A couple weeks ago, I was walking through Grant Park, one of my favorite green spaces in Atlanta, on a day that was very cold and very gray. Every tree was still bare. And then, all of a sudden, I was standing inside a riot of soft pinks and fuchsias: a grove of Japanese magnolias in bloom.
Every year, these trees make the decision to bloom first. Can you imagine? When no one around them has leafed out, when the ground is still cold, when the sun still seems far away, they are the first to open toward Spring.
Some years are probably easy, like stretching after a long nap. Others are probably harder, trying to protect delicate flowers from late frosts. And every year, in full awareness of their vulnerability, they bloom again—as strikingly beautiful as anything on Earth.
As creative beings, we have our own cycles of blossoming. We spend time learning and preparing and making, and then it's time to put our work out into the world. And like trees, we have times of ease and times of struggle. We have moments when our work is met with great enthusiasm and applause, and moments when it is met with disinterest or rejection. So how can we take a leaf (or petal) out of the Japanese magnolia's book and learn to bloom again and again, even in the face of potential hardship? How can we cultivate unshakeable creative bravery?
Over the last eighteen years of being an artist and a creative business owner, I have sat with this question many times. And I'm excited to share with you some practices I've developed to help navigate moments of doubt, fear and rejection, and move forward with courage. Read on, brave hearts!
Molly's Practical Guide To Cultivating Creative Bravery
1. Surround yourself with people who believe in you no matter what.
Build a community filled with people who encourage you to take risks, to find your authentic voice, to try new things, and who don't tie your personal value to your productivity or outward success. Know who to call for a pep talk (and who not to!) when you're feeling down on yourself. Allow your friends, family, and colleagues to reflect your best qualities back to you: I promise you, it is a gift for everyone involved.
2. Celebrate doing the thing with no expectation of what comes after.
Celebrating when you have great success, like getting an award, is wonderful. (I love any opportunity to celebrate!) Sometimes, though, you work really hard to share something you believe in, and things don't go the way you'd hoped. Does that make that effort any less worth celebrating? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Because even if the thing fails or no one notices, you still deserve a reward for putting yourself out there. Celebrate your bravery, which comes from the inside, rather than your successes or failures, which are external.
3. Limit the amount of time you spend looking at what other people are doing.
I know how easy it is to take deep-dives down Instagram rabbit holes, and wind up feeling like nothing you do or say or make is worth sharing. Don't let that feeling win! Instead, start developing an inner barometer that tells you when you're looking at other people's work for inspiration, and when you tip over into comparison. A simple test: “Is looking at this making me feel energized and excited, or is it making me feel anxious and insecure?” The more you practice this, the easier it will be to stop scrolling!
4. Make friends with your Doubtful Narrator.
This is the voice in your head that urges you not to put yourself out there, not to make yourself vulnerable, not to share your story. We all have one of these because at some point in our lives, we thought we needed this Doubtful Narrator to protect us (let's be real, probably in middle school.) As we get older though, this voice, in trying to be helpful, can start to sabotage our good work. So whenever I hear that voice trying to discourage me from sharing something that I believe in, we have a little chat. It goes something like: “Thank you for trying to protect me, I hear you. I'm going to do this anyway because it's important to me.” And then move on along!
5. When someone rejects something you've made, immediately make something new.
Whenever I get a rejection letter (which is more often than not!), I immediately do something creative. Although I don't have any scientific data on this, I do have lots of personal experience. When someone rejects us creatively, the first thing we want to do is shut down. It's a natural protective instinct to keep us from getting hurt again (very closely related to the Doubtful Narrator!) So rather than let this rejection dam up the flow of energy, doing something—anything—creative tells our subconscious to keep things moving.
6. Just keep going.
Seriously, keep going. You never know what your “failures” will lead to, you never know who you've inspired, you never know what seeds you've planted for the future. No matter how small or large the next step is, no matter what the obstacles are, if you believe in the work, then keep going!
Here’s to brave and tender hearts,