Smoke Signals of Thought – Self Sabotage

For as long as I can remember, creative pursuits have been important to my wellbeing. As a small, terrified child, drawing or writing or really making anything with my hands was an escape from the anger and abuse that surrounded me. As a teenager, visual art took on an essential role – I drew and painted with reckless abandon as a way of working through a lot of deeply laid anger, resentment, and fear. As a young adult, art and writing continued and I learned to hate myself less. I picked up other creative hobbies like knitting and sewing. I even spent a few years making a very comfortable living freelancing as an artist, writer, and knitwear designer.

And then I stopped.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed a cycle. As soon as I start to see some success with any creative pursuit, my instinct is to pull back, or to quit completely. It’s like I want the success but at the same time I’m afraid.

  • I have been successful with art, with companies sending me free art supplies, and barely being able to keep up with commission orders.
  • I’ve been successful with writing, making a living writing ghost-writing articles, running a successful blog with my personal writing and even had reviews published in art magazines.
  • I’ve been successful in knitting, having many knitting patterns I designed and wrote published in calendars, magazines, and a book of patterns.

All of these things I quit once I started to see the success I did. But, what’s interesting is professionally, in my “day job”, my “career”, I’ve found a lot of success and it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Why?

I’ve pondered and looked internally searching for answers. I become so frustrated with myself when I feel that deep, essential part of me pulling away. I want to reach inside and shake myself, to snap myself out of that fog of self sabotage and stay the course when it’s going well.

Part of it is impostor syndrome, I’m sure. I’ve never felt quite good enough. When someone compliments something I’ve made, my first thought is that they’ve made a mistake. My first inclination is to play it off, or make an excuse, or insult my own work. I’ve gotten better over the years at just saying “thank you!” and taking the damn compliment, but I still feel all these things inside. Maybe I always will.

I’ve wondered why I seem to have this fear of success for my creative pursuits, but not my career pursuits and I think it comes down to creative pursuits being so much closer to me. Sharing a painting feels like opening my heart a little and pouring out a little blood onto everyone who looks at it. When I share something I’ve written, it’s like opening a little window into my psyche and inviting people inside. That is scary as hell. What if I paint out my soul, what if I lay bare in my writing and it’s rejected? Perhaps pulling back so I never know is safer. Perhaps hiding it all behind a wall again keeps me whole and unknown. Maybe that’s why I’m more comfortable sharing paintings I’ve done of characters and celebrities and less comfortable sharing the art where I’m really saying something.

I want to feel brave. I want to shrug off mistakes. I want a thicker skin.

Hell, reading back through this post, I’m scared to even hit publish.

Perhaps I need to learn to let go and reclaim the unapologetic creating with reckless abandon of my youth and who gives a shit about the rest.

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