All right, this week we’re going to focus on a darker side of the artist lifestyle: you have to learn how to tune out unsupportive voices if you want to succeed. Doubt can trickle in from any angle, whether it’s from a co-worker, teacher, or a chatty cashier at the grocery store.
Storytime: back when I was in 5th grade, a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said “teacher.” With an astounded look on his face, he responded, “Really? But you’re too quiet!” All I did was answer his question, but somehow I ended up feeling embarrassed and doubtful of my own capabilities. Now, clearly teaching a classroom full of 40 kindergartners did not end up being my passion, and I’m sure he wasn’t trying to crush my dreams. But this story stuck with me, and it does illustrate my point: even people with the best intentions can accidentally tread all over an idea or a goal that’s important to you. Sometimes their words end up in your head, transforming into an inner critic that holds you back from reaching for the next level.
So what can you do to tune out unsupportive voices and avoid being overwhelmed by negativity? I think the best way to go about it is to get to know yourself really, really well. I know that sounds corny, and I’ve scoffed at similar advice in the past. But really, where else will your confidence come from? You need your confidence to guide you through the murky waters of self-doubt. With this in mind, I’ve put together this list of 5 ways you can build your sense of self. Each item on the list has helped me tremendously, so I know they can help you, too!
1. Journal often
Admittedly, I have fallen way off the journaling bandwagon since I had Liv. I’m actively trying to work it back into my routine, though, because there is really no better way to get to know yourself. I don’t let anyone else read mine, so I can spill all of my mental garbage onto the page without worrying about what others might think. Sometimes I make up terrible song lyrics. Recently, I ranted a lot about how it feels to go without sleep for 730 days straight. Other times, I start a story and then switch to a more “professional” journal (or my laptop) to finish it, because it’s too good to be housed in my junk journal. There’s even a really rough sketch of my plan for a vegetable garden in there because it was the closest pad of paper lying around when I was struck with inspiration.
My favorite part about journaling is that there are no rules. If you use it to vent, great. If you just write the word “pancake” over and over because it helps you focus, go for it. Either way, you’ll learn more about how you work and how you think, which is the entire goal.
2. Check in with yourself
Every once in a while, it helps to touch base with yourself and gauge how you’re feeling at any given moment. What situations or actions make you feel the most relaxed? Which ones make you feel anxious? For instance, I lose all sense of time when I’m writing or drawing because I get into such a zone. Untangling a knotted ball of yarn makes me irrationally angry, though – part of the reason I decided against adding crochet to my larger business plan! Knowing your passions vs. your triggers will help you decide what route is best for you personally. When you know for sure that you’re making the best choices for yourself, it becomes that much easier to tune out unsupportive voices around you.
3. Find your tribe
It’s unlikely that your close family and friends will be passionate about the exact same things as you. Which is totally fine – the differences between us make us interesting. But it really, really helps your productivity and confidence to have like-minded peers to talk to when you need support, have questions, or want to workshop some of your ideas. It’s a lot easier to tune out unsupportive voices when you have a chorus of positive feedback ringing in your ear.
Of course, if you’re introverted like me, searching for a group of strangers to meet at a coffee shop sounds like low-key torture. Living close to Ann Arbor, I know there are writers groups all around me, but I have yet to convince myself to try one. Instead, I’ve embraced the internet. There are Facebook groups for everything under the sun, and some of them are fantastic. Look for the closed groups where you have to answer a couple questions to get admitted. These are generally moderated well, so you’ll run into way less negativity and off-putting behavior.
There are two groups in particular that have helped me: Artists Trying to Make a Living Creating Art and Blogging Like We Mean It. Both of them are full of people ready to help with questions and support.
If you want to help build a community, I’ve recently started my own group: VanDuinen Studio’s Inspiration Club. I have lofty goals to use this group as a networking and workshop community for fellow artists, but I’ll need your help and participation to grow it!
4. Get off the internet for a little while
In direct opposition to what I just said, I’m also going to advocate for logging off now and again. The internet is a varied and opinionated place. This means that you’re guaranteed to find people who love what you do, but you’re also guaranteed to find people who don’t. And they’ll tell you loudly, clearly, and often, making it difficult to tune out unsupportive voices en masse. When you find yourself getting caught up in criticism from virtual voices, close the laptop, put down your phone, and walk away. Work on some art, read a book, play with your kids. Remind yourself that no one knows your story better than you do, so no one can make better choices for you. When you log back on, you’ll hopefully feel much better prepared to let rude comments fade into the ether.
5. Use what criticism you can, discard the rest
No one loves to hear criticism, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful from time to time. If you’re hearing a lot of the same criticism, for example, take a step back and evaluate your work. Is there another way you could do it? It’s often easier to let ego get in the way of really listening to less-than-stellar feedback, but sometimes your audience really does have a point. Take me for instance: I hate hearing that there are pieces of my stories that people don’t like, but when I take a moment and think about their suggestions, they usually do improve the flow or clarify the logic. All it takes is me getting over myself to see the light!
There will be times, though, when it’s better for you to completely tune out unsupportive voices. I got a lot of guff about my English major, for example. What would I do with it? How is that useful? Did I want to confine myself to academia? I didn’t let these comments change my mind, though. Instead, I got angry. No, I did not want to teach (anymore). Yes, it would be useful. An English major, designed to teach communication and critical thinking, would prepare me for anything. That anger led to a determination that has pushed me through all the twists and turns of my career so far. I leveraged that English major to score a position as a technical writer for an immigration law firm, and I’m using it now to grow this blog. Don’t be afraid to forge your own path in life, if the traditional road looks too uninviting. Use the words of your critics to fuel your fire.
6. Develop a mantra
A mantra can help you refocus when you find your confidence wavering. The mantra can be anything that speaks to you; even something as simple as “I can do this!” can help you find your sense of calm, especially if you pair it with some deep breathing. If you’re a visual person like me, it might help to look at a quote graphic with your mantra on it while you breathe. I took the liberty of creating one for the phrase “I believe in me.” If you want to save this one for later use, click here for your download link:
There you have it – now you know a little more about how to tune out unsupportive voices.
None of these tips are foolproof. Self-doubt is natural, and outside criticism is inevitable, no matter how confident you are. But if you have a goal you want or need to achieve, it’s important to come up with techniques that help you tune out unsupportive voices that may get in the way of your success.
Have any of these suggestions helped you reframe your thinking? Do you have any tips to add to the list? Let me know in the comments below or via email!
Until next week,
P.S. Want to read more about the artist lifestyle? Check out these related posts:
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