As a professional creative (or an aspiring one), it’s every easy to let fear take hold of us and prevent us from reaching our true potential. We worry if we’re not good enough, or if anyone will every buy our work. We watch as other artists seem to effortlessly move ahead in our industries, and we can’t help but to look on from afar and say “I wish I had that sort of luck.”
In our industry, we talk about “skill-based” hiring, as usually what gets us hired is our track record. It’s our portfolio or demo reel, or the work we’ve done for past clients that future clients stumble upon. One of the first things I tell my students at the Academy of Art is that while I can teach you all there is to know about writing better resumes and cover letters, and how to present yourself professionally, I can’t help you if your work isn’t up to par with professionals in your field.
That said, we also are in a highly, highly, highly subjective industry. Who’s to say who is a better illustrator, or a photographer? What makes one piece a gold medal winner versus a silver medal? While we can talk about things like color, composition, storytelling, subject, perspective, and all the other technical aspects of art, sometimes we’ll find a piece that, for some crazy-ass reason, we fall in love with. How do you explain that? Maybe the proportions are off, the use of color is unrefined and maybe garish, and it’s technically poorly executed, but we still love it?
It’s a big hairy contradiction, and what this makes for is an industry where we have to go out and sell our own interpretations, and visions, and our personal opinion on how this piece of art should be made. Whether it’s a painting for a gallery, a website, or a storyboard frame, in the end, we’re selling a little bit of ourself.
And when our personal vision and voice and ideas might not correspond to the Gatekeeper’s, we can get rejected, dejected, and hurt. Usually, it has nothing to do with you directly (it might just not fit what they had in their head), but it’s hard not to take a critique of your work personally when the whole point is you imbuing your essence and personality into that work. So we get scared of sharing. We let the fear of a potential rejection, or a potential negative comment paralyze us and keep us from letting our gifts loose into the world.
Fear is a great thing to keep us from dying, but (most of us) no longer need to fear getting eaten by a tiger or some sort of other predatory hunter. This evolutionary throwback to the Stone Age hampers our ability to get back up and share our art and creativity and our voice with others. One of my favorite authors, James Altucher, has gone bankrupt three times. His wife divorced him, and he’s close numerous companies. He’s lost millions. Yet he still gets up every day, and keeps on at it. He thought he was going to literally die at times, but he didn’t, and he kept on going.
At the end of the day, if you haven’t tried and failed, you’re not challenging yourself. If you’re not challenging yourself, how are you ever going to grow? Whether or not you actually are afraid, the key thing to remember is that you have to act even if you are afraid. Go past faking it until you make it, but fake it until you become it.
So if you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk on power posing, I highly recommend you do so. If anything, her inspiring story of faking it until she became it is worth the twenty minutes or so of your day. Really, since our body language can shape the way we feel about ourselves, we need to make sure that we’re utilizing any of the tools out there (like power posing) to help us conquer our fear and really push forward.
It can be terrifying to try and make something and share it out with the world. We often assign our value as a person to the number of likes or shares, or favorites we get on our social media posts. While that’s all good and fine, we really need to learn how to trust in ourselves, to believe we have something valuable to share with the world and to really go out there and make good work.
Whether or not you believe it, you have to act “As If.” Act as if you weren’t afraid, or as if you were already recognized as a world class artist. Act as if you knew that your work was good and that there are people out there who want what you create. Act as if you were an industry professional. Act as if your art was on the cover of a famous magazine or website. Act as if you are world class – because you are.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of the scared student, or the unconfident hobbyist, or the sad creator who creates but never shows anyone their work. It’s easy because we fear rejection – and as a creative, we’ll all get rejected as some point. But I challenge you to be relentless. To pledge to yourself that you won’t give up, that you’ll be unstoppable, that you won’t let rejection get you down. That you’ll take your hits and keep going. That you’ll dedicate your life to your craft, and come to terms with the fact that everyone faces rejection – it’s the super successful who keep picking themselves up again and again and never giving up on going after their dream.
There are concept artists that have been rejected from their dream company 16 times to finally get an offer letter on their 17th application. There are illustrators who couldn’t find work and took day jobs at copy centers for years to completely revamp their portfolio and come back and become the next hottest thing.
Every professional artist I’ve known has dealt with rejection at some point, but they’ve all worked through it. You see, it’s how we handle that rejection – whether we realize it’s a part of life and take it as a learning experience or we let it damage our self esteem and take it personally – that will define our careers.
So please, join with me and pledge that you won’t let fear stop you from creating. Be relentless and make something today.