The Creative Confidence Paradox

The biggest hurdle we face as creative people happens not on paper, nor on screen, but right between our ears.

In my last year of graphic design school, we were given 10 weeks to complete a senior thesis project centered around a chosen topic. I chose to design a visual identity for a sub-brand of Vans shoes. It felt like a dream project, even though I wasn't actually working with the client.

I knew exactly the problem that I wanted to solve, but for some reason I wasn't making any progress. Week after week I would sit with my advisor with barely anything to show except for a bunch of research. Why couldn't I just start sketching and experimenting?

It took some time for me to realize that I was being held back by irrational fears. I didn't care so much about the grade but being the capstone project for my degree studies, I was scared that:

A. It wouldn't come out good enough for my portfolio
B. It wouldn't compare to some of the other students' projects and I would be embarassed
and C. it wouldn't be as good as what Vans had already created for the brand.

Feeling the Resistance

Ideas are not the problem. We have plenty of ideas for what to make (sometimes too many). The difficult part is when we have to sit down, push forward and try a direction. It can feel terrifying.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield breaks down the idea of "creative resistance" and its many forms. Procrastination, fear of failure, creative block, comparison, seeking unnecessary support, imposter syndrome... the list goes on. In reality we all know that these are just ways of hiding from doing the work.

“If you find yourself asking, "Am I really an artist?" chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
      — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

You see, it is 100% normal to feel this resistance. In fact, it's a good thing. It shows that you care about the project.

The greater the resistance, the more imperative it is for you to sacrifice, buckle down and execute.

This is the confidence paradox. I have no doubt that the greatest living artists and designers in the world still have this feeling when taking on new projects.

Creative confidence comes in waves.

I don't know how to develop creative confidence any other way than by biting the bullet and trying something new.

It may work. It may suck. But either way you have to learn your own ways to push past the resistance, roll up your sleeves and get started.

When you see progress, you will experience a boost in confidence. Conversely, if you haven't been satisfied with anything you are making, the resistance gets stronger and it becomes harder to show up.

Any progress is good progress.

Take the pressure off and simply begin. If that feels impossible, try setting constraints for yourself. You will only see growth when you put in the effort. 

Will you let the paradox control your next project?

Eric Friedensohn