Perfectionism. Comparison. Self-doubt. Unworthiness. These are my monsters, my gremlins, if you will, that challenge me and deter me from creating freely. Sometimes they come alone and I face them one at a time. Other times they show up and attack as a pack. These are the enemies of my creative self worth. Julia Cameron says “It is always necessary to acknowledge creative injuries and grieve them. Otherwise, they become creative scar tissue and block your growth.” This comes from her workbook for “The Artist’s Way”.
Although I cannot think of specific big incidents or events that caused me to feel I am not good enough to be creative, there are many small messages that I have been fed throughout my life, mostly by my own inner gremlins, that have contributed to my monster hall of fame. Shame hates to be spoken about, as per Brene Brown. By talking about my shame, I take away it’s power. It is time to bring these monsters into the light.
Perfectionism. The desire to strive for the unachievable, often resulting in never completing a project, either because it never feels “done” or “good enough”, or out of fear of continuing because, heaven forbid, I might make a mistake and ruin the whole thing! Where does this come from? Well, I am sure there are many instances where I taught myself that anything short of perfect wasn’t good enough, but one that stands out in my mind that happened repeatedly was when I came home with my report card, or a marked test. I was an A student, but never “top of the class”, despite my best attempts. I often received perfect test scores, but when I came home with a 98%, I was “jokingly” asked “what happened? Where’s the other 2%?” Although it was intended as a playful comment, it always hurt a little. Until I started to say it to myself…I even started to believe I was “stupid” for missing a mark here or there. And so I shyed away from art because I couldn’t recreate a picture with exact replication. I couldn’t mix colours to make the exact colour I had in my mind. I was too afraid of being judged, or worse, laughed at, for making something terrible. I took music in high school instead of art based on this very fear. If I couldn’t do it right, meaning perfectly, then it wasn’t worth doing at all. So, I didn’t.
Comparison. “Comparison is the thief of happiness” is another favourite Brene Brown quote of mine. It is so very true. When I was a kid, I admired my mother for all of her amazing creations. She would knit and crochet clothing and dolls. She would paint and sew beautiful quilts. And my favourite memory of her creating was at Christmas time, when she would build the most magnificent gingerbread houses. I wanted so very much to follow in her creative footsteps, but always felt I fell short. Well, of course I did! I was a kid! She was an adult with lots of practice and experience! I was just learning, newly testing my vision and my coordination. But it didn’t matter to me. All I internalized was I wasn’t as good as my Mom. I also wasn’t as good at drawing as many of my friends at school. Even in high school, a close friend of mine was an amazing painter. And yet she struggled with her own perfectionistic tendencies, while I watched in amazement, curious how she didn’t see the brilliance of what she had created. So I didn’t even try. Because compared to the people I was closest to, I wasn’t talented enough.
Which leads into my third monster, self-doubt. Although I am sure there are many examples of this throughout my childhood as well, it seems most relevant within the last 5 years, as I have been redefining myself as an artist. Yes, I said it. I am an artist. But this ownership of such a title took a very long time to accept and allow. You see, I am not “qualified” to call myself an artist. I have no formal training. I didn’t go to art school. I don’t have a piece of paper declaring that I am an artist. So how is it that I can use this word to describe me? I asked myself this for years, because I don’t feel I have earned the title. I don’t deserve to own this part of myself because I haven’t paid my dues. And who is to say that I use the “right” techniques? BUT, I had one incredible teacher who became a mentor, that told me that she believes that everyone is an artist, in one form or another. After a few online classes, and one amazing in person art retreat, I discovered that I can call myself an artist. Because I create. Talent and value is in the eye of the beholder. many amazing artists are self-taught, and don’t have a degree or diploma to “prove” their artistry. And yet, they are admired by many, and even make up parts of our art history. Because they chose worthiness over self-doubt.
And finally, unworthiness. This comes in the form of feeling undeserving of play and fun and joy. I spent many years taking care of others and putting the needs and desires of other people ahead of my own. Self-care was not even in my vocabulary until 5 years or so ago. I couldn’t imagine spending time with just myself, and playing for the sake of fun. Why would I waste my time doing something that wasn’t productive when I had so much on my to do list? Feeling like me-time was a waste of time really meant that I felt I wasn’t worth my time. I wasn’t worthy of having a hobby, or enjoying something alone, just for me. Now, I understand that this is not only nonsense, but that “play” time is necessary for self-acceptance and growth. It is an essential part of life, and imperative to experiencing joy in other areas of life. I am worthy of my time.
Although I have done a lot of work to turn these enemies into allies.
What are YOUR creative monsters? Are you even aware that you have them? If so, what have you done to combat them?