Artist Therapy: Confidence

Artist Therapy Posts: Where we face the feels all artists struggle with.

Often, when you talk about Confidence it feels like you might as well be talking about Fairy Dust, because people have this mistaken idea that it’s one of those things you either have or you don’t. Confident people just seem to have permission to do more, safe in the belief that it’ll turn out ok. People who aren’t confident watch in envy and are convinced that they could never move so easily in the world. Well I’m here to tell you one very important thing: there’s no such thing as confident people — no one feels confident all the time (those people are either arrogant or delusional). Confident people are exactly the same as insecure people, they’ve just figured out one really important lesson: Failing is survivable.

Seems too easy, right? I know. But I swear, as a person that is considered very confident out in the world, this is really all it is.

Let’s talk about social interactions first, because that’s what we think first when we hear the word “confidence” — someone walking into a party, not anxious or scared, just calmly talking to who they want to talk to, introducing themselves to strangers, usually attracting a circle of people who want to talk to them. Many people have social anxiety about events and networking, because they fear what other people think of them. And there is a grain of truth to that — it’s scary to think you might blow your chance with that Art Director if you accidentally say something really inappropriate or just act creepy. But that grain of truth is coated with a candy shell of narcissism. Humans use most of their consciousness thinking about themselves, right? When we think about other people judging us, we forget that we are not nearly as important in their minds as the fear of their judgment is in our mind. In other words: Whatever embarrassing thing you might do is going to be 100x more memorable to you than to someone else. Believing people are paying enough attention to you to judge you as harshly as you fear they will is actually kind of arrogant. Everyone’s got their own shit going on…and your shit is not only more likely to be forgiven because it’s not as big a deal to someone else, it’s also less likely to even be noticed. So if you screw up big time and embarrass yourself, you need to realize, and believe, that it feels 100x worse to you than to anyone else who witnessed it. Maybe 1000x worse.

Confident people have internalized this knowledge. They realize the stakes of social interactions are actually a hell of a lot lower than they feel. You know how they figured it out? By risking awkward situations, failing miserably, and shrugging it off. This is what it means to “fail forward”. People who have learned this lesson know they’ve learned more from failing than succeeding, and risk more knowing it’s going to be a win in the long run no matter what. Let me give you some personal experience: I go to a lot of networking events. I am an Art Director and I get approached a lot by nervous artists. Sometimes they are super awkward, it’s true. But thinking back to over 10 years of going to conventions and being approached by artists and I can maybe only think of two or three that really failed so horribly that I remember them. And you know what? I don’t hold it against them. I don’t internally make fun of them, and I certainly wouldn’t not talk to them if they came up to me at another con. So even though they have technically “failed” their shot with me, there’s no penalties. And they get another chance any time they want to. Let’s flip the tables: I won’t name names, but once I was definitely fangirling internally at a con over an artist I really admire and really wanted to meet. I was super nervous. However, since I am a “confident person” I knew it was better to risk approaching them then let the opportunity slip. I won’t go into details, but I totally flubbed it. I was an awkward weirdo. My approach totally fell on it’s face, and after a few min I backed away cooly and ran for the bathrooms to hide. I didn’t talk to them the whole rest of the con. About a year later, at a different con, I was introduced to the same artist again, and it went a lot less awkwardly. We’re good friends now, and I asked them if they remembered how awful our first meeting was. They didn’t even remember for a moment, and then when I pulled up some details they finally remembered, but didn’t recall that I had been awkward at all. For a year I had been obsessing over what an embarrassment I had been…and it was 100% in my head.

Remember that waaaaaaay back in caveman days, being rejected from the tribe meant you were going to get kicked out of the cave and eaten by a sabertooth tiger. So social rejection had real consequences. Now if we are super awkward at a party, it doesn’t come with a death penalty. But evolution works slowly, and we still have that life-or-death fear ingrained in us. Realize that fear as the vestigial tail that it is, and ignore it. And that’s the real difference between insecure folks and confident folks: confident folks are just insecure folks that just don’t let fear stop them.

Elizabeth Gilbert states it pretty plainly in her book Big Magic: “You are free, because everyone is too busy fussing over themselves to worry all that much about you.” That seems kind of horrible at first, but when it sinks in, a weight comes off your shoulders. You can risk more, and see these situations as a chance to play. If you’re not so scared of failing, then life becomes a bit more of a game to be figured out and played through. And that is a very confident mindset to have.

This works beyond parties and applies to just about anything you do. Too scared to launch that Kickstarter and fail? Nervous about experimenting with a new medium? Worried you’re not ready to email an Art Director yet? Take a moment and think rationally: What’s the worst thing that could (realistically) happen? Chances are, the worst case scenario is not as scary as you think. The fear of rejection cloud is just overshadowing everything. And that cloud is a real feeling, but you can acknowledge it, put it aside, and do the thing anyway. And that is what makes you a confident person. Or, more accurately, an insecure person doing confident things anyway.

2 thoughts on “Artist Therapy: Confidence

  1. Hey Lauren, just wanted to give you a huge thank you for these posts.
    As an illustrator just starting out, I’ve been lectured a lot on how this career “can’t work”… but your posts have been amazing counters to the negativity! Really break down a lot of the misconceptions out there about approaching art directors, too.

    Can’t thank you enough for sharing!

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