When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was keen on two things: finding my creative purpose and meeting as many people as possible. When I inevitably found myself at dinner parties with new friends, there was a familiar beat in the conversations when someone would ask some version of, “So, what’s your deal? What do you do for a living?” I routinely answered in the most convoluted way possible. “Well, I’m currently working in project management, but my passion is women’s empowerment - and I’m thinking about studying graphic design or starting a blog, but bills, you know.” There was a lot of awkward smiling.
It was a pretty confusing time trying to define my direction and identity. Looking back, I now realize that it would have been much, much simpler if I had allowed myself to respond with the truth: “I’m a creative.” Sure, I was a directionless, closeted one at the moment, but a creative nonetheless.
It dawned on me that not being brave enough to take my identity as a creative seriously meant that no one else would either. It was time for me to own it, and stop letting imposter syndrome take the wheel. N ow, I have a pretty solid understanding of who I am, what I do, and even how to be successful at it - but there are still times when I meet new people and dread talking about my work. I feel this insecurity bubbling up in my stomach and wonder, “Are they going to get it? And even if they do, are they going to value it, or tell me to get a real job?” Doing this dance with fear is complex, but in time what I’ve learned from it is simple:
As long as you feel insecure about your right to call yourself a creative, you will never be reaching your creative potential.
So, what will it take? What needs to happen for you truly own your creative side? To feel confident declaring what you’re about, and not want to hide when someone asks?
1. Update your beliefs.
Just like you wouldn’t run ancient software on your new Mac and expect it to work well, don’t expect your soul to run on outdated beliefs. What do you believe about creatives? How about your creative abilities? Which perceptions need a bit of an update? In my case, I needed to take a good look at my belief that all creatives end up as starving artists. I made it my mission to look for creatives that were successful and still had a healthy relationship with money - and I found them. The thing about outdated beliefs like this is that they easily collapse with evidence, so go out and find it.
2. Out yourself in small ways.
We are conditioned to get identity approval everywhere but within, so it makes perfect sense that we shut down when someone judges our creative side. When your identity is even a little fragile, it’s tempting to keep it safe and hidden, but doing so won’t get you anywhere. Try ‘outing yourself’ in low-stakes situations first. If your secret passion is writing, tell a complete stranger that you’re a writer. If you want to sell sustainable jewelry on Etsy, introduce yourself as such to someone new. Even if you feel foolish at first, start sharing your creativity in small ways and see if confidence follows.
One of my favorite quotes from Amanda Palmer’s book on art and vulnerability, The Art of Asking, addresses how tough it is to put yourself out there as a creative. She says, “When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.”
3. Be the paintbrush, not the artist.
Stop making it about you. Seriously. That business you want to launch? It’s not about you. That art you want to make? Nope, not actually about you. My ego wants to make my coaching and writing all about how brilliant I am, so I therefore tend to get attached the outcome. But when I’m honest with myself, the truth is that I am simply a vessel for the messages that need be heard by my clients. My job is to create space for clients to have their own breakthroughs. Embracing this role releases so much worry or fear of failure. It gives me the freedom and right to practice my art because I’m not the artist -simply the tool.
So, consider what needs to shift for you to let go of the fear of looking like a fraud. Allow yourself to proudly own your creativity, because until you do, you are limiting your capacity to make the impact you were born to.
Photos by: Alandra Michelle