Episode 21


Coping with a Crisis of Creative Confidence

About this episode

Suffering from a crisis of creative confidence is common, it's normal and we all go through it. Why does it happen and what can we do about it? That's today on the positive creatives...

Share this episode

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Episode Links

Announcing The Positive Creatives - Podcast for Creative Souls

Are you in?

Sign up for episode notifications and positive creative goodies

Episode Transcript

Coping with a Crisis of Creative Confidence

Suffering from a crisis of creative confidence is common, it’s normal and we all go through it. Why does it happen and what can we do about it? That’s today on the positive creatives…


Hello! Welcome to the positive creatives, my name’s Adam and for ten years I’ve been a photographer, and now I’m here sharing tips, tricks and techniques to help you live a positive creative life by helping you with your mindset around your creativity.

I’m not sharing the stuff you read and hear on every other self help podcast or website, I’m sharing the stuff that help me through my own pains and that I use. Real world stuff.

If you’ve been here before, you know all this of course, and I hope these quick fire bite size episodes are helping you!

I’m on instagram @thepositivecreatives and I’d love you to join me there between episodes and I love getting messages to let me know what you’ve taken away from each episode too, so please get in touch. I’m very friendly, whatever people say!

Right this week I thought I’d talk about when we have a crisis of creative confidence.

What do I mean by crisis of confidence?

Well these are the times you have really got into your own head and convinced yourself you’re not any good any more, everyone else is better, your work is total rubbish and it’s time to give up.

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there.

You start to dread even attempting to be creative. You can’t imagine turning up to the next job. You can’t face posting on your social media and you just want to hide.

It’s not a nice place to be is it?

Why does this happen though? Why do we end up feeling this way relatively often?

The first big reason is that you want to be always performing at your maximum potential, according to your own definition.

And that’s cool. But remember, based on what I talked about a few weeks ago in episode 18, sometimes there’s a gap between what you want to achieve and what you’re capable of. Ira Glass called it “the taste gap” and if we go through a period of making work that isn’t living up to what we see in our heads it can get us down.

This is normal. This is part of being a creative – it’s that desire to always improve and to always be creating at our maximum potential.

So that’s the first reason I think.

A second reason is overconsumption.

I’ve talked about it in so many episodes up to now, but we are bombarded from every angle with other people’s work. Other people’s highlights. Other people’s marketing. It’s never ending.

I saw a good quote on instagram earlier this week which said “Never compare your day 1 to someone else’s day 1000” and I loved that.

Even if you’re on day 293, you can’t and shouldn’t compare that to someone else’s day 1000. Even if you’re on day 990 you shouldn’t compare it to someone else’s day 1000.

Remember other people are always showing what they want you to see. There’s a lot going on that you’re not seeing, and it’s all the same stuff you’re going through and not showing.

The same goes for creative communities if you’re in any. These heighten your awareness of other people’s apparent successes and achievements which can be really disheartening if you’re the kind of person who pays a lot of attention to what other people are doing.

I’m going to go into the solutions in the second half of the episode but for now I’m just going through the reasons for a crisis of confidence…

Another reason is advertising and marketing… The most common technique used in marketing these days is FUD, which stands for fear, uncertainty and doubt. Companies and marketers know to play on these emotions when trying to sell you stuff.

They want to draw out your inner imposter syndrome, to uncover your doubts and worries, just so you’ll buy their product whatever it is. Whether it’s equipment that’ll make you instantly far more creative, or a course that’ll mean you get better and more clients, or maybe coaching that’ll stop you being a loser.

It’s awful and it’s everywhere, so constantly being bombarded with this FUD marketing will inevitably have an effect on our confidence and self worth.

It’s a massive shame that a lot of the creatives whose work we often look to for inspiration, are also in the business of selling us things to improve our work, using these FUD marketing techniques to do it. I see it a lot and it gets to me too.

Another reason for a crisis of creative confidence could be financial. If you feel like you’re constantly slaving away, creating work you love, but nobody is buying it, or if they are you’re just not making as much money as you want or need, this can lead us right back to questioning the work – why aren’t people valuing it as much as we do?

There are a lot more reasons probably but one other big one is that this is just the creative process and sometimes we get stuck in the middle of it for longer than we’d like to, and we start to forget what it was like in the happy phases.

If you haven’t heard me talk about the creative process as a cycle before, just quickly it goes like this:

Stage 1 – This is going to be amazing
Stage 2 – This is tricky
Stage 3 – This is rubbish
Stage 4 – I am rubbish
Stage 5 – This might be ok
Stage 6 – This is amazing

So when you get stuck in stages 3 and 4 thinking you’re rubbish and everything you create is terrible, it’s easy to doubt yourself more and more and more.

I’ve talked before about how I personally believe that the way out of it is to keep working. Keep trying. Keep plugging away and eventually you’ll work your way out of it.

But sometimes it does develop into a full crisis of confidence, and that’s when we need to actively work on the crisis to get ourselves out of it. When ignoring the crappy feelings and working just doesn’t work.

So let’s talk solutions. Let’s get practical.

The first thing to mention is that yes there are overlaps here with imposter syndrome, but imposter syndrome is more of a constant whereas a crisis of confidence is more sporadic and often the feelings of doubt are more amplified. If you want to know more about Impostor Syndrome have a listen to episode 7.

Anyway, solutions.

There’s no magic bullet unfortunately. It’s more about conditioning your mindset to be ready for these crises of creative confidence so you’re ready with them and can use some of these remedies as and when it hits you, which it will because it hits us all. And as with most things it’s important to acknowledge and tell yourself that – we all get these crises of confidence, even the people who always seem happy go lucky. It’s a fact of this creative life we’ve chosen. It sucks but it’s probably never going to go away.

If you’ve listened to episode one that I did about the dunning kruger effect, I mentioned in there how over time, the longer we do something, the less awareness we have of our own skill or talent.

This is really, really important to know.

The longer we do a thing, the more we take for granted what we know about it and how good we are at it.

That’s proven psychology. We assume what we know, what we’ve learned and what we do is easy, or lucky or anyone could do it. And so we fail to acknowledge how far we’ve come.

So sometimes we need to step back, have an out of body experience and take stock of our journeys.

I know you’re not creating at the level you want to in your head right now.

But have a look at your work from a year ago, or two or five or ten years ago. Look at the distance you’ve travelled. Look at and appreciate how much you’ve matured artistically. Appreciate the depth of technique in your work.

The fact that something you once couldn’t do now feels so easy to you that you brush it off as nothing – that’s a massive achievement.

It’s also worth going back and having a listen to episode 4 about perfectionism. Perfectionism can be our own worst enemy. Constantly striving for this mythical, impossible land of perfection will cause you to spend more time than necessary in those middle zones of the creative process, and will bring on more of these crises of creative confidence.

Letting go of perfectionism is one of the best things I ever did.

Ok the next thing we can do is work on the overconsumption thing. I’m not saying shut out the world – that’s a really counterproductive thing to do when you’re suffering, but pay attention to what triggers you especially on social media. Does it cause a negative thought? Then mute or unfollow.

I like mute because it’s the silent assassin and you can easily go back and unmute when you’re feeling more confident again.

Who you surround yourself with, directly and indirectly is so important.

Indirectly is things like social media and directly is the people who you can go to and vent off some steam when you’re feeling low or grumpy or whatever it might be.

You need people around you who will help you get out of your own head. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do here with this podcast every week.

I’ve had crises of creative confidence in the past and when I’ve explained it and moaned about how terrible everything is to my close creative friends, I’ve often realised how ridiculous I’m being and for me that’s often the first step out of it.

Basically social media, including private groups, are not reality usually. It’s often a sea of self promotion and false reality. So when you’re deep in a crisis of creative confidence it’s important to detach from these things and connect as much to actual reality as possible.

The same goes for advertising and marketing, and the fear, uncertainty and doubt method that I mentioned earlier, or FUD… If you’re somewhere a lot of self promotion happens, like I found with the Clubhouse social media app, turn it off. Use the ‘hide ad’ feature on instagram and facebook. On instagram, if it’s suggesting posts to you, use the little three dots and say you don’t want to see stuff from that account. I do it all the time because I’m not the best at just breezily scrolling on by. I dwell on stuff, so I need to get it away from me for good.

But in general, you’re not going to be able to avoid all advertising and self promotion. That would be utopia, but it’s impossible.

So understanding and realising that this is a technique you’re attacked with all the time, this FUD technique, preying on your insecurities, will help you the next time someone pops up saying something like “Do you wish you weren’t a washed up creative with no talent? Well I’ve got exactly the product you need!”.

I also mentioned earlier that sometimes the issue is financial strain, and the stresses of that can seep into your creativity.

If you’re running a creative business and struggling with it, I think one of the best things you can do is get a business mentor. It doesn’t have to be another creative, but someone who can help you with things like cashflow and pricing and all that boring but really necessary stuff, will really help.

I do personally think that the best way to get yourself out of a confidence slump or a full blown crisis of creative confidence is to use these techniques and ideas. I also think that the worst thing you can do is stop making work completely. A short break might do you good but don’t let it go on too long before you get back on the horse and start making again. It doesn’t have to be stuff you show to the world, but just keep making.

And the last thing is make sure you go easy on yourself at these times. Sometimes the crisis might be over in a day or a week, sometimes it might take a bit longer. If you stress too much about it or try and pressure yourself out of it, it will only backfire.

When I feel really down about my work I spend a lot of time doing the other things in my life that make me happy. Watching movies, listening to music, driving, playing tennis. At these times I often realise I’ve overworked myself, and usually the balance of some self care and some play time gives me the perspective I need to keep going.

I’ll finish with three important words.

Please don’t quit.

Here are your listen, read and watch recommendations this week.

Listen – one of my life long friends is a spoken word poet on Instagram and he’s called The Bee Bar Barman. Turns out he’s been doing it for years but only recently felt the desire to put it out there. It’s brilliant and I’d love you to check him out.

Read – a book called Yes Man by Danny Wallace about making yourself more open to opportunity and just opening yourself up more to life in general. I’ve not read it for ages and I’m going to re-read it this week.

Watch – Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This is a very heartwarming movie from the legendary Taika Waititi. I hope I’ve pronounced that right!

Nice one positive creatives of the world. I hope if you’re new you’ll stick around and listen to some of the other episodes I mentioned in this one, and I hope to see you back here on the next episode of the positive creatives!

Sign up to get the positive creatives mantra for your phone and be the first to hear about new episodes and other positive creative stuff we think you might find interesting.
Podcast for Creatives - Get your copy of The Positive Creatives mantra!