Make friends with self-doubt.  It may not be going anywhere, but you still can!

I can say, that I don’t know a single creative professional that does not from time to time have moments of crippling self-doubt.  You know, the kind that stops you dead in your tracks and has you considering pretty much any profession other than the one you have chosen.  This may sound like a gross generalisation, but in my personal experience, those that I know that suffer from the most dramatic shutdowns caused by self-doubt, happen to be my creative compatriots.

I am not at all surprised that this is the case.  Few other professions require putting your soft, most private underbelly on the line as a creative business people.  When it is your job to pull out of yourself on a regular basis something so special and inspired that others will fork out money for it, the pressure is really on.

And I think it is shallow to think that that pressure comes from making the sale or not.  What’s really at stake is rejection, humiliation and failure. To many creatives, putting your art or product out there and asking people to pay money for it, is akin to putting your head on a chopping block.  What will happen if they say no?  Or worse still, what if no one says anything at all?

I can happily admit, that after 14 years of putting myself out in the world as a creative professional and asking people to buy my work, that I am still now and again overtaken by tsunamis of self-doubt so great that I completely shut down.

I think I have finally come to accept that they happen, and that the only way to manage it is to ride it out and be very gentle to myself.  But I am also really firm with myself, especially that voice in my head that tells me ‘you can’t possibly do that’.   Inevitably, when I go through one of these phases, it starts with insomnia and ends in lots of tears, followed by gradually finding a humble sense of self-belief again.   I don’t know why I do it, but I do, so I have just had to learn how to work it into my schedule when the ol’ shadow comes a-knocking. But I have also learnt some really beautiful professional and personal lessons during these times:

I have learnt that whenever the pressure feels so great that I consider giving up altogether, or watering down the purity of whatever it is that I am trying to create, that I am on the verge of really stepping into some magic. Continuing into that space of crippling vulnerability is the door to profound creative expression.  That is where inspiration and great art lives.

I have also learnt that the moments when I grapple with self–doubt end up in a genuine realignment with my purpose and usually also a adjustment of lifestyle choices that had not be supporting me personally or creatively.   This, I believe, can only ever result in better art, not to mention a more emotionally skilled creative professional.

But the most wonderful thing I have learnt is something I discovered through mindfulness meditation.  A funny thing happens when you allow yourself to sit with almost unbearable self-doubt: the more you be with it and resist the temptation to resolve the tension and try to make it go away or figure it out, the more it begins to dissolve.  It’s a very strange phenomenon to experience.  But the more that I have practiced this, the more that I have discovered how much self-doubt hates to be stared in the face.  And the times that I do that, and stick with it to the point that I think I can’t stand it anymore, suddenly there is a breakthrough and something shifts or something really great happens.

So next time take a detour down the self-doubt track, as much as it hurts and sucks, remember that it is a signpost to guide you to an even better place with yourself and your craft. And though it may make you pause for a while, don’t let it stop you all together, because it usually means you are at the threshold of something great.