When I graduated from college and stepped into the world of entertainment, I was determined to climb the mountain in front of me and achieve the career success I had singularly focused on since high school. No matter what unknowns lay in the terrain ahead of me, I had the ability to conquer them. I was naive, I was unprepared, and I had no idea how challenging the path I had chosen would turn out to be, unstable and full of rejection. But of course that confidence, even if it comes from inexperience, is the only thing that can keep you going when things get a little rocky.
Little by little, I was able to piece together my career, first as a producer, than as a development executive, and now as a writer, working on projects I was proud of and with people I respected. But I wasn't at the top of the mountain yet. I'm still climbing it today. And along the way were more moments than I can count when I was faced with frustrations and failures that made me doubt my abilities and plummeted my confidence. I thought that I was never going to have what it took to succeed in my creative career. I wondered why I didn't go to business school instead. But each time that happened (trust me, there were many), I eventually pushed through it, regained my creative confidence, and after some hard, focused work, found myself just a little bit further up the mountain.
When enough time goes by without a significant milestone or recognition of your work, you begin to doubt yourself. You doubt your abilities as a creative. You think that maybe it’s time to embrace that office job and steady paycheck. When these doubts surface, it affects your creative work and can lead to a vicious cycle of no productivity and more doubt.
If you find yourself in a place of doubt, you’re not alone. Every single creative person has been there, even the successful ones. Ira Glass has an exceptional quote on creativity that I turn to whenever I find myself not believing my work lives up to my potential:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Here are a few pitfalls that can suck out creative confidence and a few tips I've learned to boost your confidence level up, reinvigorating the passions, instincts, and talent that brought you to this career in the first place.
1. You’re Struggling with Discipline: This is the number one important thing. Everyday your work gets better. Every time you write or create something you learn more about your voice and your abilities. And eventually someone will notice, but not if you don’t put the time in to get there. Sit down every day and practice your creative talents, even if just for a short while, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. If you practice every day, then one day in the near future, you are going to sit down and realize that you actually believe in the work you’re doing again, that you’re excited by it, and you will gain your confidence back.
2. You Have a Slump in Career Momentum: There are a lot of writers and creators out there whose work is terrible. Yet they make livings off of their creative work. The difference is that even when people told them their work was crap, they kept creating, believing in their work in the face of that rejection. Your work is probably not crap, but even if someone tells you it is, don’t let it stop you from moving forward. Taste is subjective. My terrible is someone else's genius. Don’t let others decide that for you.
3. You Distrust Your Instincts: Most people have one idea they’re working on when all of a sudden, it’s sold or released into the market before you can get there. And while that can be disappointing, it’s because you have good instincts. You knew what would be interesting, what would work. And when you find yourself distrusting your instincts, turn this disappointment into a positive and remember that your ideas are good. As Ira’s quote above reminds, it’s why you got into this game in the first place. You have something interesting to say, you just have to keep practicing how to say it.
4. You Distrust Your Abilities: There are two great ways to dust off distrust in your ability to create. The first is to look at everything you’ve done and pick your best work. Then read it over and over again, even improving it more as you go, until you realize that there is something in it that shows the strength of your abilities and that even “best work” is not perfect. The more you create, the more you improve.
5. You’re Nervous to Share Your Work: I get it, sharing comes with possible rejection and rejection is scary. But it’s something you will always face in a creative career. The more you’re rejected, the more you see how little it matters in the long run. But if you never share your work with its intended public, than you will never get any feedback, positive or negative in which to improve with. And you won’t receive any of those reassuring moments when someone respects your work. Those are the biggest confidence boosters in propelling your career forward.
6. You Compare Your Work to Others: I have always been guilty of this and have recently forced myself to believe that it will lead you nowhere, especially in a creative field where anyone’s career can go from 0 to 100 overnight. Everyone has their own time. Whether you’re straight out of school or looking into retirement, there’s always potential for a creative work to have an impact on the world. Creative work is a marathon. Even your peers’ early success doesn’t mean they’ll ultimately win. Keep your head down, keep working, and if you don’t give up, you’ll find the personal satisfaction in the work, which is more important overall than someone else’s career that you wish you had.
7. You’ve Lost Your Passion: When you’re in a slump, it can be easy to forget why you started down this road in the first place. Why you believed you could do this anyway. In those moments, one of the best things to do can be to rewatch or reread those things that originally inspired you to pursue a creative career. Those masterful works of art that had the biggest impact on you, that get your passions flowing. Go straight to the original source. It’s OK to take a little break from your work for an inspiration infusion. Refilling your creative passion engine will only make you dive into the next round of your work with more force and discipline.
Now take all the fear, insecurities, and neurosis that you may have felt going through one of these pitfalls and put it into your work. After all, the best creative work is best inspired by the complexity of the human experience.
As always, Amanda is available for questions and remarks in the Comments section below...