I’m embarrassed to share that my problems weren’t over. I began lamenting that I wasn’t going to be thin and look like a “real artist” in indie/artsy clothes, that other artists would think my booth was unprofessional, that I wouldn’t sell enough and that I’d be forced to keep my spirits up publicly for two days all while wanting to die and become invisible. Isn’t this lame? Talk about self-absorption.
Finally, I had to come to terms with the fact that all I can do is create and market. Those are the only two things I have control over…making things and finding places for them to be seen. How people react isn’t up to me, but standing behind my work and not having regrets is. I wasted years being afraid to put energy and time behind my own ideas and not making a commitment to being someone who not only creates beautiful things, but who isn’t afraid to be proud and believe that what she makes matters.
These days I’m committed to my work and while I’m still plagued by doubt at times, I don’t let it stop me. If you’re just getting started, I urge you not to waste precious time second-guessing and doubting yourself. Once you take the leap and really commit to your work, you’ll be amazed by how much lighter you feel. If you are reading this and recognize a little bit of yourself in my experience, I hope you’ll go look through your many boxes of saved work (we all have them) and reconsider the reasons you put it away. It’s never too late to give yourself or your art a second chance.