By: Kathryn Gould
All of us involved in creative pursuits have emotional setbacks now and then—periods of creative inactivity filled with questioning and sometimes even despair that can paralyze us and, if they go on too long, damage our careers. Writers call it “writer’s block”, other artists may simply refer to it as depression or a lack of motivation. Athletes would call it “being in a slump”, but whatever it is, we all encounter it from time to time, so it’s good to have some strategies ready for getting out of it before it wreaks havoc with your professional life.
One reason that blocked feeling can be so hard to shake is that we generally don’t know what’s causing it. That’s because the source is generally buried in our subconscious somewhere. So time to get out the psychological shovel and start digging. For the next few blog posts, I’ll be examining some of the most common causes of an inability to create:
NUMBER ONE: Self-doubt
We all feel like charlatans every now and then. I heard a story once about J.K. Rowling that helped me understand that I was definitely not alone in feeling I wasn’t good enough. The screenwriter of the first Harry Potter movie, at some point when he was alone with the famous author on the set, turned to JK Rowling and said, “I’m just afraid they’ll all find out that I don’t know what I’m doing.” And she turned to him and said, “Oh my god, me too!” Those quotes may not be exact, but that’s the gist.
So, even those who have reached the highest levels of this business feel that way sometimes. It’s not a bad thing. It keeps us humble. It keeps us working to learn and improve. It fights against the Dunning-Kruger effect (see my last blog post about that). But at its worst it paralyzes us. It plays a tape over and over in our heads that keeps us frozen in front of the keyboard and staring at a blank page, or fumbling over words in an audition that we nailed 10 minutes ago in the waiting room.
In a way, self-doubt is the easiest of these causes to face, because we can generally tell that it’s happening. There’s this tape running over and over in our heads saying, “You’re not good enough, you’ll never be able to do this, you always blow it,” and so on ad nauseum. The key to combatting it, I’ve learned, is to stop wishing you were something you’re not. Accept yourself exactly as you are right now, and trust that what you are is exactly what you need to be right now. It doesn’t mean that you are perfect or even that you are an expert, but that you are exactly what you are supposed to be right here and right now. You are learning, you are growing… and you already are what you are meant to be. Let go of the need to be better, smarter, more successful, and truly appreciate the incredible being that you already are. You can always learn more, do more, be more successful, but those things aren’t necessary for you to be a fully alive and amazing human being. You already are that. So act like it!
It can be helpful to make a gratitude list. Think of all the things that are amazing in your life, don’t leave anything out. Imagine that you were huddling on the dirt floor of a cave somewhere with no food, no water, no fire. What are the differences between that person and you? There are always things to be thankful for.
You can also describe yourself 10 years ago. How have you grown? How have you changed? What were you absolutely certain of back then that you laugh at now? What were you completely clueless about? What was your greatest worry? What do you think of that worry now? What did you think of yourself then? Do you think that now? If you could tell that old self something, what would it be? There are no right and wrong answers to these questions, just use them to spark your understanding of your own growth and learning process, and to recognize that our “becoming” is always a process. We are all works in progress.
Next time: Fear of failure/ fear of success. (Hint: they can look like the exact same thing!)