Finding the Exit at Intimidation Station


iamfire-CWFBLast Thursday night I created the Creative Women of Facebook group and it’s grown like wildfire in less than a week. I’m really blown away.

So many creative and talented women have joined and are sharing their work and their interests and responding to each others’ photos and links.

I’m thrilled.

If you’re on Facebook, you’re officially invited by me right now to join the group! And if you’re not on Facebook, this group might be a great reason to sign up.

Feeling Intimidated

It’s been really fun viewing so many photos, blogs and etsy site links listed on the group main page, and to see the huge variety of media that everyone is working in.

I was thinking, though, that if you haven’t made anything in a while, it might feel intimidating or overwhelming to see so many other artistic people creating wonderful things.

You might end up feeling a little deflated, thinking things like, “Look at all these talented people! Who the hell am I to start making stuff again?” Or  “I always wanted to make that. Now she’s already done it and hers looks beautiful. I’m so behind, what’s the point?”

Or maybe you have been making some things, but after seeing the long list of sites and photos, you’re a little scared to share pictures of what you’ve made–what if your stuff doesn’t measure up? You start looking at that piece you were just loving the other day, but with a more critical eye and a freshly heartless appraisal.


Feeling Exposed

So even the simple act of joining a group called Creative Women of Facebook can make you feel a little exposed or vulnerable.

Heavy feelings about your own making–or dreams of making–may take you by surprise when you see the bountiful creativity of other creative people, and maybe you suddenly feel jealous or sad or inadequate–or some terrible mixture of the three.

This is natural I think, when you’re pining to create or worrying you’ll never find the time. When the creating desire is in a frustrated state, it can be tough to see it alive and active in other people interested in the same things as you.

It’s hard living in an uber-competitive culture to remember that creativity and making things is not a contest. Or a test. Or a race.

American culture loves competition, celebrates it really, and if you’re comparing yourself to someone else and deciding you’ve come up short–you’re competing. And it rarely feels good.

Opening the Circle

Just like love though, there is no finite amount of creativity. And just like ability to love, you can’t lose your creative ability. It might have gone dormant or be only a whisper, but with a little prodding, you CAN wake it up again, and you can make wonderful things that make you feel good.

And just because someone else is very creative or talented and seems busy making the most of it, it doesn’t mean your light is dimmer or your opportunity is lost.

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Okay, so of course you buy that intellectually, and you’d say it to someone else who was feeling this way, but meanwhile, you still feel like crap.

Yeah. Knowing something doesn’t necessarily change things.

The hardest thing with vulnerable feelings I think, is that we either rush as fast as we can to not feel them anymore (turn UP that car radio) or we indulge these bad feelings with a vengeance and act like they’re truer than anything else we know, feel, or believe.

It can be a long slow road to let go of our favorite, most familiar mean thoughts or pent up fears. They don’t go away just because we’re tired of their asses!

And we’re used to them, so sometimes, we don’t even notice them anymore as fears or self-criticism. Instead, we mistake them for reality.

Possible Solutions

While it’s pointless to act like you can transform these tough feelings into evolved, positive, life affirming belief systems overnight, there are things you can try to begin to weaken the self-sabotage.  Here’s a couple of my faves–I hope they help.

Thing One

One thing that works well for me is to sit with my bad feelings as best I can and just try to notice them, observe them. I think about how they express themselves physically in my body–where do they live? What shape are they? What color?

I do this when I’m feeling anxious and sometimes I’ve actually experienced the physical sensation of my anxiety move around my body as I pay attention to it and often it will diminish considerably.

It’s subtle, but it’s sort of a way to have the negative emotion instead of the negative emotion just having you.

Along this line, Stephen Levine, one of the most compassionate writers I’ve ever read, has a wonderful guided meditation for what he calls “heavy emotional states” in his book, Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings. My copy  is completely dog-eared and the cover is almost falling off I’ve read it so many times. It’s a book completely without judgment.

Thing Two

Another super useful thing that I learned from Havi Brooks over at The Fluent Self is that our negative emotions or seemingly self-destructive patterns are there because they’re actually trying to help us.

I know, I know, it seems crazy because we’re so busy hating these patterns or feeling victimized by them, but really, it turns out that we’ve created these beliefs and thought habits to protect ourselves, which is why we’re so darn attached to them.

She has a great blog post where she models how to do a meditation where you kind of visit with your emotional blocks/painful beliefs/habits of thinking. And in the course of the visit, you get valuable information on why the block exists and maybe negotiate a new arrangement that you find a lot more liveable.

So that might sound pretty strange, but I must say that I”ve used this technique several times myself and I love it. I’m always surprised and it also always makes complete sense. Take a look and see what you think.

Thing Two-B

But maybe the meditation thing is a little too woo-woo for you, or you’re feeling a little shy about actually trying it.

Well, how about sitting with the initial premise and just reconsider your negative thought patterns as confused inventions instead. That alone can offer some useful insights that you might find freeing.

For instance, if you tell yourself that it’s too late for you to start making things again so just forget it, maybe that’s really about protecting yourself from the risk of exposure or failure.

You know this message well, and it’s very compelling because it’s delivered by a very convincing, mean, harsh voice that’s meant to hurt you because that’s what makes it effective. If your fear hurts you enough, it stops you from taking the risk, and that’s how it maintains the status quo/feels safe.

Sooo, maybe the next time you hear this mean voice, you could think to yourself, Ah, there’s that scared part of me that’s trying to make sure I don’t start making something because it might hurt if I fail or if people around me don’t like it or think I’m not talented.

See? It’s trying to help you, it’s just bad at it.

It’s like a difficult-to-like, wildly misguided but well-intentioned nosy aunt who doesn’t know how to mind her own business. She really has no idea how much she irritates you, or how completely UNHELPFUL her diatribes are.

And maybe you can’t quite kick her out unceremoniously because well, she’s family, but you don’t have to just sit there and take it either.

And now that you know what’s going on, it’s a little easier to take her messages with a grain of salt.

All Thing’d Out

The other important thing to remember is that you’re not alone and you’re not the only one worrying you’re not measuring up.

We’re all together on this continuum of getting on our own side–whether we’re not making anything and are trying to start creating again, or if we are creating but are wanting to take more risks, get bolder with our work.

So whomever you admire and think is just cranking out the masterpieces one after another,  free as a bird, just know that even as she’s working, she’s still questioning and doubting and worrying just like you.

Even if she has an adorable Etsy shop, a cool blog, or fab gallery site.

And when you’re ready to make things, you’ll make things. And when you’re ready to share, you’ll share.

Meanwhile, whether you’re super productive or extremely stuck or somewhere in between, you always qualify as a Creative Woman of Facebook, (or not-of-Facebook, as the case may be.) ;-)

What do you think? Ready to try a meditation or two? Not yet? Perhaps  you have other techniques that work well when you start down the negative path? Please share, I’d love to hear.

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  1. Laura says:

    This will help me write my editorial for my magazine today!

  2. Ramona says:

    Oh, this is SO how I’m feeling. I’m just getting active in the space and it has been a continual struggle. I joined 3 groups on Flickr and almost vomited uploading the pics. I couldn’t believe the physical anxiety that came over me. I’ve decided that instead of looking at others as competition (that I can never measure up to, of course), to consider them allies that can help me, if only through inspiration and motivation. After all, I don’t think creative folks are the sort to just come out and tell you that your work sucks. I’ve found them to be far more supportive and nurturing – even when my work sucks. Thanks for the post. I truly needed it, and I’ve joined your FB group.

  3. Sarah says:

    @ Ramona–YES! I really know that nervousness and anxiety about sharing work…it can feel like, well, I’ll just casually upload a few bits of my soul here to Flickr, la….UGH! So glad you’re doing it anyway, so glad the post helped, and you’re right that so many people are supportive and nurturing–if only our mean voices were as nice! And Yay for joining the FB group, I hope you find it a source of inspiration and friendship as well!

  4. leah says:

    What a great post!! Thanks, Sarah!

  5. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks so much for starting this group! I did join a couple of days ago & added some photos today. I really love looking at all the beautiful work of the talented women that have joined.
    This is fabulous!

  6. Carmen says:

    Some times I worry that my art might be a bit dark for some. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for the post!

  7. Rosie says:

    Hi Sarah,
    You’ve helped me today. One person in the universe, you’ve made a difference for me, by not knowing who I am or if I even existed, your words found me and helped. Thanks. Rosie

  8. Gilliauna says:

    This article was terrific to read. Thank you so much for sending me the Facebook mail that directed me here!

    I just shared this blog post both in Twitter as well as Facebook. I really enjoyed it!

  9. Sarah says:

    @Rosy–I’m so glad it helped! And you’ve made my day by sharing how it made you feel. :-) -Sarah

  10. Sarah says:

    Gilliauna, so glad you enjoyed the post and thanks so much for spreading the word!

  11. Sandra says:

    Oh dear Sarah!
    This post was beautiful! I joined your group and received your encouraging letter today and came here to find myself encouraged even more! Just when I joined your group one of my friends told me how she keeps following me on every single page and group I join and she can’t see any of my links or work there. So I shyly posted a link. I fight with myself every single day. Many years ago I threw away plenty of my great stuff I drew and some miniatures from polymer…. in time I learned not to act in a moment but to wait for some time to pass to act when I don’t feel down, angry, sad and to wait for reason to come.
    Many times I just keep on working with those feelings knowing that they will pass and not letting them stop me from being creative, and when I do that I get a reward – the work looks good at the end and I feel happy at that end.
    I hope this wasn’t too much of my writing, but needed to share… Thank you again so much! :)

  12. Sarah says:

    Sandra–thanks so much and I’m thrilled the post was helpful! I too, have thrown work out without the perspective of time and SO know what you’re talking about. Glad you have new strategies (as do I!) and the waiting definitely helps. And then seeing a piece improve and resolve successfully at the end is a great feeling! Thanks for joining the group and sharing your thoughts (and, btw, you didn’t write too much–I always worry about doing that myself too!) :-)

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