“Will I Ever Feel Good Enough?” Thoughts On Being a ‘Creative’
“I don’t feel good enough to charge for my work,” she said to me.
An aspiring graphic designer, she was wrestling with the tension all creatives face throughout their journey: am I good enough to get paid?
I spent the next 30 minutes on the phone giving her a pep talk on why she’s more than good enough to start charging for her work and how to set her rates.
The next morning, I called my mentor and whined about the exact same thing: “I don’t feel good enough.”
Not good enough.
It’s a label I’m intimately familiar with. One that has entwined itself around every area of my life and refuses to let go.
If you were to Ctrl-F all of my conversations and type in ‘good enough’, your internet would crash from the overwhelming number of hits. My friends and I have cumulatively spent years of our lives picking apart why we weren’t ‘good enough’ for the guys who rejected us, the jobs we were denied, or the opportunities we missed out on.
I used to believe that once I had a relationship and a job I loved, I’d never ever have to worry about whether I measured up.
But then life with its sense of humour steered me onto a creative path. One that required me to subject my craft to constant scrutiny from clients, strangers on the internet, and Facebook ‘friends’ who lurk on my profile.
Once again, I found myself thrown back into the arena, wrestling with the fear of whether I’ll ever be good enough to be published, good enough to be read, or good enough to be paid.
As a creative, you attach so much of your worth to your work. Your craft is what fuels you. It drives you to get up in the morning. It makes you feel more alive than you have ever felt. The act of creating something where there was once nothing is magical. It gives you a high more euphoric and more addicting than drugs (or so I’ve been told). At your core, you believe you were placed on this Earth to create and give back to others. You are your art.
But when it comes to sharing your craft, you’re consumed by inadequacy and fear. Where previously you were creating in secret and sacred spaces, now you’re bringing it out into the world and shining a giant spotlight on it.
It’s a catch-22. You want people to read, listen, and like your art. But you also don’t want to subject it to criticism. Cancel culture is real. People are vicious when they’re sitting behind a screen and a keyboard. Any perceived rejection of your work is a rejection of you. You’re intricately aware there are people who are much, much better than you playing on the field. People who receive 500 likes in less than a minute. People whose perfect prose or song make you go weak at the knees. So who the hell are you to share your raggedy art with the world?
You hop online and it seems everyone and their dog is sharing their art. This is a beautiful thing. Where a creative pursuit was once something to be scoffed at, now it’s admired and applauded. But as we watch, read, consume the work of other creatives, we tell ourselves we will never, ever measure up. We will never succeed. We will never be good enough.
Because we’re sadists, we decide there’s pleasure to be found in this pain. We say to ourselves, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to make this constant inadequacy and fear of rejection my career?”
We decide we want to live as a ‘professional creative’ — someone who gets paid to make art on a daily basis. We want to control our schedule, sit in cafes, and be an #artist. We think it’s so cool there are people who make 6-figures doing what we would happily do for free. We’re so driven to create that we ignore the fine print warning us about the occupational hazard of the job: we’re going to feel inadequate on an hourly basis.
Then, fate intervenes — someone wants to pay us money for our craft. Cue the confetti and the bubbly. If someone wants to pay us, then surely we must be good enough.
But where there’s money, there’s pressure. Before, when our creation was “free”, there was zero expectation attached to it. But now someone is trading their hard-earned dollars for our work, we have an overwhelming obligation to perform and impress. They expect brilliant results and we don’t want to disappoint them. Suddenly, we don’t feel good enough to assign a dollar value to our craft — not when there are so many other brilliant creatives out there.
Left unchecked, this feeling of inadequacy bleeds into every area of our creative process. We don’t feel good enough so we undercharge severely for our work. You trust me to design a logo for your brand? Sure, that’ll be $15, please. You trust me to write a blog post for your business? No worries, I’ll do it for free. We’re so grateful a client is willing to pay us, we paint the red flags green and fling ourselves through flaming hoops to satisfy their every request. We stare at the blank page and all we can think about is how so and so from Instagram could do a better job than us so maybe we should just refer our clients to them instead.
By now, you’re probably waiting for me to give you a glimmer of hope this feeling will fade. That if we reach a milestone of 10,000 subscribers or stick to this journey for 3 years, we’ll wholeheartedly believe our art is God’s gift to the world.
It’s been 2 years since I’ve started trading money for my words and I’m sorry to say I still haven’t reached that elusive destination.
I still break out in a sweat when a new project drops into my inbox. I panic when I sit and stare at the blank page. When I read beautiful work from other writers, I fall in love and hate them at the same time. When my coach told me to double the amount I was charging, I nearly threw up because “I’m not good enough yet” and surely, no one is going to pay that for my words.
But in the last 2 years, here’s what I’ve learnt about ‘not being good enough.’ At its healthiest form, this feeling is a sign of humility. It’s what challenges us to be better. It’s what drives us to rise before the sun or spend the night practising and refining our art. It fuels our desire to be students of our craft; to devour the work of the ‘greats’ to learn what makes them great. It stops us from over-inflating our ego and believing the lie we’re entitled to applause and adoration.
The danger is when you let the fear of ‘not being good enough’ paralyse you. When you can’t create because you’re plagued by feelings of inadequacy. When you allow it to let other people walk all over you. It’s sad to say this, but there are people who gain all their power by making others feel inadequate. I’ve also known people to give up on their craft completely because they never feel good enough. They shove it into a metaphorical box in their mind and hide it away in a dark corner, leaving it to fester and turn their hearts bitter.
So how do we strike a healthy balance between the two? How do we overcome the perpetual feelings of inadequacy while still staying humble?
The first time you do something, you’re going to suck. You’ll feel endless waves of self-doubt. You’ll get halfway through your project and convince yourself you should hurl it into the trash. If there was an award for Worst Creation in the Universe, it would go to the mess you’re trying to create.
But the next time you attempt to tackle the project again, it’s easier. You’ve gone through the motions before, know what mistakes to avoid, and the voice of self-doubt is less prominent.
The projects that used to make me hyperventilate, I now consider (slightly) easier.
Instead of sitting around wondering if you’re good enough, throw yourself into the deep end and just do it. Practice on free or low-paying projects at the start. Fail. Be terrible. Keep practising. Then, improve.
Invest in your education.
Often, we don’t feel ‘good enough’ because there’s a gap in our knowledge. We don’t know how to do a specific design technique. We have no clue what SEO stands for. We’re unfamiliar with the industry our client wants us to help them dominate.
To overcome this, all we need to do is close the gap. We’re living in an era of information. Thousands upon thousands of people are offering up their knowledge online for the price of your morning coffee and even for free. Fight inadequacy with knowledge by investing in courses and learning as much as you can about your craft. To get started, my favourite low-cost resources are Medium.com and Skillshare.
Be aware of your strengths.
What comes naturally to you, is hard for others. What you think is the simplest thing in the world to accomplish, is causing someone else legitimate panic attacks.
Writing has always come instinctively to me, so I assumed it was the same for everyone else. But I quickly realised that not everyone can communicate effectively. Some people struggle to put their thoughts eloquently on paper or write simply and concisely for the internet. Many business owners will happily outsource writing tasks because they hate staring at a blank screen.
On the flip side, I’m horrendous at design. I don’t have an eye for it and I definitely can’t do it. What takes my graphic designer 30 mins to whip up with one hand tied behind their back, would take me days to create — and it would still look like trash. To me, the work she creates will always be more than good enough.
For a glowing reminder of your strengths, call friends and invest in coaches who can point out what you’re good at and how to improve. An external perspective can make all the difference.
But, here’s some tough love: at some point, you have to stop paralysing yourself because of your fear of inadequacy. You can’t keep buying courses as a way to procrastinate putting yourself out there. Your coach, mentor, or friend can give you all the pep talks on why you’re good enough, but they can’t live your life for you. You’re the one who has to do the work to believe in yourself.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this:
While you’re tearing yourself apart because you think you’re not good enough, someone is screenshotting your words and swooning over how beautifully you captured their emotions. Someone is pinning your design to their vision board and labelling it as #goals. Someone is playing your song on repeat and marvelling at how a simple melody can evoke profound memories. To someone else, you are more than good enough.