Written by Angie Noll
As an artist, self-doubt seems to be par for the course. Artists constantly struggle with this battle between the expression of their creative ideas and their ego, or inner critic.
It erodes their self-confidence and ability to bring their unique gifts to the world. Some succumb to the self-doubt and never allow their intuition to be of benefit to themselves or to others.
I used to struggle with the same fears and doubts, until, one day, I got it. I finally understood the necessity of healthy self-doubt, especially in a creative life.
What could be good about self-doubt?
Self-doubt keeps us in check
Experiencing feelings of self-doubt about our artistic abilities keeps us in check. It forces us to be consciously mindful of what we’re creating. It’s all too easy to fall into a lackadaisical attitude, becoming blasé about our work and our expressive choices. Eventually, we become careless, slack or stagnant.
Back in South Africa, I met two pottery artists. They were both good, but one was better. The potter that was not so good was a lovely, bubbly artist, but she applied the same techniques over and over, and eventually, over a coffee one day, she admitted that is so filled with self-doubt that instead of feeling inspired to try new things and ideas of her own, she simply turns to Google for pottery projects that she then taught to her students. She only taught pre-school pottery.
The other Potter was equally vibrant and bubbly, and she too experienced self-doubt. But she didn’t let it get to her or define her progress as an artist. She knew what her self-doubt was about, and she would call up her old teacher, a Master Potter, and go spend the day with him. When she returned, she felt inspired once again, self-doubt erased. Her classes were filled to the brim, and she taught children and adults, beginners and advanced.
Self-doubt makes us more mindful of how we do what we do
Self-doubt keeps us questioning, and it’s the process of working out the answers to those questions that allow creative expressions to become stronger, more reliable. It also grounds us in a firm knowing, a set of ideas that we’ve consciously sorted through in our mind so that instead of dreaming and floating our way through the creative life we know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we’re going to/have already done it. We’re not left with this feeling of oh! How did I do that?How did I get here?
I knew a wonderful artist – he used oil paints and acrylics to produce paintings that were simply beautiful. When I met him for the first time, I couldn’t believe this tender, sweet, tiny man was the creator of the paintings that surrounded me. He lacked all manner of confidence and was wracked with self-doubt. When I asked him one day why he doesn’t let people know about his art, he simply shrugged. He never sold his paintings and he didn’t accept any commissions for art, even though I heard that he had many. His belief was that he was not an artist. That he couldn’t paint at all, and it was simply a hobby that he dabbled in. But his paintings were so lifelike, especially his portraits, that it was difficult to believe that this man didn’t see his own talent. He allowed his self-doubt to completely take over, and he could never fully enjoy his art because of it.
Self-doubt makes us more mindful of ourselves
Working with our self-doubt helps us to iron out the creases in our beliefs, our values and our abilities so that when we have decisions as artists, in our art or in our lives, we know what do to.
For instance, I was given the opportunity to be my own radio show host for six months so that I spread my ideas to a wider audience. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, and I was flattered and excited. But I also had a niggling feeling of self-doubt. At first, I ignored it, refusing to be scared into passing up this opportunity. But it stayed, and eventually, I sat with the doubt. I literally sat with it in meditation and discovered that this opportunity was not all it seemed and that it was an organisation I really wanted to be a part of. THerewere too many question marks and I prefer to work with straight forward people and places. My self-doubt served a very useful function in this instance, and I never regretted passing over the opportunity.
Every thread of self-doubt is an opportunity to grow, to turn inwards and go even deeper. We shouldn’t be so quick to give up just because self-doubt enters our minds. Just sit with it, give it some space, and see what there is to learn from the process of experiencing the self-doubt.
Do you experience self-doubt? Where is the value in it for you, and how do you deal with it?
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