Through Twitter this morning came this excellent post from Lori McNee, 10 Tips for Finding Your Own Artistic Voice. One of the issues she discusses is risk-taking and the anxiety that it can provoke:
Repeating successful work has a way of reducing our experience of anxiety and can bring financial rewards as well. But it may also prevent us from moving forward and from discovering what we hope to say. A balance to strike might be to do a certain amount of repeat work, for the sake of calmness and for the sake of your bank account, and to also add the reality of new work to your agenda.
This tendency to repeat what has worked in the past can be one of the greatest barriers to career success and fulfilment. There is risk in learning new skills or taking on stretch projects. It's tempting to stick with what has been successful for us in the past, especially if we are perfectionists who can always see a way to improve on what we've done.
But when we stick to the "tried and true," we are also more likely to stagnate. We can tweak our past work to incrementally improve, but we run the risk of choosing safety over growth. This can come back to haunt us in the long run. Playing it safe can blind us to the ways in which the world around us may be changing and keep us from adapting to shifting circumstances.
Our choice is to accept and deal with the anxiety that comes with taking a risk, or opt for the easier safety of past successes, which may or may not help us in the future.
One strategy that can help is to recognize that there's a difference between the sort of positive, creative anxiety you feel when you're taking a risk and the stressful, negative anxiety you can get from toxic situations and overwork. The former can be exhilerating, while the latter makes you want to pull the covers over your head.
I also try to examine my anxiety--where does it come from? What is it telling me? Sometimes it's just what goes with the territory. But sometimes that anxiety is telling me that I need to shift gears or do something differently. The more I try to make friends with that anxiety, the more I can get it to serve my own needs, rather than me serving the fear.
I've come to see creative anxiety as a good sign in my professional development, an indication that I am making some kind of progress forward. Feeling calm and safe is actually a warning signal that I may be on the road to professional complacency and stagnation.
Do you seek out creative anxiety? What do you do to harness it?