I’ve found myself a lot, within my work, comparing myself to others. It’s very easy, in a course of over 100 talented filmmakers, to compare yourself to the beautiful work that comes out of this creative sphere. I see myself projecting my insecurities onto other people; either I find holes in their work, with the “I could’ve done better” mindset, or continuously comparing my work to others, with the “I’ll never be as good” mindset. It’s safe to say most creatives will deal with the repercussions of imposter syndrome one time in their career, mine just has started in uni.
I’ve been listening to podcasts by Brené Brown- an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host- for over a year now. My mum introduced me to her after I started dealing with anxiety and a loss of self esteem during lockdown. Her many books and podcasts talk through the beauty of embracing our imperfections, using our mistakes as learning opportunities, and cultivating self compassion. When first introduced to this I thought it to be cringey- we would listen to her on car rides and I felt like a white woman was shoving “live, laugh, love” down my throat. It wasn’t until I moved out and started living alone that I started to understand Brené’s work more.
Brené’s book “The Gifts of Imperfections” has been a huge awakening to me as a creative. Her podcast called “Unlocking Us” has given me many life lessons over the past year, but nothing has resonated with me in the way Gifts has. Again, I must sound like a cringey white woman, but hear me out. Brené talks about topics of authenticity, gratitude and values in a way that is hard not to perk your ears up to.
One of my favourite quotes from her being: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” I think in the creative field, it’s very easy to feel vulnerable, with our work being so personal to us as an individual. I know when I’ve had crit sessions this year with my tutors that I’ve felt personally attacked when they’ve not liked my work. I’ve always thought “They know how hardworking I am” or “Well, I guess I’m not good enough to be on this course,” without actually listening to the feedback they have to give me. I’ve actually found when performing to a high standard and not receiving criticism, I tend to feel similar; there’s nothing for me to work on so there’s no starting point for me in the next project. Trust me when I say that I am trying to work past all of these mindsets.
In Brené’s book Gifts she talks about letting go of perfectionism and cultivating self compassion, with in episode 1 of 6 of her podcast series on the book, her expressing: “perfectionism […] is a defense mechanism […] it keeps us from being seen.” It’s still taking me a long time to understand that perfectionism is not healthy; I grew up in a school system that meant that if I was constantly getting good grades, I was successful and worthy of admiration. Unfortunately, I’ve taken that into my career path with me, and now if I get a bad score on a module at uni, I let it personally define me and let it make me feel unlovable, when that really isn’t the case. It’s so easy to let our professional and personal lives intertwine as creatives; when I write a film, more often than not, I am writing from personal experience. So, when someone dislikes work that I have put time and effort into, not only do I feel like they are discrediting my time and effort, but they are also invalidating my feelings within that experience. I think all creatives will deal with this battle of making beautiful art from a place of hurt, and the subsequent lack of fulfilment when it is criticised in the public eye.
Unfortunately, with any creative area you open yourself up to criticism. So, while Brené does talk about self compassion and not letting perfectionism define us, she also does recognise that you cannot live life without criticism: “You choose to live in the arena, you are going to get your ass kicked. You are going to fall, you are going to fail, you are going to know heartbreak.” Creatives live a life of rejection and must recognise two different realities: while we make work from a personal standpoint (which often gives us connection with our target audiences), we do open ourselves up to criticism, whether we like it or not. I, myself, am starting to learn how to take this criticism less personally- however much time I’ve put into something won’t change someone’s opinion on how they view my work. In short, if they think it’s bad, telling them I spent 3 months working on it won’t make it any better. I just have to accept someone has opinions that are different to mine, and I need to open myself up to their feedback in order to improve my work for next time. Of course, this doesn’t mean always caring what people think; the ability to welcome feedback does not mean this should define you; instead, feedback should be used as a tool of self improvement, not self definition.
So what am I really rambling on about here? It’s all well and good knowing on face value about self compassion etc, but how can we put this in to practice? This is something I’ve really struggled with in my journey of self love; it’s all well and good preaching self love and not caring what people think, but when it comes down to it and the cards are on the table, do I actually bring these practices into play? Simple answer being, no. I’m very aware of the fact I lack self compassion and the courage to be authentic in the face of differing opinions. When it comes down to it, I rarely stand up for myself and I rarely look at situations and say “hey, it’s ok. I know you tried your best and the outcome may have not been what you wanted, but that’s ok.” Brené speaks a lot on self-talk, and how what we consume and how we speak to ourselves has a great imprint on our self image. I’m finding more that I’m starting to recognise those pitfalls; those times when I talk to myself negatively, I am more actively trying to change how I speak to myself. I’m trying to welcome more self-compassion into my life, as hard as it is.
No one is perfect, and it takes time to put these practices into play. Self developmemt YouTuber Anna Akana talks a lot about where we can start in this journey, and in a video titled ‘6 reasons why we self sabotage’ states that the first point of call is learning to be more assertive, either with ourselves or towards others, and setting boundaries where needed. She states about teaching yourselves these practices so much that when the time is needed for self-compassion, assertiveness or subverting perfectionism, it will come as second nature rather than a battle. But, of course, she also says this takes time.
I’m going to end this blog post by saying this; being a creative is both a blessing and a curse. Being able to connect with people on an emotional and mental level is so amazing, but this desperate need to perform and continuously connect can leave us feeling sub-par and underwhelmed. To all my fellow creatives, it will be a long time before you will be able to take criticism lightly, or untangle the mess of the work/personal intrrtwinement. However, encorporating these practices into your daily life and finding the self encouragement you need to keep going after rejection is a lesson you will just keep learning through your career as a creative. And I believe in you. One day I hope to look at one of my films and be wholeheartedly proud of what I’ve made, without ripping myself to shreds. Until that day, I’ll keep listening to Brené, keep watching Anna, and keep having these conversations with my fellow creatives, so that at least we are not alone in this battle.