💁🏻‍♀️ Dear Marie

💪 How do you empower yourself?

April 08, 2019

Dear Marie,

How do you empower yourself to do the things you want to do? I have so many ideas running around my brain. Some of them get started, some of them get abandoned at the side of the road. Rarely any of them have been worked on until I was happy and considered them finished.

I think it’s mostly fear holding me back from finishing things. And starting things. Fear of not being good enough, and fear of being so good that people expect more good stuff! It’s paralyzing, honestly.

I’d love to know what you do to empower yourself against fear and against the voices in your head that try to dissuade you.

— a creative coward

Dear Creative,

You’re a beautiful writer—do you know that about yourself? I can’t stop thinking about this line in particular:

Fear of not being good enough, and fear of being so good that people expect more good stuff!

That hits home for me, too. I’m torn between craving and dreading obscurity. I long for recognition of my accomplishments but am terrified that I won’t live up to the hype next time. And of course that dreaded phrase: potential.

Ooh, it makes me shudder.

If you’ve ever displayed an inkling of athletic or creative skill or cleverness or aptitude with taking standardized tests as a child, you’ve heard people discuss your potential.

It makes me think of potential energy—like those images in physics textbooks, where a bowling bowl is held out of a window, and the higher up the ball, the more gravity longs to pull it down1.

Except instead of gravity, it’s the weight of disappointment and underwhelm, which is somehow much, much heavier.

Creative, what I’m hearing in your letter is that the potential of your ideas not being good enough, or not being executed well enough, is stifling you. There’s a sense in your words of an invisible audience that’s watching and anticipating your every move, judging your creative process, and evaluating your finished work.

It’s time to shut the door to your workroom and kick the audience out.

Pick an idea that thrills you, and start on it. Work on it a little, or work on it a lot. When you get tired of it, stop. When you want to work on it again, pick up where you left off.

When you notice that your mind is wandering to how other people will react, gently acknowledge that thought and then get back to your process. This is not for them. This is for you. Only you are allowed in your workroom.

Give yourself a more expansive definition of finished. What’s your intention when starting a new project? Sometimes your intention will be to complete a work and revise it and invite others to engage with it. But that’s not the only measure of completeness. A messy, barely-begun first draft can be a finished idea if you found what you were looking for in the making.

Here are some other intentions you might experiment with:

  • 🎨 try a new technique or approach
  • 🎯 learn a new skill
  • 📝 process a particular life experience
  • 🧘‍♀️ meditate while you create with no background noise or distractions
  • ⏱ challenge yourself to do as much as you can in as short a time as you can, without regard to quality
  • 📽 revist an older work and improve it with what you know now
  • 🎉 simply and gloriously have fun

Visit the wilderness where your creativity lives and let yourself dance alone in the trees. There is so much joy waiting for you to reach out and dream it into being. And if you make something particularly wonderful that makes your heart sing with how well-crafted it is, then please do share it so that we can enjoy it with you. But make it for yourself, first. 💛


  1. I’m 71% certain this is how potential energy works, but what do I know? I managed to graduate high school with only one semester of physics under my belt (in eighth grade, at that) and I have much better things to do with my time than teach myself physics again just so I don’t look silly on the internet.

Marie Chatfield Rivas

Written by Marie Chatfield Rivas, an amateur aspiring advice columnist, certified Emoji Enthusiast™, and purveyor of fine tweets.

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