As a creativity instigator, my mission is to empower people to feed their creative hungers. It doesn’t end there, though. Once you’re happily creating, there is another step: to share your work.
Not everything has to be shared, of course. The contents of a private journal, practice paintings, rehearsal sessions — our creations need a period of privacy to fully blossom. Fear of judgment can paralyze creativity, so it’s important that every creator has space and time to incubate away from the scrutiny of others.
What I see over and over again, though, is that creators stay in this hidden incubation phase for way too long.
“I’m not good enough yet,” they say. “I’ll share my work when it’s better.”
Years go by, and still they keep their creations behind closed doors.
Often they long to share, but they don’t feel qualified. Perhaps they’re waiting for some authority figure to give them their blessing, or for some mystical sign that their work is good enough.
But what is “good enough” anyway? Where is the line between “not good enough” and “good enough to be shared”?
I’ve been playing with this line in my own life, and I’ve come to the following conclusion:
Sharing our work before it’s “good enough” is one of the most empowering things we can do as creators.
Why share your work before it’s “good enough”?
1. So you don’t wait forever
As a recovering perfectionist, “good enough” to me has historically meant “perfect,” or at least darn near it, but of course, no matter how hard I try, I will never be perfect. As a result, if I wait until I’m “good enough,” then I’ll be waiting forever!
Plus even if my work is better than it was last week or last year, my taste will always outstrip my abilities. As I develop more skills, I’m also developing more discernment, and raising my personal bar higher and higher.
The reality is, we will never be as “good” as our Platonic ideal. We are chasing after a constantly moving target.
There will always be a gap between our abilities and our goals for ourselves!
If you wait until the gap disappears, you’ll still be waiting on your deathbed.
When you grasp this fact, the “but I’m not yet as good as I could be” excuse is exposed for its utter ridiculousness.
We are constantly growing and changing, so really, none of us is ever as good as we could be! Everything you create is basically just a snapshot of who you are as a creator in this one tiny moment of time.
I say take the darn snapshot, share it, and move on.
2. To see your work through other people’s lenses
Every time I share something I’ve created, I’m both scared and hopeful. When I click “Publish” on a blog post, or post a piece of art or a video, or when I get up onstage, part of me is always a little terrified (sometimes a lot terrified).
I’m afraid that people will tell me I suck. I’m afraid I’ll be booed off the stage. I’m afraid people will laugh at me.
Or maybe even worse, that the only response will be silence.
At the same time, part of me is hopinghopinghoping for approval.
(Yes, I confess: no matter how much therapy I’ve had and deprogramming I’ve done, part of me still wants desperately to be liked and validated by others.)
I’ve been working consciously on cultivating detachment, but those scared and hopeful parts of me are still there. I’m still afraid of negative feedback, and hoping for positive feedback.
The most amazing thing I discovered from sharing my work, though, is that the feedback I get has a much more powerful purpose than to stroke my ego: it helps me see my work through the eyes of others.
Feedback helps me to take off my own, über-critical glasses, and put on someone else’s impartial glasses, which is an incredible gift.
The difference between this and ego stroking may seem rather subtle, but it’s an important distinction. If I’m sharing my work out of a need for external validation, it’s like I have an unfillable void inside me. The quest for praise in order to make myself feel okay is a frozen need that will never be satisfied; as soon as I receive one piece of positive feedback, I’ll be off looking for the next one.
To see my work through the eyes of others, on the other hand, grants me the gift of distance. Other people will see my work for what it is, while I will almost always only see my work for what it isn’t, so feedback from others can help me to appreciate what I’ve created, rather than have nothing but contempt for it.
[box] Other people see your work for what it is; you see your work for what it isn’t. (Click to tweet!)[/box]
In addition, if I can see my work through someone else’s glasses, I may be able to see much more clearly how I might improve on it, without simply dismissing it outright as crap. And I might even discover that a piece I’d dismissed as unacceptable and incomplete is “good enough” exactly as it is, right now!
In the first year or two of doing calligraphy, I wanted to enter some pieces in a show, but didn’t have much of a body of work to draw from yet, so I framed a piece I’d made in a workshop. I didn’t like the piece much, but I figured it was better to have something to show, rather than nothing.
Well, knock me over with a feather, that piece ended up winning a blue ribbon!
The judges of that show were museum curators and others whose opinions I respected. Let me tell you, it was a lot easier for me to like that piece after discovering that other people liked it enough to give it a prize!
I’d started this piece weeks — or maybe even months — ago, and had never been really happy with it. Rather than tossing it in the garbage, though, I kept pulling it out every so often to experiment in some new way on it.
When I posted the snapshot above, a couple of Facebook friends left the following comments:
In the span of a single moment, I went from seeing this piece only as the painful evidence of my failure as an artist, to seeing it as something interesting, and even lovable.
I was able to realize that if someone else had made this piece, I would have thought it was really cool!
Looking through Karen’s and Randi’s glasses, I was able to judge this piece as “good enough,” and done.
This switch from despising my work to growing rather fond of it — even falling in love with it! — has happened countless times in my creative life.
Again, it’s not that I needed the feedback to stroke my ego, but rather to pull myself out of my ego.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but sharing my work and being open to feedback has helped me to become more neutral to that same feedback. It has also helped me to drop my own disgust with my limited abilities, and appreciate my imperfect creations for what they are, rather than disdaining them for what they aren’t, and for this I am profoundly grateful. It’s all a matter of mindset.
Sharing my work before I’ve deemed it “good enough” has helped me to see that maybe it is, in fact, good enough.
We are all tender and easily bruised at our core. Our skins start out very thin, and thickening our hide to develop some neutrality to feedback can take practice. One negative barb can cut us to the core, so I always advise the following:
- Never share your work with people whom you know aren’t going to like it. (If your mom doesn’t like the way you sing, don’t sing for her!)
- Start by sharing in a small, safe environment, with people you trust to be loving and gentle. (If you’re looking for such an environment, you’ll love Get Sparked, which starts on Monday, September 1st.)
- If you hope to get critical feedback to help you make your work better, be very specific about what you want and don’t want. (Example: when sharing writing, you might ask people to tell you if anything didn’t make sense to them, if they were left with questions, if they found a particular character likable, and if there’s something they want to hear more about.)
As you get more comfortable, you may want to start sharing with larger audiences. Sharing my work on my blog and social media has been particular instructive and helpful for me, because in addition to feedback from friends, I will get comments and “likes” from total strangers, who don’t know me from Adam, and are therefore clearly not trying to curry favor in any way! That critical part of me somehow softens a bit when a stranger expresses appreciation.
Walking the Talk
Since starting this blog over four years ago, I’ve made a practice of sharing my work before it’s “good enough,” in order to teach myself that I don’t have to be perfect in order to be good enough.
Every blog post I publish is imperfect.
I post a lot of in-process artwork online, whether I’m happy with it or not, purely to get used to sharing.
I started Project 3x5x365 with the express intention of desensitizing myself to the fear of creating and sharing work that is mediocre — or even downright crappy. (After all, we need crap to fertilize the good stuff!)
And now I’m in the role of Beginner yet again as I explore the world of looping my voice! This is a whole new world for me, and I have dreams of performing with a looper live onstage sometime, but I’m definitely not ready for that yet!
But just for fun, and in the hopes that it will inspire you to share your own work, even before it’s “good enough,” I’ll leave you with two of my first looping explorations (which, to my great surprise, got “liked” by a stranger within an hour of posting to SoundCloud! Go figure. 🙂 )
Enjoy, and go get creating!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
Come Play & Share in a Safe Space!
If you’ve been wanting a consistent, sustainable, nourishing creative practice, but haven’t been able to make it happen for yourself, here’s help! Join me in my 30-day program, Get Sparked, designed to get you creating every day (even just a little), and to help you find joy in the nooks and crannies of your life. Registration is be limited, so click here to read more and sign up now.