Every creative person, at some stage in their career, has struggled with issues of self-doubt. Those thoughts and feelings are synonymous with not being able to nail the idea, doubting your own ability to crack the problem, and questioning if you still have the ability to generate ideas that are relevant, unique, and distinctive. There can be feelings of self-doubt surrounding many aspects of the creative process too; from the choice of a typeface to finding the most compelling creative territory, through to “Am I still good enough?”.
It is an issue that is so prevalent in the day-day-life of a creative person within the design, advertising, and marketing departments of various agencies, whether large or small, and whether a junior or a seasoned veteran.
Our minds are notorious for playing tricks on us. It’s similar to when you are going on holiday, have packed the car, and are ready to set off on the long journey. After you leave the house and are halfway down the road, there is that seed of doubt that creeps into the foreground of your mind, “Are you sure you locked the door behind you?”. As creative people, we are constantly questioning our choices and decisions, the output is an extension of oneself; built upon care, passion, and a desire to do the best work.
Sometimes, this pursuit can be good, but sometimes it can cause mental paralysis, indecision, and confusion about the right way to go.
So why is self-doubt so prevalent within the creative industry?
Self-doubt can stem from a mixture of circumstances: having too much downtime, working independently in isolation, being overworked, tired, or within a highly pressured and stressful environment. All these scenarios have the potential to make us question ourselves and our abilities, and totally overthink every conceivable decision. It is a negative attribute that can take us out at the knees and can have a detrimental effect on our own “creative wellness”, attitude, and overall state of mind.
Within the last few years, creativity and the transactional nature of ideas have sped up, where an ‘always on’ methodology has been adopted and amplified. Client demands are higher than ever, budgets are massively scrutinized, and the overall value, importance, and credibility of ideas are seen as the magic solution to fundamentally solve business problems, drive sales, and increase brand recognition. Creativity has the power to give a huge return on investment, and design thinking can certainly change the world, but that has to be done in line with key business objectives and strategies. There is an incredible amount of pressure put on the currency of ideas and the by-product of that, is the stress and pressure it ensues.
An ‘always on’ approach can lead to unnecessary pressure and a negative side-effect on the minds of the people working within the industry. The term ‘agile’ has become an industry term far removed from its original intended meaning (ie., the process, traction, and methodology behind digitally native projects), and now the term has bad connotations associated with trying to find the correct balance of this age-old golden conundrum:
As creative people, we are constantly putting our ideas and ultimately ourselves out into the world. There can be a lot of emphasis around cracking the idea within a short space of time, with a low budget, but with a massive expectation of having ideas similar to Nike, Apple, or Oatly. Our creative ideas are an extension of ourselves, we are laying ourselves bare, fully open to critique and criticism, which can be uncomfortable.
Feedback can often be taken so personally, especially if not delivered in the most appropriate way. Many of the best creatives, designers, copywriters, directors, illustrators, artists, etc, are tenacious by nature and whole-heartedly invest themselves in their work. There is a constant drive to do great work, be better at crafting ideas, and deliver work that genuinely makes a difference and connects with people.
Issues surrounding idea-generation have become more complex in recent times. They often need to have a more thorough and compelling rationale in order to “sell it”, deliver on multiple strategic pillars (insert your preferred strategic model of preference here), and have to be measured against key performance indicators. Armed with this massive amount of information, the “ideas” person is expected to go away and come back with that “magic” solution.
An original and unique solution that delivers on X, Y, Z, and even A, B, C, and D. Is it any wonder that this way of working has fuelled the feeling of self-doubt for people working within the industry. That seed of doubt, delivering on all those expectations and within a short timeframe, if not kept in check, could send you down the rabbit-hole of negative thinking and indecision.
Working constantly in an overtly critical industry can have a longer-term negative side-effect, both on our ideas and, more importantly, our minds. Working with an over-critical, super analytic, or ego-driven persona, can knock our confidence and our ability to communicate effectively. And, before you know it, we can be a nervous wreck trying to function and feeling the pressure to constantly prove ourselves.
Having worked with both kinds of personality types, from the arrogant through to the super analytical, both do not nurture or aid the creative process. In fact, these experiences can leave us feeling insecure, amplify, and further endorse those feelings of self-doubt.
Subjectivity could also be part of the problem.
Newsflash… There is not only one correct answer to cracking the brief. We are not doing a selection of mathematical equations. Creativity doesn’t flow from a set of rules or formulas, it’s not a straight line from point A to point B. It’s often an organic process, with lots of influences, unexpected twists, and turns, intelligence, wit, humor, simplicity, and (hopefully) a smile in the mind (plus a good helping of fun). These feelings of self-doubt could originate from the process itself – the fear of the unknown, or making the “wrong decision”, the potential worries of ‘will the client like it’ or ‘will the Creative Director get it’? If there are no right or wrong answers, then we should fully embrace the journey, and be enlightened by an unexpected outcome.
How do we shift away from self-doubt to a self-belief mindset?
We invest a lot in the tools we need for our jobs. The Wacom tablets, the laptops, and all the software training.
However, the one thing that deserves the greatest investment is; our state of mind and our creative wellness. We often neglect our minds and our own mental health. Our mind is our greatest asset, so we should care for it. After all, the future of the creative industry relies on the mental health of the people working within it. Our mind needs to be regularly serviced, calibrated, and given the right stimulus in order to function correctly. The right amount of sleep, diet, exercise, coaching, therapy, and being in nature, can also contribute to a much healthier state of mind. Choose to be thankful, embrace an attitude of gratitude, shut down the laptop, go offline, turn off those notifications, and hibernate occasionally from the noise of social media.
Be kind to yourself, send your inner-critic on vacation. Start to value those opinions from trusted comrades and your cheerleaders in life. We were not made to live in isolation and be mentally trapped within our own mind-prison. Give yourself a break and start to think about more positive thoughts. You can rewire your brain to be more thankful, always looking for the positive, and being grateful for simply being alive and having a pulse. It’s only when we start to fully embrace this attitude that we can move to an attitude of truly believing in ourselves.
In the words of Nike, “Just do it” – because believing in yourself will enable you to do unimaginable things. And if you fail; get up, try, and try again.
Cover image source: Noah Buscher