Nope: this isn’t about ego or marketing or branding. This isn’t about buttonholing people on the street to tell them how fabulous you are. What I’m talking about here is quieter and much more basic: it’s about cultivating a healthy respect both for yourself and for your work.
I learned to be critical in childhood from a mother who criticized herself and a father who criticized everyone else. No big deal. I listened to my mother say she hated her hands/nose/feet/hair, and that seemed normal, criticizing all the things you thought weren’t Perfect. In some ways it was good: I learned to look at everything I did with a critical eye, working to improve the things that didn’t measure up. What I didn’t do was take time to appreciate whatever progress I made and to applaud the things I was doing right. One day I listened to my mother’s voice coming out of my mouth, muttering about how I hated my nose/skin/hair/feet, and I went, “Whoa.” What was I saying? I hated a part of myself? I began listening to the things I said about my work, as well–often just the things I said to myself–and took mental notes about the criticism: not good enough, too boring, not original, too wordy, sloppy, predictable. I heard plenty of it. What I didn’t hear so much was self-talk about the things I was doing right. There wasn’t a lot of praise going on in there.
Take a minute and think about the things you do: painting or stitching, sculpting or drawing or writing. You may do it for a lot of different reasons, but at some level, you like it, either the process or the result. Think about the ways this is satisfying to you: the things you do that turn out well, the things you learn in the process, the feeling you get while you’re working. Make a list of these. Then think about what other people have said about what you do. Some things were nice to hear but don’t really resonate with you. Other things might have been hurtful. But in there somewhere there should be something that really meant something to you, something someone said that felt really good, even if it was just a tiny thing. For me, the notes I save are the ones where someone tells me that what I wrote about them really captured what they’re all about; that I understood them, that I got them. That’s important to me, and it’s something I don’t always think about: that something I wrote made a difference in someone else’s life. For you, it might be that someone said your painting made them feel happy, or that your tutorial inspired them to try paper clay, or that your enthusiasm for making art brought their child out of her shell.
It doesn’t have to be something someone else said, of course. It could be something you did that you knew, absolutely, was good. Successful, in whatever way you define “success.” Beautiful in whatever way you know beauty. Something you looked at and said, “Yes. That’s it.”
Whatever it is, that’s what you want to keep in the front of your brain. Not the criticisms we all carry around in there about why what we do isn’t good enough, but instead, this one bright and shining example that, yes: sometimes it *is* good enough, and if it’s been good enough even once, it can be good enough all the time. Sure, it will take hard work. Sure, sometimes it’s going to be a giant fail. But instead of looking at yourself and what you do with that critical eye, look at it through the eyes of the fan who thinks you’re doing just great. Because, of course, you are: if you’re trying, if you’re working, if you’re doing what you’re called to do, then you have the right–and the responsibility–to be the generous, supportive fan you deserve.
To read more about embracing your work and the path you’re on, check out Kelly Rae Roberts’ Taking Flight: Inspiration and Techniques to Give Your Creative Spirit Wings.
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