Something is coming. I don’t know exactly what it is, but the past several months have had me thinking differently about what I do. I’ve talked about the importance of getting out of our (my) own way for a long time, but only rarely and sporadically have been able to do it myself. The why around that is easy: fear. Fear of failure. Or fear of success. Or fear of what some random person on the internet might think or say in response to something I do, say, or release. But in the words of the great Gary Busey, fear is nothing more than “False Evidence Appearing Real.” The truth is, we have come to believe that there’s no value in failure, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, if we look at the meaning of the word, Webster says it is “to fall short in satisfying the expectation or hope of.” So if fear and expectation are linked, perhaps if we manage one, we can help mitigate the feelings around the other.
I can tell you that much of the anxiety I feel around what I do has very little to do with the number of ideas I have or the quality of the work I produce. More often than not, it’s a result of not hitting some nebulous and impossibly arbitrary target or milestone that I’ve set for myself. Sometimes it’s a real thing, such as my overall lack of consistency, but if I take an honest look at why I’m not consistent, it has little to do with desire, or ability, or time, or anything that I have control over. Most of the time, I get myself into this “what’s the point?” headspace because I’ve convinced myself that nobody will listen, or look, or like, or buy whatever it is that I’m doing — all without a shred of evidence to support it. False Evidence Appearing Real.
A couple weeks ago, much of this came to a head when Sean and I were recording an episode of Deep Natter. The episode we released wasn’t meant to be an episode at all, but the conversation went somewhere unexpected and it uncovered some things that have resonated very deeply with the listeners. And I think the reason is that these fears are ubiquitous with making. I’ve spoken to creatives at virtually every level of success and I can tell you that they all experience fear and they all feel like imposters sometimes.
So how do we move past it? Well, that’s the question of the day and the answer will be different for everyone. For me, not surprisingly, it’s been a process. As a friend pointed out recently when we were talking about some of this, “Yeah, but I’ve heard this before from you. What’s different this time?” Ouch. But they’re absolutely right. And I think what’s different now is that I’ve gotten to a point where the emotional and existential anxiety of NOT changing is greater than the fear of actually changing. One of the biggest changes has been around making the ask for support. I have resisted the urge of going the Patreon route because I saw everything I did — podcasts, videos, even paintings — as transactional. Make widget X, sell widget x to customer, repeat. But two things were working against me. One was that I never really put my paintings “out there” out of fear of them not selling, which I would likely take as a personal rejection. The other was never asking for any kind of financial support, which meant that I was ignoring a segment of my audience that doesn’t want anything tangible in return — they just want to be on the journey with me. For them, that’s the widget they are willing to pay for.
Sometimes, what we also need is to recalibrate our own expectations, which for me really begins with a willingness to see my work differently. For me, that means letting go of the idea that my art (with or without the capital A) has to hang in a gallery on a canvas or a panel — there simply are no rules anymore and part of being a savvy artist is recognizing that and taking steps to meet the audience where they are in terms of what they want. If someone would prefer to have one of my paintings appear on a pillow case or a scarf or a coffee mug, so be it. It all counts and as the lines continue to blur between artist and entrepreneur, part of the job is to recognize and act when an opportunity presents itself.
What are some of the limitations holding you back?
Hit the comments and let’s talk about it.
We recently went to see The French Dispatch, which is another terrific film from Wes Anderson. While his movies are hard to rank (they are all quirky, but in different ways), this one is up there for me. One of the things I love about almost every Wes Anderson film are the miniatures. His production design is fabulous and I love that he still chooses to do things practically, rather than relying on CGI. Here’s a terrific look inside the model shop that created the miniatures for The French Dispatch.
When Jony Ive left Apple in 2019 to start his own company, LoveFrom, many thought it was the end of Apple, at least from a design perspective. Of course that wasn’t true and, in fact, I think that Apple is producing some of its most compelling product design in years. In a recent interview for WIRED, Sir Jony talked about his time at Apple, Steve Jobs, and how important the iPod was to the then nonexistent wearables market.
There’s a terrific new show at the National Gallery of Art called The New Woman Behind the Camera that explores the incredible contributions women made to photography, specifically from the 1920s to the 1950s. More than 120 international photographers are represented, including Homai Vyarawalla, Ellen Auerbach, Margaret Bourke-White, Berenice Abbott, and more.