Creative Confidence is Not What You Think

We imagine a brilliant artist approaching their work with the masterpiece perfectly etched in their mind before a single brush stroke graces the canvas. Or a prolific musician with an idyllic melody already seared into their mind before playing a single note. Then, when we approach our own creative efforts, we often freeze up before leaping in, lacking the creative confidence to continue.

The truth is, artists rarely have perfectly formed ideas before beginning. Nor do they believe their work will effortlessly flow from the start. Their confidence, instead, is not in expecting perfection, but rather in their ability to overcome the inevitable setbacks that occur during any creative effort.

I’ve been studying and performing jazz music for over 40 years and can tell you that the art form is messy.  Mistakes are expected, which in turn become the portals of discovery. After decades of practice, I now bring a reservoir of confidence to every performance; but, that confidence isn’t what you think. It isn’t that I’ll play perfectly, or even well for that matter. Instead, it is knowing with certainty that I’ll screw something up, make a blunder, or trip on my ideas. In my case, and the case of most artists, the confidence lies in the ability to recover.

If we try to tackle a new project of any size or complexity, perfectionism can be a deadly trap. With so much pressure to deliver a flawless performance, we end up either diluting our creativity by playing it too safe or self-sabotaging the work altogether. Instead, try the jazz musician approach of knowing that slip ups will predictably occur and focusing more on your ability to recover than avoiding the potholes completely.

In jazz, if we play a terrible clunker by mistake or land on a really bad note, we play it twice more and call it art (kidding, but not kidding). Consider that your most imaginative ideas may emerge from your struggles rather than your achievements.

The mistakes of today may just be the breakthroughs of tomorrow.

So, the next time you’re approaching your work with creativity (which I hope is daily), realize that confidence is built not by avoiding messy mistakes, but through embracing, overcoming, and learning from them. Creative confidence is your ability to bounce back, to course-correct when the inevitable stumble happens, and to continue without trepidation.

In this sense, fear is eradicated because only one of two things can happen when you inject inventive thinking: either you’ll nail it and enjoy the big win, or you’ll stumble and grow as a result. Both options are truly a win, whereas the only real loss is never trying in the first place.

So, take some creative risks, knowing that a few crash-landings are far more likely that instant perfection. But instead of forging ahead in fear, take solace in your ability to recover and learn from the setbacks. That’s how artists of all types bring their best works to life, and how you can inject artistry into your own work as well.

Ready, set, stumble… soar.

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