Felling the Doubt Monster
Have you ever thought, “nothing I create is ever good enough?” I have. A lot. This doubt is far too common with creatives, and it’s time to force some conversations to happen. Whether it’s while starting a new job, pushing for a promotion, or setting off on their own, doubt is there.
We’re doing a disservice to ourselves and others if we refused to acknowledge the role doubt has in our lives. Imagine how much we can accomplish if we never let doubt stop our actions! This week we’re covering the role creativity has in doubt and how we can fell the doubt monster and live a creative life.
“Find out the reason that commands you to write.” - Rainer Maria Rilke
Who Are You Creating For?
As I was preparing this episode and reading into more about the process behind doubt, I discovered Rainer Maria Rilke, a Bohemian-Austrian writer active in the early 1900s. His book Letters to a Young Poet is considered a go-to book for creativity by many, and I’m now convinced too. The book contains ten letters as a part of his correspondence with, you guessed it, a young doubting poet asking for a critique of his work.
Rilke doesn’t hold back with his critique, and I love the questioning, at times demanding, nature of his words. He writes, “You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work.
“Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself.
“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?
“Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must’, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
The last paragraph is key: “Then build your life in accordance with this necessity… Even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, [it] must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”
We were created to create. Don’t let doubt stop you from fulfilling your calling. Instead of telling ourselves everything that could -- not necessarily will -- go wrong, begin affirming what you feel your calling to be and find a way to create the future you crave.
Rilke continues later in the letter, “So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.”
Creativity isn’t just for those who seem to have this magical way of talking about life, it’s for everyone to absorb what’s happening in their lives and sharing in order to help others. It’s a beautiful cycle of creative help.
Don’t let doubt stop you from fulfilling your calling.
You’re inspired by someone talking about the reality of your industry, then you begin to share as well. You inspire someone else to begin talking about it, then they do the same. I believe we have the power to start a revolution of creatives who aren’t afraid to stand up about the challenges we face so we can become a group dedicated to embracing the mess and creating anyways.
This movement begins with the small daily actions of choosing to be grateful for your experience and talking with your community. It grows when we take our message beyond our immediate communities and into the world to create a society that dives into the mess and helps each other create something amazing.
In the third letter, Rilke writes about the creative process: “To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.
“In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come.
“But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!”
What I love about this quote is how he acknowledges the at times drawn out process of creating something. In Episode 8, I shared about how taking the time to try something new is always worth the risk. In a similar way, Rilke is telling the young poet how the creative process isn’t always efficient or timely, but it will always produce something better if we’re patient.
Felling the doubt monster means taking the time to work through the murkiness in order to bring something into the light. No project that’s released comes without doubt. From the most successful founders to the people just getting started, doubt is a part of everyone’s life. We can’t ignore doubt. It’s going to be there throughout our creative and personal endeavors, so it’s time to fully embrace it.
How We Begin to Embrace Doubt
What does it mean to embrace doubt? It means giving yourself permission to feel every feeling instead of pushing them away. These feelings are valid. We need to work with them. When we do, we’re powered by the knowledge that we can overcome the at-times paralyzing fear and doubt to create something beautiful.
It’s scary the first time we validate negative feelings, especially in a world where social media typically only shows the highlights. The more we push doubt away, though, the more we’ll repress it and leave it unprocessed to come alive at inopportune times. The doubt monster loves to do it.
The next time you begin to see the doubt monster growing in the corner, address it. Acknowledge the feelings, know that they’re normal, and process why you’re feeling doubtful and how you can navigate through it. (Not around it.)
Surround Yourself with Good People
And I don’t just mean good as in talented. Surround yourself with good humans. The ones who know what’s happening in your life, what you’re struggling with, and who aren’t scared away by the tough parts of life.
Your community is your secret weapon, so put yourself in situations where you can find the close knit relationships that supersede location, occupation, and industry. One of my closest friends isn’t in marketing. (Though she’s making me proud by learning as much as she can and sharing it to her coworkers in mental health.)
What bonded us together was the desire to accomplish great things in our lives, live authentically, and try new things.
In return, we need to be great humans back to our community. Learn their love language, show your appreciation, and tell them you’re proud of them. It’s so easy to get into the routine of talking about our days and the good things happening, but real community stems from talking about the tough parts of life.
Which brings me to my next point.
We Need to Actually Talk About Doubt
This typically isn’t a fun topic to discuss over drinks with a friend after work, but there’s a reason this is essential. Talking about something like doubt weakens its hold on you. In the same way that talking about shameful experiences removes the power of it over you, talking about your doubt can help you remove its paralyzing power over you.
Find a close friend, and set a time to get into the weeds with each other on how you’re struggling, the specific doubts you’re facing, and how they can help you. And do the same for them. The more we talk about the struggles of creatives, the more we can help each other thrive.
Make a List of Everything You’ve Accomplished
I may not know you personally, but I do know that you have had past accomplishments and successes. This is one of the best ways to fell the doubt monster. The more you remind yourself of past successes, the better you can focus on the task at hand: recreating your version of success.
Don’t measure this by the world’s standard of success, either. The world’s standard of success is fame and money and follower count. This won’t get you through the dark moments, though. What will get you through the moments filled with doubt is remembering how your goal will positively impact others.
Your dreams don’t need to be world changing in the conventional sense. If you have a plan to change your world, which is the community around you, for the better, go for it.
So, in those dark moments, write down (yes, I mean grab paper and pen) the goals you’ve reached, the tasks you’ve accomplished, even if they seem small. That project at work that resulted in a client success story? Add it. The blog post that got twice as many views as normal? That goes on the list, too. Keep it on your desk or in your wallet so every time you see it you’re reminded of how much of a creative badass you are.
And if you’re anything like me and can never remember everything in the moment, keep adding to it as you remember past accomplishments and new ones occur.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this episode, it’s to never underestimate any of your past work. One job leads to another, one goal reached sets you up for the next, and everyone you meet is the opportunity to work together to reach individual goals.
Set Goals You Can Accomplish This Week
This is more of a tactical point. I talk about setting small goals often, and it’s because it works. When we break a monumental task into small pieces, it instantly becomes more attainable. It feels like a mole hill rather than a mountain, and checking each small goal off the list fuels you to keep going.
If you need to launch your website, break it down by pages and design elements. Work on the Home page copy one day, and the next design the About page header. Keep moving forward like this and keeping record of all the tasks you’ve accomplished. Look back when you’re feeling overwhelmed so you can see how far you’ve come.
Ultimately, You Just Need to Start
As much as I can share different ways to overcome doubt and get yourself moving forward again, there’s an essential piece: just start. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, some people may not get it or will judge. Yes, it means you need to take action and step into the unknown.
But the rewards both personally and professionally are exponentially greater if you take this step than if you ignore the creativity inside you and never try anything new. This week, I encourage you to take a step into the unknown. This is the only way we grow and will achieve our goals.
Felling the doubt monster isn’t something only successful people have done. It’s a series of actions everyone can (and should) accomplish. I encourage you to rethink how you handle doubt and how changing your perspective could positively impact your creative life. What we’re signing up for isn’t the easy way out, but it’s the best way through.