Creativity isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Creativity is hard, sometimes creativity is just plain uncomfortable. Sometimes it means unpleasant feedback, sometimes it means working with or meeting other people when you’d rather be home alone, or having to be vulnerable by putting your work out to be judged. There are some seriously un-fun parts to being creative at times. Is that really bad for you though?
Get Comfortable with Discomfort
What makes you feel uncomfortable in general? Having your great-aunt squeeze your little cheekies at Christmas is pretty uncomfortable, especially when you’re 27 and a foot taller than she is.
Creativity is uncomfortable because you’re forging a new path in your work and in your head that you haven’t gone to before, and that’s not easy. When left to itself, your brain is physiologically kind of lazy, it just wants to take the easiest, most comfortable route to a solution, but you want to create a new route, to create something new, and that takes effort and energy, two things your brain doesn’t like.
Sources of Discomfort
Sandy Speicher is a partner at the design firm IDEO, where she’s led creative teams for over ten years. In an article written for Quartz Ideas, she says, “There is a belief out there that designers are constantly optimistic and confident, but that hasn’t been my experience. Creativity isn’t all about fun. Acknowledging that allows us to design better environments and processes that support the profound vulnerability necessary to develop creative solutions.”
While creativity is great a lot of the time, it can also be pretty uncomfortable. Sometimes you work with new people, and for me, I’m not always comfortable with that. I personally can be too focused inwardly sometimes, and don’t want to be pulled out of my shell. Some of my friends though are almost always seeking out new relationships, so this may or may not be uncomfortable for you.
Another aspect of working with others that can be uncomfortable is being challenged on your ideas. That definitely has benefits to it but it can also feel combative, like the other person is trying to knock you down. That’s a good reason for having good people skills in a working relationship and just generally having patience for people.
Maybe for you, putting your work out to be judged is uncomfortable. If you’re putting out videos, photos, blog posts, books, whatever for long enough, eventually you’re going to run into haters that just want to beat you down and make you feel terrible, probably because they feel terrible about themselves and they refuse to deal with it. Maybe dealing with haters can be another episode, but for now, I just want to say that dealing with haters sucks.
There’s a lot of ways that creating cool stuff can also be uncomfortable, right? Struggling to learn new skills, especially when you’re comfortable with what you know; getting feedback can be really hard to hear, especially when it’s on something you worked hard on; or maybe having to make do with less than the best hardware or apps because you can’t afford the top of the line. For example, everything that I use for this podcast is either a free program or service or a low-cost leftover from other projects I’ve done in the past.
Benefits of Discomfort
Being uncomfortable as you create isn’t entirely negative though. Even though it feels bad, think of it as refining your abilities, a hurdle to jump over to move up to better things. It’s a chance for you to grow creatively, plus it helps you by weeding out some of the competition. A lot of people won’t want to get through the uncomfortable bits of the creative field, so they’ll just quit and do something else, while you’re still there and making cool stuff. Doing uncomfortable things helps you stand out, and it’ll help you get results that nobody who wants to stay chill and comfy will be able to get.
Another way that discomfort is good for you is because it wakes your brain up and makes you sensitive to what’s going on and what’s possible to do. For example, think about a route that you drive every day, like to work. When you first started taking that route, you had to pay attention to where you were going so you wouldn’t miss your turn or whatever. After you’ve been driving it for a few months or a year, you don’t pay attention as much and you drive automatically.
That’s fine for driving to work, but is that how you want to work on your creative projects? Not really paying attention, just going through the motions? Nah, probably not, you probably want to be engaged with what you’re doing, hopefully because you enjoy it (generally) and want to do a good job. So while it’s good to be comfortable with using your tools, for example, you also want to have a challenge to stretch you and push you to be better and to be more sensitive to what you’re really capable of accomplishing.
Work through Discomfort
So if you need to work through your discomfort, what can you do to deal with it? Sanjay Patel wrote an article on Forbes.com with some tips:
Get It Out
First, get it out of your head. Whatever the source of your discomfort is, it can just be rattling around inside your brain over and over, and distracting you from being able to do anything else. Or maybe you still need to nail down exactly what’s making you uncomfortable.
Patel suggests writing it down, whatever it is, can help you clear your head. And if you don’t know what it is, then just the act of writing can help you discover it. Seeing it written down can help you deal with it. If that doesn’t help or you want more, talk it out with a friend just to get it out in the open.
Just Do It
His fourth suggestion is to follow Nike’s advice and just do it, although he doesn’t say it exactly like that. I’m not sure Forbes’ editors would let that slide. But the idea is, if you are so uncomfortable about sending an email to a new person for something you want to do, or you’re nervous about starting a course to learn a new creative skill, you can build up a fear of this so much that you end up paralyzing yourself.
That’s something I’ve done to myself a lot at my day job, especially with writing emails. I’ve got one right now I haven’t responded to for three weeks so now it feels like I can never do it. So I should swallow my own, and Sanjay’s, advice and just reply to the dag-nabbin email.
You may have noticed I jumped from Sanjay’s first tip to his fourth tip; that’s my subtle way of saying you should check out his article, because it’s pretty good and you deserve to read it.
So what was a time that you felt uncomfortable? Maybe leaving a steady job in order to go full-time freelance. Or just booking your first client job, taking the first step in building your own creative business. There’s a lot of ways to be uncomfortable, but you can work through them, you can grow from them, and you can tackle them when they pop back up again.
Sandy Speicher again, “The best work comes from some of these hardest times. Confusion, self-doubt, existential searching, getting lost, and then finding your way out of that state of disequilibrium—these are the essential experiences for the emergence of creativity.”
Right now, this podcast is hosted on a free podcast hosting plan, and that plan is going to run out soon, and I’ll have to start deleting old episodes to make room for new episodes.
If you’d like to help making this a continuing resource for the creative community, consider supporting the podcast on Patreon. It only takes a dollar or two, and just a few minutes to set up. The first goal is switch to a paid plan with more hosting space, and the second goal is to set up a self-hosted website. Thanks!