Today, I’m gonna tackle a big one - self doubt! This is by far one of the things I get asked about most, especially from visual artists who are just starting out in their careers. It can be TOUGH to maintain a positive outlook (and workflow) when you’re struggling with self-doubt, but even the most seasoned visual creatives grapple with self-doubt from time to time!
Although there is no “magic bullet” to get rid of self-doubt once and for all, there are a few super helpful techniques I’ve learned over the years to get self-doubt under control. The more practice you have doing these things, the better you’ll get at quieting that ugly, negative voice inside your head.
1. KEEP CREATING
In my experience, a lot of self doubt stems from fear of the unknown. So, the more work you do and the more you explore your creative side, the less “unknown” you’ll encounter. Self-doubt fades with time and experience because the more you “know” your work, your field, and your own limitations, the less space there is for wondering if you’re good enough or doing it right.
The best way to do this - especially through periods of self-doubt where you might not feel like doing anything - is to commit to regular creation.
For some people, this means joining a design challenge (100 Day Project, 36 Days of Type, or my very own HOMwork!) so that they have a regular reason to create, plus a community where a lot of people are participating.
Sometimes regular creation means setting a personal quota - like 5 minutes every day or one illustration every week. Even a teeny bit of creation gets you moving in the right direction!
2. EMBRACE THE FEAR
Fear can be invigorating! People love roller coasters and haunted houses because, under the right conditions, fear can be fun.
You can use that fear of the unknown as a way to drown out the self-doubt. When you’re plummeting towards the ground on a skydiving adventure, your fear tends to distract you from thoughts of “I wonder if I’m even going to remember how to use the gear?!” Embrace the excitement and adrenaline rush of pushing your creative comfort zone.
A lot of times, when we lean into fear, we end up doing our best work!
The key to “fun” fear is the controlled environment, right? So figure out way to control how you experience fear of the unknown. Take small steps towards things that scare you, and then repeat.
Afraid to try lettering phrases with objects? Start by trying an ampersand!
Afraid to try food blogging? Start by creating one fun recipe!
Afraid to start a YouTube channel? Start by producing one short for Instagram stories!
3. BUILD SMALL WINS
Pretty much everyone loves a win. And - bonus! - a “win” can be almost anything. Some people feel that glow of accomplishment from sharing a tasty meal with friends, some are energized by lots of engagement with their creations, some people live for winning competitions.
If we build in (and celebrate) small wins, we are SO much more likely to do the thing! And every time we do the thing - and win at it - we move a little further away from that voice of self-doubt. So look for and build in the wins.
The way to build in wins is to figure out what motivates you - what feels like a win? And then do more of that.
If you love positive feedback from friends, send your work to people you know are going to love it.
When a laugh is a win, make a thing that makes you smile (or laugh).
Maybe regular attention is your motivator? Join a community that regularly celebrates work.
Sometimes being singled out for recognition is a win. If so, enter some low-stakes competitions or use hashtags of accounts that regularly feature great work.
4. SHARE YOUR WORK
A big part of self-doubt comes from imposter syndrome - believing that we don’t belong. But if you put yourself out there and share regularly, you will get positive feedback, whether it’s from friends, family, or strangers who just happen upon your work. Positive feedback is a GREAT way to fight imposter syndrome.
The key here is to focus on the positive feedback you are getting. This might take some practice, but it’s totally worth it! When we stop to pay attention to negative feedback and focus on positive, we’re building defenses against imposter syndrome.
(Someone really needs to come up with a phrase that is the positive version of imposter syndrome.)
Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you aren’t getting any feedback (which is doubtful - even if it’s your favorite aunt “liking” all your stuff it still counts!), sharing still gets your work out into the world. Sharing means that you are participating, and participating means that you belong in that space. A double-whammy for imposter syndrome.
You’ve already committed to regular creating; now commit to regular sharing! This might just be emailing your lettering to your sister, or creating a Tumblr account you don’t tell anyone about, or even using your existing social media platforms to post more regularly.
5. UNPLUG FOR A BIT
My own self-doubt flares up from time to time, even now that I’m well into my freelance career and doing things I only dreamed about when I started! The biggest reasons for these flare-ups are usually that I’m super tired, or overworked, or I’m getting too fixated on the accomplishments of others. When that happens, the most effective fix is to unplug for a little bit and simply focus on creating.
The way I do this might be different from what works for you, but the key is to take a step back from all the outside influence and just spend some time doing what you love to do - making art.
Ways I unplug:
Build in some time to rest and actually enjoy the break. Sometimes this means a nap and sometimes it means a fun afternoon off!
Pause creative assignments that can wait, or hire friends to take some of the workload off my shoulders.
Delete Instagram for a weekend, or turn off notifications, or mute someone whose account sends me into waves of self-doubt. (Think of this as creative self-care! Don’t worry, you can always unmute them later.)
I hope these hacks are helpful to you when you’re thinking about ways to deal with self-doubt. I’m a firm believer that there is a place for everyone in the creative industry, and I’m glad you’re here!