The Fear of Big Ideas

— October 6, 2014
I’ve never been a big collector. I never collected stamps or matchbox cars, and gave up on Tazo’s, Pokemon cards and Crazy Bones before even getting close to finishing a set. However since falling in love with design, I’ve definitely started hoarding something: Ideas.

Whenever an idea materialises in my head—no matter how silly it may sound, or how half-asleep I may be—I try to discipline myself to reach for my phone and jot it down in Evernote. I figure the more I have, the better the odds that one or two might be crackers. But therein lies the rub; those good ideas sit there, brimming with potential, whilst more often than not I do absolutely nothing about them. Really, the title of this post should be The Fear of Not Being Good Enough, or The Fear of Failure.

As designers, particularly those working for themselves, we are often seen as having one of those rare ‘dream jobs’, where we get to have fun all day, take as many coffee breaks as possible, and get paid handsomely for it. I know for a fact that I often romanticise our profession when looking at the social media accounts of fellow creatives. It’s easy to do. Of course, the reality is that whilst we do get to pour our hearts into a job we dearly love, the daily task of staying motivated, organised and (most importantly) creative is simply not an easy one.

I find that my attitude towards each new day is heavily influenced and affected by my answers to the following questions:
  • How good-looking or successful was our most recent creative project?
  • How long has it been since our last good-looking or successful creative project?
  • How much energy do I have? (Dictated by sleep & diet.)
  • Is what I’m doing right now contributing in any way to bringing my Big Ideas to fruition?

The truth is, my Big Ideas are more than just ideas for apps, lettering projects or hand made pencil-cases. They represent my goals, dreams and values; not only as someone who identifies as a ‘creative’, but as a person. If I’m not working on ways to bring these things to life, in my heart I’m literally failing at life. Trouble is, with that much pressure to push my dreams forward, comes an equal and opposite (thanks Newton) amount of trepidation and self-doubt.

I can’t speak for every designer/artist/creative person. But I know that for me, Dave, I tend to feeel things more than I think about them. If I walk into our little loft studio to start a new day, and I don’t feel like I did a great job on that logo last night, I bring that attitude with me to work. If I don’t feel very energetic, I bring an attitude of fatigue with me to work. Heck, if I don’t feel like Laura’s ‘good morning’ sounded as jovial this morning as it did yesterday, then I have been known to bring an attitude of flatness with me to work! Yes, it’s silly, of course it is; but changing the way we feel, and lifting ourself out of a funk is no small feat. It is, however, imperative to our success as designers.

So what, then, do we do when those familiar feelings of trepidation and self-doubt begin creeping in, it’s 8:30am on a weekday and you’re staring blankly at your cold computer screen with the expectations of your clients, your co-worker(s) and yourself amassing around you? It’s the strangest thing, because sometimes the presence of these Big Ideas can give you wings! You feel unstoppable and limitless, full of creative potential. But other times maybe the sun isn’t shining quite as bright, or you’re not feeling quite up to it, and that crippling fear of failure rears its ugly head. What do we do then?

Well, everyone is different. I tend to get overwhelmed easily, if my thoughts, responsibilities, tasks, clients and of course feelings start to get out of hand. When I get overwhelmed, I am most susceptible to feeling creatively inadequate—or even just inadequate, period. Having Laura by my side has proved to be one of the most effective ways of managing this ‘overwhelmed-ness tipping point’; someone to download or vent to, and to help manage things. You may or may not have a special someone to do this with, but regardless there are many productivity apps (such as Omnifocus, Evernote, Todoist etc) that are remarkably effective at providing a receptacle for that all-important brain-dump. The power of getting this stuff out of your head and into a system can not be overlooked.

Something else that has proved invaluable to me is a change of scenery. Even if that just means getting up from your desk and going outside, or to a cafe, taking a walk, anything that presents your eyeballs with something different. Are you a people person? Going to a busy cafe to get some work done can really ‘wake me up’ and somehow motivate me. Not sure what it is, but the energy from other humans is sometimes just what a tired brain needs to get kicked into creative mode.

To be honest, I’m still on the look-out for ways of dealing with this stuff. It’s not easy, but when managed well, I know your Big Ideas have the capacity to go from massive burden to rewarding success. I guess it’s just about starting somewhere.

Be encouraged! Have you got any thoughts or tips from your own experiences? Share them in the comments below, or tweet us @TheAGSC.