Career decisions can be fraught with uncertainty. The scariest ones for me haven’t been about good or bad, but something much deeper: How well I know myself.

Don’t eat their gumbo

Trips to my grandparents house, especially in the summertime, meant good laughs and better food. If we got lucky, my grandfather would whip up his world famous gumbo. It was the type of meal that would bring tears to your eyes and laughter to your heart. Good ideas are just like that meal I miss so much now that he’s gone. They cook slowly and methodically, a delicate process of adding, steeping, stirring and repeating. It requires patience and preparation because the time you take to make it has a direct impact on how good it tastes.

Not knowing yourself leaves you open to someone else writing your narrative.Those authors aren’t always malicious or seeking to destroy you. It’s not about the people who doubt us or want to do us harm. It’s much more nuanced than that. It can come from those who love us most and only want the best. We do far more damage accepting a good idea of who we could be instead of the persistent discomfort of discovering more about who we are. Sometimes their love can tell an even more harmful story than hate ever could.

We want comforting lies instead of unpleasant truths. So much so, that we are willing to let other people tell us stories about who we can be that feel easier than the actual stories we want to write for ourselves. If someone has spent more time thinking about you than you’ve spent knowing what you want, their ideas for you will always win out.

Creative confidence allows you to pass up great opportunities simply because they aren’t right for you. No need for justification or guilt.

It doesn’t feel good, though

You microwave popcorn, not growth. Its not pictures of sunsets with a prearranged life planner or a colorcoded schedule filled with perfectly-sized sketch notes of clouds and ideas bubbles overlaid with the Crema filter. This sh*t is brutal. People get hurt. Relationships grow apart in the short term so they can be healthy in the long term. You fail at things. It’s confusing. You ask questions no one can answer and even fewer want to engage with. You know people really don’t want to try it with you because you don’t even want to be around yourself.

I fear we’ve tried to romanticize the idea of personal growth, that we deify people who are doing it and ridicule ourselves that we aren’t further along in our own process.

Creative confidence is imperative during periods like this because it keeps you focused on what you can control — your time and sustained effort. Discomfort and discipline aren’t meant to be cruel masters. They are necessary guides on a road that is uncharted and doesn’t have cell signal.

Your greatest challenge might not be finishing your book, getting into grad school or launching a business. It might be fearlessly telling your own story and rejecting anything and everything that’s not a part of it, even the ‘good’ things that might come along. There will be no shortage of opportunities as you continue to level up, but there is a limit on how many you should choose to take on.

Growth makes your entire life feel like a comment section with unlimited scroll. You don’t want to go there, everyone looks crazy, and, after a while, you get confused as to how you even got there in the first place.

This is what it feels like

Creative confidence has a few distinct manifestations that I’ve seen and experienced. It looks different for everyone, but for me, it has shown up in my life in a few different ways:

“Am I right about this?” becomes “Is this important?”

“I love you” becomes Let me show you what you mean to me.”

It’s remembering that people take you for granted only when you don’t know your own worth, and how to communicate it.

It helps you act like your own entity, instead of just a freelancer or contractor.

It’s the act of learning yourself and the application of that truth in real time.

It’s entirely yours and grows with you.

It reminds you that loyalty is never based on comfort.

Creative confidence keeps you up at night, but it also allows you to rest because what you’re doing and/or making is a part of the future you want.

If those definitions feel too nebulous, let me ground them with real people I know, doing it every single day. Thankfully they all have Twitter accounts, so the gems are free — but the application will cost you:

…and on and on it goes.

The margin for error

Creative confidence is not reserved for the Etsy shop owner or the personal branding expert. It’s for anyone who has touched anything that required a decisive action. It’s not bound by your design skills or the long list of clips you’ve amassed. It’s not even the thing you’re doing right now or even necessarily your future.

Your ideas need as much oxygen as you do, particularly the bad ones. You are more than the sum of what you make, even when it doesn’t feel like it. We are trained to celebrate output and shun rest to the detriment of everyone and everything. Evaluating the outcomes of creative work before they happen ensures you will never know what to create, and you will never develop the confidence to push through your own ruts.

We treat passion as if it is the only fuel used to accelerate creative confidence, but it’s often a controlled byproduct. I don’t always feel passionate about writing. Truthfully, I didn’t like writing most of what you’re reading. It was slow, sluggish, overwhelming and felt like garbage the first few drafts. Sentences felt like root canals. I thought about deleting it, scrapping it, or worse — sending it where writers send things they are embarrassed about but aren’t ready to delete yet —the drafts folder.

But I love a good story. Great ones can encompass a lifetime in a single moment and change how people see themselves and the context of where they are. I love when the words fit together after days of trying to find their place. I love when the chaos of my life can make sense in the confines of a page. I love when people see themselves in words I’ve written. It’s in those moments I feel awake. I grow through words.

We leave parts of ourselves in the work we do, even if we aren’t defined by it. As creatives, we would do well to remember that. Creative confidence reminds us that we are more important than our ability to produce. That freedom, and the realizations that come with it, allow us to make things that will outlast us.

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