Sometimes in life it pays to play it safe. For example, if you leave a casserole in the oven for too long, it will burn. If you shorten the cooking time because you need it quickly to serve your hungry guests, it won’t be very tasty.
However, one of the most common stories we’re told that if you’re not perfect at something, you probably should give up.
Very occasionally, this makes sense; if you’re a bus driver and you keep ending up in a ravine, you may wish to reconsider your day job. However, the place that I notice that we’re fed this constantly is when it comes to making stuff for the world to enjoy, whether it be in physical form or online.
This in itself is a paradox; the perception of bad art, photography, video or writing as dangerous. I for one have never been driven off a cliff by a poor abstract painting or a dreadful 10 minute film or even, dare I say it, a young woman with an Instagram profile and YouTube channel, soft, grainy filter, short white dress and with a smile whitened by charcoal toothpaste. Nope, that has happened approximately never.
Of course, the terror instilled in us from an early age - to fear not being good at doing difficult things - isn’t really about the object itself or the hitting of a publish button; it’s about holding the things we make up for others to judge.
Growing up, I was encouraged by my parents to “give things ago”. I had a privileged childhood with two parents together, a house in the suburbs and a family culture of reading books. Mum and Dad instilled me with a feeling of confidence, that I could do things - and do them well. I was given praise without judgement. But then school happened!
You may remember that art teacher who told you that your painting of your pot wasn’t very good? Do you remember seeing those pots all lined up on the school window-sill, looking at all of them and thinking that your one was the worst? Of course you do! Everyone does.
That pot mattered to you. You spent three whole art classes working on it - goddam it. You put everything that you have into that stupid pot!
At primary school age, we discovered that nothing is more difficult than expressing ourselves in an external way. You might put all your efforts into a painting or poem and still not like what you made at the end, or have others criticise it. That criticism is hardwired by our brain to be a direct reflection on ourselves and value as a person because, you know, you just put EVERYTHING you had into that pot.
As we get older, the rejection we faced as a child sticks with us. We learn that we’d be better off not doing something if we risk ridicule from others, or worse, feeling disappointed from ourselves. But the reality is that the judgement usually isn’t coming from others; it’s coming internally - from ourselves.
When I started work, I thought my creative days were behind me….
For a long time, for about 10 years to be honest, from 16 to 26, I stopped being creative. I was too scared to put myself out there to be judged. Instead, I focused on studying law, fitting in with friends, and getting a boyfriend (some good, some not so good). These are all worthy and valid things to aspire towards and key for life development. However, I quietly judged myself for not being brave enough to be creative and write.
There were always excuses. I didn’t have enough life experience. I wasn’t skilled enough. I wasn’t alternative enough. I wasn’t [insert here] enough. My voice didn’t matter. The sad thing was, no matter how I distracted myself, that feeling was still there.
Then I got a ‘real job’. Side note ladies and gents: Being a graduate is HARD. Many of us start a job after university and find ourselves adrift. Life has been building up to your first job in the working world and it can be a huge shock when it comes. Like a tsunami, you’re overwhelmed by the mundane reality of it all, especially after the comparative flexibility of university and working part time.
I had to up and to some degree accept my circumstances. I found out how to ‘work’, how to write an email, how to listen properly for instructions, what questions to ask my boss and how to use research systems and databases. It helped me develop professional integrity and learn how to be a Professional with a capital ‘P’.
But I still couldn’t scratch the itch of creativity. I was distracting myself from actually DOING the work. I couldn’t kid myself. It made me sadder and more depressed by the month. I honestly hated my life and hated myself for letting myself get in this outwardly desirable position (working as a lawyer).
In response, I did the only thing I knew how to do when life was hard: eventually, I knew I had to start being creative again...
At first, I didn’t have much time and didn’t know what I was doing. I would come home after work, and I would do something, anything, creative. My projects weren’t very good (there was some dodgy collage projects). I hid them from everyone else and never let anyone see what I saw doing. I diversified into other artistic pursuits but always came back to writing.
Before I started this blog properly in late 2015 however, there was at least two years of failed projects I tried to get my hands wet at being creative. An event here, art classes there, volunteering. The list was loooong. This was all a phase of experimentation to figure out ‘WHAT CAN I EVEN DO??‘
Ultimately, the answer I came to was “Well, no one’s done a blog for Wellington, right? You could do THAT?”.
Feel the fear and make it anyway!
Readers! We can all be creative and support one another together. I don’t care if you write, blog, paint pots, or make bicycles, or sew dresses for soft toys: we’re all in the same boat. Just DO it. Yes, you won’t be good to start with. But with time and practice you’ll get better. Do you think Leonardo Da Vinci came out of the womb with a paint brush? No! He practiced over years and years. If you start now, you’ll already be miles ahead of yourself versus if you dither and put it off again for 6 months, a year or ten.
You will never regret starting something. You’ll always regret it if you procrastinate forever.
Since starting blogging, I have come to accept that my words and pictures aren’t for everyone. Some people don’t understand what I have to say. Don’t let those fears of critics stop you from doing your work. No one will give you permission to share your voice - but if you need it, here it is! YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO CREATE. You’re an adult now. The biggest critic who you need to overcome is likely YOU! The world needs your pots. They need your quirky, unique perspective. They need your work. Sure, all the pots have been painted before - but not by you!
A few words on ‘influencing…’
It’s a shame that good creative work has been negatively muddied with the term ‘influencer’. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading for a long time, I don’t like it. There are lots of wonderful, ordinary people online with existing skills that they build on to create interesting and varied content for others to enjoy.
One of the big issues with New Zealand, as I have said in a previous article on The Spinoff, is that the term ‘influencer’ lumps everyone into one category, ignoring content and relevance. I am judged as equivalent to Kim Kardashian advertising a slimming lollypop in many people’s minds. I cannot change that perception. I hope that more discussions open up and we can look at being a person who makes stuff online as a creative who makes things for others willingly, while accepting not everything is for us.
To an extent, as adults, we’re still judging each other’s ‘pots’ – except the painted pot is exchanged for job status, wealth, education qualifications and, yes, what we put on social media. And it makes some people to feel better about themselves to criticse others because it validates them. However, I have gone further than I ever thought I would. I’ve had more wins than loses and the biggest loss would have been to never have given myself the chance to be creative and make something in an age where there is truly no excuse not to do so!
We’re lucky to be born in an age where it is easy to publish your writing and photos online. It is easy to feel judged by others. But worse is judging yourself so much that you never even try to have a go at doing what you love.
I’m proud to say that I love writing. I loved publishing things on my blog. I love interviewing people. I love having conversations in my DMs about the book I am reading. I love getting emails from you guys. I love being able to share my content to others and feel proud of how far I have come in 3 years. I am proud to be a writer and blogger. I have a full-time day job to support myself, but in my spare moments, I write and make stuff for the blogosphere.
It would be worse to live a life where we always looked longingly at other people’s beautiful pots, and never tried to paint any of our own. So let’s will continue to make work and put it out there, on social media and my blog. I’ll be cheering you on.