So I talk about design on this blog, why would I talk about fear? No one is afraid of design right? Well, not exactly, but sort of.
We may not be afraid that the Baskerville capital letter “G” is going to chase us down the street into a dark alley, but we are all afraid of things as creatives.
We are afraid of making mistakes, we are afraid of looking like an imposter
, we are afraid of losing clients, we are afraid of taking chances with our work, we are afraid of making bad decisions, we are afraid of criticism, we are afraid of what others will think of us, and we are afraid that all of these things will lead to failure. The more we fear failure, the more failure becomes a part of us.
Fear limits your productivity, it stifles your imagination, and it can be paralyzing if you don’t recognize it in yourself.
Because design is a hard job
and puts us under a lot of pressure; we may feel fear every time we design. So what is fear? Webster’s dictionary defines fear as: “to be afraid of (something or someone); to expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant); to be afraid and worried; to be afraid of (something or someone).
But there’s more to fear than fear itself.
But not all fear is bad, just as there is healthy fear in life (like not putting your hand in a fire), there are good (productive) and bad (unproductive) fears in relation to our creativity as well. Learning how to use these fears can make us more brace and courageous.
Unproductive & Productive Fears
Productive fears in the life of a creative can look like many things. The trick to making a fear productive is by looking at it from a different angle, it all depends on how you respond to them. But, if you have fears like fear of criticism, that can be unproductive. As creatives and especially as graphic designers, we need consistent criticism. We need to be able to take a step back from the intimacy of our computer screen and let someone else see our work. The only way we can ever get better is to let others inside our process and tell us how we might possibly do something better.
Things like fear of failure or of making bad decisions are unproductive—everyone makes mistakes. Being afraid imperfection is something you may never overcome because no designer, no creative, no person ever in history (save Jesus Christ) has been perfect. Having goals to achieve your highest level of excellence is okay, but don’t set yourself up for disppointment by expecting perfection.
The most unproductive fear by far is the fear of failure.
Failure is so subjective, much like beauty on the opposite end of the spectrum. Failure to me light look like not reaching a goal I set for myself this week, and failure for you might look like not finding that perfect typeface. Whatever it is, there’s really no such thing as failing.
Not reaching a goal or making mistakes is not failing, it’s just learning how to get better by using our past experiences.
says, “Failure is not the end—it doesn’t mean that it’s over—it just means that you get to continue with experience.” As long as we learn something from a disappointment, we have not failed. I’ve discovered that the only true failure comes when we give up.
How to use your fear
How can we use our fear to our advantage? Take for instance the fear of mistakes. We can use this fear to help us be more attentive to our work and have attention to detail. This doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes or that we should become obsessed with correcting mistakes, but being afraid can help us be more aware.
The idea behind using our fears is to find something that we can do differently to control that fear.
Fear keeps us from moving forward. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of mind over matter or that thinking it will make it so, but I do believe that believing that you can do something or try something is the first step towards it actually happening. It’s sort of like playing a new sport. First you have to tell yourself that you want
to try, then that you’re going to try, then you get everything you will need to play, then you go to a practice, warm up your muscles and stretch, then
you play. Ninety percent of the time before you actually did the thing, was spent preparing for it—preparation gave you confidence to move forward to the next step. The same goes for creating, there’s a preparation process
to our executions and getting in the right mindset is crucial to conquering our fears and anxieties.
I know that when I am not prepared for something, whether it be playing a sport, doing something with my kids, or tackling a new design project, my apprehension of the outcome of each thing goes up significantly if I’m not prepared mentally. When we are harboring fear about something we are working on or doing, the end result will always be lacking something. When we are afraid we hold something back, and we can’t do our best work if we are not all in.
Use your fear, use it to make you work harder, to think more critically and use it to build your confidence by not letting it control you.
Fear is not phobia. Phobias are uncontrollable to an extent. But you have the ability to control what you do with your fear and it can either make you braver or weaker–only you can choose. Artists and creatives throughout history have stumbled through their own fears and misgivings. The idea that there is some genius creative with a muse who just wakes up and creates a masterpiece is a myth. I guarantee that every classic genius had, just as we have, fears, doubts, and challenges to overcome.
Steal Courage from Your Fear
Courage as a creative is one of the most priceless traits to work towards achieving. It takes intense courage to do what we do. As designers/artists/creatives, we take what’s inside of us and pour it out on some kind of medium for all the world to see. We design, we write and paint, we make things that have a little piece of ourselves and we put it out not always knowing what will happen. That is creative courage, and it will never come if you let your fear hold you back. Using those productive fears will make us brave.
The thing that we gain from using our fear and not letting it use us, is courage.
I am writing this as a reminder to myself as well. I have a fear of imperfection. I am that person who will attempt to work out a design until it is as close to perfect as I can and that usually does more harm (stress-wise) than good. I have had to learn to embrace my fear to a productive end. Putting out something that might not be perfect in my own eyes has caused me to grow in my creative courage.
Be Courageous, not Fearless
Courageousness isn’t not being fearless, it’s being fearful and still moving forward knowing that you are in control and that nothing but yourself can stop you.
Fear is not something that will ever leave us. The important thing to remember is to embrace it and not let it force you into corners of uncertainty or dark rooms of doubt. There’s a great feeling of accomplishment when you can overcome a fear.
Create not only in spite of your fears, but in answer to them.
Design is a wonderful world. I hope you’ll join me here, because design matters.