Updated: Jul 15, 2019
A creative friend posted “Be fearful of mediocrity” on Facebook and I immediately thought that it needed balancing out with something like: “Be fearful of being fearful of mediocrity”. I’ve met too many people over the years who are leading unfulfilled lives because they’re afraid to pursue a creative dream and not be great at it. They look at something I’ve made or something I’ve done and tell me how very much they want to do something like that, how they have always want to learn how to do this or that…but they’re held back by the expectation that they will never be able to do this or that thing as well as I have. This staggers me because I’m not that good at anything. I see myself very much as a “jack of all trades, master of none”. I do my best. I’ve been brilliant on rare occasions, but by and large I don’t think I’ve done anything (books, music, crafts, photography, video, DIY) that anyone else couldn’t have done as well (at the very least). The point is that people are too often held back by their own expectations of failure.
Most of the time whatever we’re talking about isn’t something a person can actually fail at. There are concrete tangible goals and tasks that one can fail to accomplish, but by and large creative work — whether it’s making something with your hands or head, or both — isn’t something you can fail at. You may end up with something that’s not brilliant — or not what you originally envisioned — but still you’ve created something that did not exist before. Something uniquely yours. The fear of failure among creative people — or those who desire to be creative — is a fear of mediocrity, or worse yet it’s perfectionism, which has strangled many a nascent talent.
Never ever let the fear of not being able to do something creative stop you from the attempt! Doing it — whatever it is — is a worthy thing in itself. If it doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, love it for what it is. Whether you’re knitting your first sweater or writing your first novel, always remember that the final product is only part of the whole, that the act of creation itself is a valid — some might say holy — experience. If there’s something you’ve always dreamed of doing, always wanted to learn, then do it. Don’t let the fear that you won’t be able to do it well enough block you from the creative process.
There’s a reason the aphorism “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” gets passed on generation after generation: it’s true. Creative people are notoriously hard on their own work. A certain amount of self-criticism is necessary for improvement, but you must never let it sneakily transmogrify into a sort of self-loathing. Always take joy in what you do and love what you have done, even if it doesn’t look very loveable. It’s something you’ve made with your hands, heart, head — and should be embraced for that alone.
Any creative thing worth doing is worth doing badly or inadequately. By all means strive for brilliance, stretch your imagination and skills, but keep this in mind: the next time your breath is taken away by a painting and you think “it’s just perfect“, it’s a safe bet the artist didn’t think so. Yet there the painting hangs on the wall, completed. No one knows how many wonderful, beautiful, interesting and totally unique things we don’t have in this world because someone was afraid of not being good enough to write, paint, weave, etc. Or didn’t have the courage to finish a project because it wouldn’t be “good enough”.
It’s good enough if you do it.