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The Unwelcome Guest: Affirming Artistic Self-Worth

I'm digressing a bit with this blog post, I know. I'm supposed to be writing about liberating my exiled children's book manuscript from the confines of my file cabinet...

Instead, I was thinking about other imaginative folks that have struggled with their own artistic self-worth, like I have over the years. A simple dialogue came to mind, a short play, if you will. I call it "The Unwelcome Guest". (House lights dim)

Guest: "Knock, knock."

Creative Spirit: "I know who you are. Go away."

Guest: "Knock, knock."

Creative Spirit: "You're not welcome here. Back away from the porch, get back in your car, and drive away. I mean it."

Guest: "Knock, knock, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK..."

Creative Spirit: "All right. Come in, then...but only for a minute."

Guest: "Haven't seen you in a couple days. I wanted to tell you, by the way, you're not good enough. And that idea you have? There's too much competition. The market is saturated. Also, you're a phony. People won't want to buy your product. You don't have the right skills. It's too late to try. You can't make any money doing that. People have tried, it didn't work for them..."

Creative Spirit (to self): "Really?! Why the heck would I let someone like that into my home? I had a good thing going with that new manuscript (or insert your creative project here)...I was really onto something. Great ideas, good momentum...and I was enjoying a new creative abundance and energy I haven't experienced in years. What happened?!"

Narrator: Allow me to introduce you to The Disparager. Now don't be nice, don't shake her hand, don't give her a seat at the table. But she's in your house now, standing in your pantry, so you'll have to deal with her. And now she's starting to raid your pantry, so she's going to have to go.

That tiny little voice of doubt echoes in the back of your mind - you've heard it. It generally speaks when you step into the new, scary or unfamiliar. And this tiny voice, if given any regard, gets louder and more resonant, and unduly earns the title as venerable expert of all industries, indisputable judge of every character and the utmost decision-making authority. And you do what you're told, you believe every word. You buy into the negativity and believe her assessment of your talent, your worthiness, your potential. And you put your dreams away like my manuscript in the file cabinet. That's The Disparager talking, and she's living in your head.

(curtain, then restrained, awkward audience applause)

Wait...that's the end of your play? That was terrible...and tragic! (It sure was, but it's not the end if you don't want it to be.)



While the voice of The Disparager is different for everyone, it can be an important exercise to identify where and when yours came on the scene. I'm certainly not recommending this activity as a replacement for professional help - so please seek it if she's standing in the way of your creative or personal fulfillment. Be objective and avoid placing blame or feeling bitter. A bit of a discovery is healthy and can help you unblock and move forward.

Take a moment and journey to where or when she first started camping out in your mind. If you're a creative and have experienced any self-doubt in the past, go to a time when you didn't doubt your talent for a minute. Maybe it was in Music or Art class when you were seven, maybe sometime in your early teenage years before you sewed your first hideous potholder in Home Economics. Those pre-potholder years were great, weren't they? You were free to create - to paint tree trunks any color you wanted, to sing silly songs, write poems about your dog...and even if your product wasn't that great, you'd just do it again. And again. And it was joyful!

Then fast forward to a time when you may have begun doubting your talent, or pushing meaningful creative activities aside in favor of other, more practical pursuits. What do you suppose derailed you? Was it well-meaning, practical advice from your uncle who discouraged you from becoming a "starving" artist? Or was it an unexpected negative reaction from your aunt to the ugly clay pinch-pot you made for her for Christmas? Perhaps you felt threatened that your classmate could produce better work? Was it a discouraging article you'd read years ago or an opinion page denouncing the value of a creative calling?

Listen now to the voice of logic, and decide if those people's opinions really matter. It's okay, I'll wait. Now decide if they matter more than your dreams or your creative happiness. I thought so. No, they don't. Not even close.

Protective Criticism

Not that I'm saying criticism is bad. It can be very constructive and can help us grow and stretch as artists and as people. You just have to decide whether to value the opinion of your dead uncle, or the constructive feedback of a valued artist friend. And by the way, seek out these nurturing people - those who understand and can minister to and protect the fragility of your creative spirit as their own. (I'm throwing a warm blanket around your creative spirit's shoulders and hugging you from here.)

Remember, if you're going to strengthen your spirit, you have to pick it up when it falls, bandage the skinned knee, dry the tears, and send it back on the monkey bars with a hug and a kiss on the forehead. You wouldn't criticize it for falling, right? That's not healthy at all. Encourage... Always encourage your spirit.

Hit the Road, Jack (aka The Disparager)

Creative Spirit (to The Disparager): "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?"

Sounds easy, but how do I keep her away? There are so many resources available, I can't begin to count them, but here are a few tidbits to get you started.

  1. Mindfulness: Be aware when you allow negativity to enter your mind. Spend time every day repeating positive statements. There are some great sources for artistic affirmations online and on YouTube. You'd be amazed at how transformational this mind shift can be.

  2. Take Action: Nothing moves mountains faster than action. Make goals, however small, and move toward them deliberately and faithfully. Surround yourself with like-minded people who will help and support you. I can't say enough about that last point.

  3. Nurture the Spirit: Give yourself creative permission to do fun things you enjoyed as a child or teen, even if they seem silly. Ever wonder why coloring books have made a resurgence with adults? It's a therapeutic...almost regenerative practice. And you can color the tree trunks purple if you wish.

So it's time to send The Disparager packing. Nothing personal, but aside from the damage she's already done, she's eaten the last five Oreos in the pantry and finished the rest of the milk. In my book, that's simply unforgivable - especially since she was Unwelcome in the first place.

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