You don't control your audience
Updated: May 24
Your job, your art, your brand, your people, your organization... telling your own story is always harder than telling somebody else's. It's filled with insecurities. And when you feel insecure, your imagination can sometimes tell you you're failing, fueling your anxiety, while in reality, those obstacles, mistakes and challenges are actually what makes your story worth wile in the first place! So, in this blog we'll strengthen your creative base by making your imagination work for you, not against you. Let's dive in.
Feeling failure... even while succeeding
A great friend of mine recently had to deal with a very unreasonable client. That client was repeatedly stepping over the line, hurting his business but also their own. They were deeply stressed, unable to see the bigger picture, even if it meant they could make more money. My friend mustered all his substantial persuasive power but he still couldn't get through to them. So, in the end, his colleagues took him off the client and took over. All is well that ends well.
Yet my friend felt insecure. He thought he had failed his fellow workers. And thought that the company would start gossiping about it. His co-workers told him the exact opposite. They were proud of how hard he fought, and because of that, they were okay to take one for the team and take that client off his shoulders. Instead of gossiping, they were actually supporting him. They were happy to do it. And because of his efforts, they were now in a better negotiating position. His perceived loss, became a collective win. Even I was proud of him.
The lesson to learn
But my friend didn't feel it. And it took some effort to make him feel better about himself. Oh, how the mind works! Being creative can sometimes be such a pain in the behind! This is the kicker: the lesson every creative person has to learn, whether you make art or work in a creative business, is this:
You don't control your audience.
You just don't. It's physically impossible. But that's actually great. It means that most of the time criticism isn't personal at all. Because who knows? Maybe that particular client is going through a terrible divorce. Or just totaled their car. Or the dog peed all over the living room. Or the company they work for is doing very poorly and they are under a great deal of stress. Or they're trying to hide their own insecurities by portraying strength and stubbornness. And they take out that feeling on you or your co-workers.
Or they can't listen to your incredibly beautiful song (shameless self promotion in link)... because it reminds them of something painful. Or they didn't watch your latest video... because they forgot. Or they skipped over your article... because they had a bad day at work. Catching my drift? You're not psychic. There is no way of knowing what's going on with the receiver of your message. In other words, the real question isn't why you've failed, it's why your imagination is telling you that you did. Even if you're succeeding.
The big difference between us humans and others in the animal kingdom, is that we have the ability to imagine something happening that isn't there (yet). We can form a picture in our minds of something and create a story in our minds that could potentially make it real. Quick example: Leonardo da Vinci imagined a helicopter. Then designed it. And now they fly. Imagination is a powerful thing.
Yet, that same imagination often attempts to sabotage our efforts too. Because our storytelling is so important to us, the pressure is always high to get it right. And when the pressure is high, you become more vulnerable and more susceptible to doubt. That's when that little devil starts to rear its ugly head on your shoulder, and starts telling you that you might be failing. There is no way to silence him of course. But there is a way to stop letting him affect you: look him straight in the face. Stoically. While you're getting back to work again.
Doubt keeps you sharp
What my friend experienced is something we all experience. Sometimes you give it your all, and it still isn't enough. We tend to think that we've done something wrong when this happens. But the truth is, usually we didn't do anything wrong. Most of the time criticism isn't as personal as you make it out to be. It's just our imagination that - sparked by the pressure of that important creative endeavor - runs wild.
When this happens, remember that imagination is a good thing. It's the thing that propels your creative work forward. It's your 'helicopter' that it brings to fruition. And even though it sometimes turns against you, it is still your greatest power. Plus, facing adversity, including the kind of obstacles that are not under your control, actually makes your story much better and more hard fought. You may feel doubt. But to others, you've just become a hero.
The key to preventing your imagination from running wild is acceptance. You have the ability to accept that sometimes your mind throws doubt around. It's very worth while to listen to it. But you don't have to act on it. The mind doesn't really spark anxiety to be devilish. It does so to make you double check if you're on the right track. It has a function. Doubt is there to keep you sharp.
But it always goes away when you get back into that fray.
Take it easy as always. Love.
(Check out the book Restart here)
Rogier van Kralingen