Overcoming Fear of Creativity

September 25, 2016

Painting by Karen Sperling based on a photograph by Karah Sambuco, using the Artistry Corel Painter Brushes Volume 8 brushes.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself."-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

How true that line is for people who want to commission a portrait or learn how to paint one themselves.

And yet, some let fear get in their way every time they want to do something involving creativity.

So how do you stop feeling fearful? You don't, in my experience. You learn to feel the fear and do the scary thing anyway.

As I paint my latest commissioned portrait in oils, I notice I am afraid at every turn to mess up the whole thing. And yet I keep going, anyway, because it has to be done.

I even feel fear writing this essay on fear! And still I'm doing it.

There's a saying going around the internet--life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it. To me that means, you can't help what happens or how you feel about it--in this case, 10% feeling the fear. But 90% is taking charge and doing whatever you want to do despite your emotions.

So let's look fear in the eye and see how to stare it down.

First, if you feel fear about doing anything creative, ask yourself, what are you afraid of?

One possibility is that you are afraid of rejection. You might be afraid that people will say you aren't any good, or your idea is bad, or you'll never be able to do what you are planning.

If rejection from people criticizing you or your idea is the thing you fear, then the question is, what do you care what the critics say? Sure we want our ideas and work to be well-received, but what if they aren't? What do all the naysayers know? Maybe our ideas and work are great and it's the naysayers who don't know what they're talking about. Just follow your ideas and even though it scares you to, don't give up just because of fear of what "they" will say.

In fact, I can tell you from experience, that most things you do will find an audience nowadays. Look at it this way, you thought of it, someone has to see things the way you do. And with the internet, it's easier than ever to find all the someones who will appreciate your creativity.

Another fear is that you can't do what you want. You're afraid to try because you're afraid what you do will be awful. Henry Ford summed it up when he said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”

The fear that you might not be able to do something like paint a portrait or hire someone to paint one for you is true because you will never try. If you think you can paint or hire someone to paint for you, then you will be able to. Of course, taking steps like studying the art theories and painting steps will improve your chances of being able to paint and researching art theories will help your prospects of hiring the right painter to paint for you.

Believing that you can do it will lead to doing it sooner than believing you can't.

Where does fear of pursuing creativity come from, anyway?

I'm not a psychiatrist, but I play one as a fiction writer, one of my millions of hobbies. In writing fiction, I like to study human nature.

So here are a couple of theories about where fear of creativity comes from.

The primary source of fear, in my experience, is a lack of support growing up and general bashing of anything you ever do by your family. Best not to try to do anything. Then you won't get rejected by your family. Sure there are tough kids who rise above the absence of encouragement. But many creative types just believe all the negativity. Creatives go through life consciously or subconsciously fearing pursuing creativity because of these early reactions from those around them. And most try to forget about doing anything creative to avoid the fear and the rejection.

But the ideas and creativity don't go away, so not trying leads to frustration.


Another source of fear may just apply to females--we don't have the same experience coping with rejection that guys have. Think about it. Guys have to ask girls out on dates, guys have to try out for sports teams, guys have to deal with being on the team and losing. Guys learn to deal with rejection while girls grow up playing with dolls.

Interestingly, this subject just appeared in a news item about Amy Schumer. She criticized the fact that a Boys' Life Magazine cover concerned careers while the Girls' Life Magazine cover featured fashion. Boys do seem to get a different message.

This isn't to say that men don't feel fear about pursuing their creativity, but I can only talk about personal experience as a female. If you want to add anything in the comments about your experiences, male or female, please do!

Succumbing to fear isn't an option for me because it would mean missing out on all the things that interest me. There isn't a safe pursuit or zone--fear is intertwined with anything and everything I do. Looked at another way, I would never accomplish anything if I gave into the fear I feel all the time.

So here's my suggestion to you if you want to pursue your creative interests but are held back by fear.

I'm not going to tell you not to have fear. We can't control our feelings.

The suggestion is, feel the fear and do it anyway. You have nothing to fear but fear itself. Let's say the worst case scenario happens. You paint a painting based on a photo and it is ridiculed by everyone you know. As a child, this would be devastating. It was for me. But you're grown up, now. First, if you have people in your life who would ridicule you, then consider eliminating them, or at least, not showing them anything. Second, the people who are ridiculing you probably don't have the same knowledge and background as you do, so just take everything they say with a grain of salt.

Here's another thing to consider. It's not really true that 100% of people you tell an idea to or show your work to will ridicule you. You're going to get positive feedback, too--it's just the law of averages. In fact, if you even think about your childhood you might even remember a neighbor, a relative or a teacher who did encourage you. It wasn't 100% negativity. It just feels that way. So the next time you're afraid that everyone will make fun of your idea or your painting, you can rest assured that not everybody will make fun of you and the ones who do don't know what they're talking about!

You have to trust me on this. I have personal experience with it.

Here's another point to consider. If you don't know if your idea or work are good, then you are relying on the reactions of those around you to determine your creativity's worth. The way to combat the fear of their reactions, then, is to know more than they do. Study art history, study painting, become knowledgeable about your ideas and work. Then when you share it with others, you will already know if it's good. You don't need to find out from the people you're showing it to because you are more knowledgeable about it than they are.

Here's something else to consider.

If you don't create anything, you will never get any positive feedback, either. I can also tell you from personal experience that it is amazing to paint a painting or commission one that people rave about! It doesn't make the fear go away for the next creative pursuit, but it does make you realize that much of the fear has more to do with the past than the present.

I don't pretend to know all the reasons behind why we fear pursuing creativity. What I have offered are just some of the things that I have found that are true for me and maybe they will resonate with you.

Even if none of what I've written rings true for you and you don't know why you fear your creative pursuits, it doesn't matter. The bottom line is, feel the fear and do it anyway. The reason to feel the fear and do it anyway is that you will be commissioning paintings or painting yourself, which is what you'd like to do, instead of thinking about it and wishing you could.

FDR was right! You have nothing to fear but fear itself.


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