When you’re an artist you live your life everyday being vulnerable. You create things that come from the depths of your soul or the darkest corners of your mind and you trust yourself to give a piece of your heart away to people who may or may not understand. We are some of the bravest, most insecure people on the planet. To avoid validation can feel like trying not to breathe. How do I know if my work is good, if no one tells me that it’s good? How can I feel comfortable to do my best work in front of a group of people who are going to judge me anyway? How can I pursue a career in this when most of the people around me don’t support me?
When we allow it to, being an artist can be the most fulfilling and incredible experience. To be unapologetically yourself is to live your life to its fullest potential. But what gets in the way of that is our thoughts. Our thoughts that may or may not be true. Our thoughts that we spend energy having where we could be spending energy creating. Imagine, if we didn’t care about what people thought of us, think of the things we’d create, the experiences we’d have, the people we’d talk to, the clothes we’d wear, the places we’d go. We would be limitless.
The first time I experienced severe anxiety in my art was when my play got picked in the New Playwrights Festival at my high school for the second year. I was over the moon about it. To be the only musical theatre person in the line up, amongst a bunch of play actors. To have actually been brave enough to share my writing with a table of judges and for it to have gotten picked. Then came the anxiety of having to act like someone who wrote plays. Knowing how to talk about it, how to have study sessions about it, knowing what to say when my actors asked me questions. I was terrified. And the day that all of my biggest fears came true, was the day that my actual director, of the play that I wrote, embarrassed me in front of my actors. He explained to me how he found so many holes within the plot, he asked me questions I didn’t know how to answer, he told me how he didn’t think a lot of it made sense. And I was dumbfounded. I tried to stay confident, I tried to fight back, but I felt myself crumbling over and over. I waited until I was out of the room to cry.
I didn’t see the show until its performance and I sat there hating the entire thing. I worried that people were going to make the same comments, I worried that my actors (who were also my friends) actually hated the show and loved me too much to tell me, I knew that no matter what anyone said I wasn’t going to believe them. After, some people even told me it was their favorite show in the lineup. My friends and family hugged me and told me they were proud of me, I welcomed everyone’s comments with fake thank you’s and I thought everyone was a liar.
I don’t even remember this man’s name, or what he looked like. I think he was short and bald though? But I never forgot the way he made me feel. I didn’t write another play for five years. I had completely forgotten that my play had been selected the year before that in the same festival, I had forgotten that I was asked to do a workshop in the summer and my play got selected as the best one. I had forgotten plenty of other encouraging comments from people telling me my work was good. All I remembered was this and I let it consume me and define me as someone who couldn’t write for years.
What got me out of this was a book called The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. It’s this work book that gives you assignments on how to get rid of writer’s block, imposter syndrome, and anxiety about your work. One of the assignments was about remembering a time when someone made you feel like you weren’t enough and I recalled this time after having not thought about it for YEARS and I realized this was the last time that I had written a play. I had pushed it so far in my subconscious but it continued to control my life in other ways. So I made peace with this person, this event, and this fear, and I began to write again.
I won’t say that the anxiety is gone forever but what I learned was how thoughts are as big as I allow them to be. Everyone is always going to have opinions and sometimes they will be soul crushing, but if you let everyones opinion be God’s opinion you will never live up to your full potential. Art is subjective. There is no such thing as good or bad. There just is. So waiting for validation from everyone is impossible. Long lasting validation comes from YOU and learning how to be you’re biggest supporter is the best gift you can give yourself.