Excerpted from Rosanne Cash’s memoir, Composed:
T-Bone Burnet, an old friend, once told Joe Henry, “Don’t stop working, just stop worrying,” advice that Joe passed on to me [Rosanne Cash] that has since become my silent mantra. Now, even when I do worry, I keep working. Work, I remind myself, is redemption.
Let’s talk about doubt - about self-doubt for a moment.
The truth. I can be terrible about following my own advice: the advice that it’s pretty much no good to anyone to compare yourself and your work and your accomplishments to the creatives around you.
You see, I am continually inspired and pushed to do more by looking around and seeing the amazing things coming out of the amazing women in this creative world around me here in the SF bay area. And most of the time it gets me revved up and feeling super lucky to say “hey, I know that woman!!”
But, sometimes it can make me feel like I’m not doing enough. Leaves me wondering when my big break is going to come. Or when it’s all just going to get easier.
The other day I was listening to this bio series about Oprah on KQED. And it was riveting. To hear her talk about her team’s strategy as they worked on maneuvering Oprah from being a sensationalist talk show to one that was about how to live your best life. “You have to keep your eye on what you’re doing. You have to wear blinders. Don’t look at other folks’ ratings. Don’t look at what others are doing and think “I need to do that.” You have to stay in your lane and keep looking ahead, because it’s when you start staring at the other folks, in their lanes that you start to slow down.” (that’s a rough quote of what Oprah said.)
I heard that and I was like “uh, huh! Yes!” So many good ways this can apply to creative entrepreneurs.
I have my own take on this advice, of course, one that’s a little more inclusive and more involved with the people around me, but I definitely took that advice to heart.
Part of that stew is the fact that I am a woman, and in so many ways programmed to look towards others for advice and validation, to look towards others for the “okay, yes, keep doing what you’re doing” high sign. That way of making decisions can be self-sabotaging though. As you run your handmade business you’re going to need to develop the strength to make many decisions on your own. That will only be harder if you need your decisions validated by others. It may even keep you from making decisions that you need to make, and possibly that you need to make quickly.
Doubt, self doubt, second guessing yourself, not feeling confident, low self-esteem about the way your business is going, these will all be things you’ll deal with if you decide to turn selling your handmade work into a business. You will not be without these things. And while too much of these feelings will drag you down and keep you form doing the work that needs to be done, an occasional dose of doubt and it’s cousins will help you to keep trying new things and pushing forward with your work.
You can’t outrun the doubt. It will be there. Even if you manage to grow your business into something that is successful by anyone’s definition of success, the doubt will always come eventually.
There’s a Rumi quote that I especially like, that I feel is relevant to many of the harder things in life. I think it’s relevant to dealing with your “doubt demons” too:
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
Basically it’s the difficult stuff in life that’s in someways a gateway or a path to the more transcendent things we reach for and grow towards. I think when I was younger I thought that the point of living “successfully” (whatever the fuck that means!) was that eventually I would wake up everyday fully confident in everything I was doing, that there would be no second-guessing myself, there would be no DOUBTS. I also thought that eventually I would only create work I was 100% happy with and learn to always say exactly what was on my mind in a perfectly clear way that the person I was speaking to would understand. I had a lot of learning to do.
Doubt will be your bedfellow if you venture into this creative business world. She will tag team you at craft fairs, she will sit on your shoulder when you’re creating new designs, and she will sometimes keep you from doing some really stupid things. But if you let her take the reigns too much she will keep you from ever doing the work you truly want to do.
I think self-doubt and believing this story that doubt is telling us (Because it is a story, anyone who has become really good at telling themselves that their work rocks and they are awesome is also telling themselves a story. This is neither good nor bad, simply helpful to remember so we don’t put too much stock in these narratives.) goes hand-in-hand with the rabbit hole that many people fall down into. The wanting to wait until it’s all perfect rabbit hole. This also sometimes sounds like I just want to wait until I’m ready. Ready to launch a new product, or take a business course, or simply to try to start selling one’s work.
The key to reaching for your dreams is to get comfortable with taking steps towards those dreams even when you don’t feel ready.
Now, that is going to look different for everyone. Everyone is going to have a different threshold for the amount of uncertainty and unpredictability that they can handle. Some of us thrive on it, others need to parcel it out so as to not go into complete overwhelm. As a personal example: I was (relatively) comfortable with quitting my day job well before my business was making much money. It was profitable, but barely. I had reached a tipping point where I felt like working another job was taking too much time away from my biz. I accepted that money would be tight and that things would be a bit uncomfortable for a while. But I was more willing to accept that than say, continuing to work at the day job while working on my job into the wee hours and losing sleep. We all compromise where and when we can. And you will learn to too.
I wrote this slightly rambling Creative Tenacity post about doubt because when I reached out to my fellow makers, creative business cohorts and my blog readers, this was resoundingly the topic most of your were interested in. I hope that it helps some of you through what may be a dark period or moment of questioning what you are doing. When you get to that place, just remember that it is not necessarily a sign that you are doing anything wrong and that even the most successful amongst us struggles with doubt regularly! I would say even daily.
I’m going to leave you readers with these points, in summation of this slightly stream-of-consciousness post about doubt.
Get used to feeling a bit uncomfortable, or outside of your comfort zone.
Develop a healthy habit of pursuing things and starting things before you feel 100% ready. Doing the thing or starting the thing will make you ready.
Learn to sit side by side with doubt and her cousins. Accept that doubt will never go away. You will simply learn to live with it.
Lastly, I wanted to include a short list of resources that I find to be helpful when my doubt demons start to get too loud, or I’m in need of a personal pep-talk of sorts -
I also find that talking to a fellow creative when you’re feeling especially low or full of doubt can sometime be the best balm of all.
Keep pushing and keep making your beautiful work everyone!