5 Fears that Kill Creativity

The photography industry has been rampant with discussions about what the most volatile threat to the industry is. For a long time the Orphan Works Act has been the monster under photographers’ beds. The rapid ongoing transition of traditional print media licensing to a digital model is also a major topic of debate. More recent worrying topics include crowd-sourcing, the instability of the stock photography market, increased pressure for spec work, and the ongoing debates over  licensing structures like Creative Commons.

If any of the above topics are the only major day-to-day concerns that you deal with as a creative….

…consider yourself lucky.

That is not to discount any external threat a creative person may feel. We live in a time of rapid evolution. Technology and its use in social and business interactions change at an ever increasing pace. But there are scores of artists out there who have to deal with internal fears and conflicts that pose a very real and immediate obstacle to their success. In this era where we as creative workers and freelance must accept the fact that we are a synthesis of artist, business person, and technician, it is important to understand that internal conflicts and resistance are just as harmful to one’s business and happiness as external forces. For a long time I struggled to deal with these issues (next up, dealing with my crippling fear of dolls) and I know several young photographers and creatives for whom these problems are their most pressing issues, far beyond any current changes to business models or evolving culture. For these creatives, getting to the point where the changing practices of digital media are their immediate and prime concern would be a milestone of achievement, signifying that they have learned to cope with or succeed over their internal conflicts that held them back earlier in their careers. These creative phobias are difficult to combat, but not impossible, and like so many issues of this nature, being able to identify the problem is the first major step in solving it.

Fear of Change

So many people suffer from a fear of change. The status quo is far too comfortable, and oftentimes the perceived comfort can lead creatives to develop a sense of complacency and apathy towards their own work. They will find themselves creating the same type of work over and over, and not challenging themselves to create something beyond the scope of their skills, where they would hopefully grow through the process. For people suffering from a fear of change, keeping things as they are is their religion. They are the ones who rally against any external forces, be they positive or negative, that represent change. They are the unwavering traditionalists who speak out against anything new, even going so far as to reject changes in the industry, or even in themselves. This stagnation is one of the most harmful effects that these creative phobias can bring about. Change should not be feared. It is a driving force of growth and evolution. That is not to say that all changes are for the better, but that most changes are better than stagnation.

Fear of Hard Work

For many, the sheer magnitude of a goal can send them fleeing in the other direction. I have often heard artists justify their failure to pursue a project they envisioned because “It would be too difficult/expensive/time-consuming/beyond their skill.” These reasons should all serve as an impetus to make one run headlong into a task, to challenge oneself and grow. For many, the solution is as simple as thinking small and not thinking big. Taking a detailed inventory of the smaller tasks that make up your seemingly impossible tasks, and then breaking those down into their constituent tasks will leave you with a list of goals that looks much more realistic. Keep breaking these difficult tasks down until you have a list of  simple action items and you are good to go. Just like all matter is made up of smaller particles, small tasks can build up to allow you to achieve anything. The work might still be hard, but putting your tasks into proper perspective may help combat this particular creative phobia.

Fear of Not Being Accepted

The personal work we create is an enormous creative outlet, but it has also become an important marketing tool to prove to our clients that we have a unique vision and outlook on photography, and the world in general. Far too many artists, especially early in their creative careers, create for the approval of others. Seeking to have one’s family and friends understand and accept what it is that one does is a daunting task as it is, but when your meld this with your personal vision and artistic endeavor, it can become an even more difficult feat. Create for yourself, constantly and without fear of other’s acceptance. If others enjoy and accept your vision, then that is a wonderful thing, but if they do not, you will only do yourself a disservice by fretting about their approval. The surest way to improve is to do. By creating work for yourself, work that you believe in, without fear of others opinions, and to the high standards that you should set for yourself, you will find yourself improving at a rapid rate, your personal work becoming more vital and resonant, and your professional output at a higher level of execution.

Fear of your own Self -Worth

I think that every professional photographer and creative suffers from this at one point or another. It is the fear that prevents a photographer from billing their clients for what their work is worth. that allows creatives to think that accepting unfair contract terms in order to get the job is the right way to do business. It makes creatives scared to negotiate, scared to stand by their business policies, and scared to protect their intellectual property. Fear of your own self-worth is that little voice in the back of your head that  says “You are not good enough,” “you are a fraud and people are going to find out,” “you are a one-hit wonder”. If you cannot bring yourself to value yourself and your work, then how can you ever expect your clients to? If you cannot stick to the policies and guidelines you set for your own business, how can you ever expect it to succeed?

Fear of Success

For many, the fear of success can be the most crippling of the creative phobias. Tied closely to fear of change and to fear of one’s own self-worth, fear of success manifests itself in a consistent pattern of self-sabotage. This self-sabotage usually takes one of two forms; overtly harmful behavior and wallowing in negativity are an active form of self-sabotage, but the second and more subtle form is just as bad. This second form of sabotage is a creeping apathy that permeates the life of the afflicted; failure is scary, success is scary, so why try. People affected by fear of success are often in possession of the skill and talent to succeed, but lack the will and discipline to make it happen. They are the ones that often talk constantly about their dreams and goals, but always seem to be walking in circles or occupying themselves with busy work. But why are people scared of success? Most often, it is because success leads to a change from the status quo of mediocrity that some people build around themselves. Success is scary. Along with it comes high expectations, life change, responsibility, self-examination and discovery, and the possibility that if one fails they will be falling from a greater height and liable to blame. Rather than take a risk or seize success, many prefer the soft and safe bubble they build around themselves. It is true that if you don’t take a risk you can’t really fail, but this is the frame of mind of someone afflicted with a fear of success.  It is more important to think of it in this mindset  ”if you don’t risk, you can never succeed.”

Learning not to fall into these patterns and how to overcome these phobias is an ongoing journey for many of us. Changes in one’s life and art may bring new manifestations of creative fear and new obstacles for you to navigate around. Always remember that there are tons of things out there that can inspire you through a tough slump and help you work through these issues. Reading the blogs and other writings of artists I respect and learning about their own struggles and how they overcame them often helps me. There are also many of books out there that can help you learn techniques to deal with these types of problems. One of my favorites is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. But above all else, I have always found that the best way to beat back these fears is to do something creative. Go create something for yourself, something you love that makes you realize your worth, something you hate that helps you to learn and grow. It doesn’t matter — just go and start creating.  Oftentimes the momentum you gain from the simple act of creation will help you push through many of the obstacles you face.

6 thoughts on “5 Fears that Kill Creativity”

  1. This and Lessons for 2012 are such great insights. I like to comeback to them every so often, and each time I find something new.

    I love this line ” failure is scary, success is scary, so why try”. Every time I find myself getting complacent because of those feelings, its then that I realize what really scares me. Never trying at all.

    Thanks for posting this Luke, and everything else you share. I know I appreciate it.


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