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7 Tips to Combat Low Self-Esteem as a Creative

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

What do you get when you cross a creative and someone living with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem? Well, you get the stereotypical image of the “tortured writer,” or poet, or painter, despairing because their muse has left them destitute and unfulfilled.

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: I am that stereotype. I have been tortured by my lack of self-esteem and fear of failure for so very long. I have tried everything imaginable to work my way through it, and I have fought through it several times only to be dragged back in. Unfortunately, there’s no real easy fix for self-doubt. There are, however, ways you can combat it each time it arises. I want to share some of those ways with you now.

No matter what kind of creative you are — whether you’re a writer like I am, or an artist, a photographer, a dancer — I want you to know that, as hard as it is not to listen to the depression and anxiety when they try to consume you, you’re not alone in this. So many of us, your fellow creatives, feel this way. We’re all in this together.

1. Allow yourself to be known for your creativity.

I used to think it made me a little arrogant to call myself an author when I haven’t published a novel (yet), so I let it get in my way. And, do you know what happened? Well, I found myself at a figurative standstill, unable to actually be an author because I didn’t consider myself to be one — because my self-esteem told me I couldn’t be one.

You know the phrase “fake it ’til you make it?” That’s the key to this. What’s stopping you from calling yourself an artist, a writer, a photographer? If you do the thing, does that not make you one? If I’m writing a novel, I’m not a wannabe author — I’m an author. It’s what I want to do. So, embody the life you want to live. The rest will come with time.

2. Seek anonymous feedback.

I have major trust issues thanks to years of bullying, even from people whom I thought were my friends and thought were supportive. Now, I struggle to believe that anyone who praises my creative pursuits actually believes they’re good. I feel like they’re just being nice to me at best, or silently mocking me at worst.

Recognizing that people are being sincere is another conversation entirely, and I’m still working on believing that those close to me actually believe I’m a good writer. Until then, seeking anonymous feedback is another way to go. Sure, it’s feeding the insecurity, but I feel like the less I know somebody, the more inclined they are to be honest in their feedback. After all, what have they got to lose in their honesty? You can find anonymous groups online for sharing your creative work and getting feedback. But while we’re on the subject…

3. Remember that art is entirely subjective.

I know it’s easier said than done (especially when your depression makes you already feel worthless), but all art is entirely subjective. Think about a movie, a book, or a song that you think is a masterpiece but someone else thinks is rubbish. No matter who you are, there is always going to be somebody who doesn’t like your work. And, you know something? That’s OK! I find this incredibly freeing — the knowledge that I don’t have to please everybody.

4. Remember that even the greats aren’t perfect.

We sometimes have this idea that the greats we aspire to be have everything perfect, or never struggled to get noticed. There’s also a belief that, for them, it’s super easy. (More on that below). The truth is that this level of fame and skill often takes a lot of work, a lot of luck, or (most often) both. 

For me, the feeling that I couldn’t produce something “perfect” was debilitating. I’ve spent so long on single projects that ultimately go nowhere because the anxiety stops me in my tracks, and my depression makes it feel like I’m never going to achieve my goals in the first place.

Three little words changed this for me. My mentor, author Maya MacGregor, told me to remember “progress, not perfection.” After all, perfection is never attainable and even if it was, it wouldn’t mean the same thing for everybody — see point #3, above. It’s better to progress and grow than strive for perfection that’ll never come.

5. Don’t take everyone’s advice as gospel.

I learned this one the hard way. I’ve been a member of many creative circles, and as the saying goes: everybody’s a critic. To borrow another proverb, too many cooks spoil the broth. I listened to everybody’s advice, and the result was a hodgepodge of opinions that didn’t gel or make much sense.

The fact is, not everybody’s advice is going to be useful to you, but when you live with low self-esteem you’re inclined to believe absolutely everything. After all, it feels like everybody else must know better, right? That, and it’s anxiety-provoking to not take somebody’s advice, and then they find out. So, take the advice that you believe applies, and leave the rest. Do what works for you.

6. Allow yourself to have fun.

It sounds a little silly to say, but creativity is supposed to be fun. Sometimes, though, it’s easy to forget that. This is a short tip, but it’s important to allow yourself to play. Take some time to experiment. Write, paint, or compose silly things even if you have no intention of showing them to anybody. Enjoy yourself. It’s not supposed to be all work! This is especially true if you’re struggling and it’s killing your creativity.

7. Recognize the myth that creativity should come easy.

We have this perception that creativity should come easy when nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, there are times when inspiration might strike and you feel that rush of wonder as something comes alive in your hands, but it’s often not like that. For so long, I thought I was somehow lesser than my peers because it usually felt a lot harder for me. Was I defective? Was I not as creative as them, or creative at all? Or was this actually my depression, my self-worth, and my low self-esteem talking? 

Creativity is hard work, perseverance, rejection, and the days when it feels like you’re having to scrape the bottom of the creativity barrel for even a scrap of something good. But whatever your creative pursuit might be, it’s not some sort of gift — it’s a muscle you must build through repetition and routine. Even when it feels like you aren’t capable (because depression lies about your worth as a creative human), do it anyway. I promise you, it’ll pay off. It has done for me.

So, those are my seven tips for combatting low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety as a creative when it stops you from creating what you love. I’ve learned them the hard way, and I’m still prone to struggling on the bad days. As with anything related to our mental health, though, it’s about reminding yourself of these tips when you feel downtrodden. It’s difficult, I know, but I believe in you and your ability to do this. With hard work, patience, a little confidence, and a little luck, you can achieve your creative dreams, no matter what they are. We all can.

For more from Alexander Lockwood, you can follow him on his website

Getty image by Zdenek Sasek.

Originally published: September 23, 2022
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