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5 Steps for Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

The Artist CEO Series

If you’re an artist, you work in a state of constant discomfort. Or at least you should.

Don’t believe us? Unfortunately, being uncomfortable is a significant part of the creative process, one that many people overlook because it’s, well, uncomfortable.

Think about it. When you start learning a new skill, you’re not going to be very good at it at first. That can be uncomfortable. When you try something different with your art and you don’t know if it’s going to work, that’s uncomfortable too. And anyone who’s ever performed on a stage knows that getting up in front of your friends, peers, and critics is really uncomfortable. So uncomfortable in fact, that many people report being more afraid of public speaking than of death, spiders, or heights.

But artists do these things anyway, because they help us learn and improve our craft.

Whether we like it or not, being uncomfortable is where growth happens.

Without taking risks and being willing to fail, it becomes impossible to tap into the creativity artists need to produce authentic and inspiring work. By definition, creativity is using the imagination to form original ideas. The key here is originality: discovering or inventing something never done or seen before. And if something’s never been done before, we just can’t predict how it might turn out. That’s scary.

For many beginning artists, thinking about their art like a business is a new concept that can feel awkward and (you guessed it) uncomfortable.

However, the most commercially successful artists in every industry are the ones who’ve learned this invaluable skill.

Selling, marketing, and financing your art are equally as important as honing your craft. Which means learning to embrace the business mindset is crucial. But it takes courage, patience, and practice dealing with discomfort. So here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Take it Slow

Like any new skill, accepting discomfort and sitting with that feeling takes practice. So, start slow and consider reframing the idea as an experiment. For example, attempt one small thing every day that makes you feel a little scared or anxious. Try attending a new class where you don’t know anyone, or take yourself to dinner and eat a meal all alone. Then, when you’re ready, take a pause and step back into your comfort zone.

2. Recognize fear.

Now that you’re putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation, pause to notice how it makes you feel. Are you sweating? Is your heart beating faster? Maybe you’re feeling vulnerable and shaky? Take a deep breath and exhale out the jitters. When the initial discomfort passes, it usually isn’t nearly as bad as you thought. Next you can slowly start to accept it. Did you know: often times, our bodies produce the same hormones when we’re nervous that they do when we’re excited. Try tricking your brain by telling yourself you’re excited instead!

3. Reward Yourself.

Purposely putting yourself in situations where you may feel anxiety can be mentally challenging work. Depending on the level of discomfort, you may need a short, relaxing activity afterward to bring down your heightened emotions. This can also act as a reward to reinforce a tough, but positive, experience. Set aside time for your favorite form of self-care and be sure to keep tabs on how you feel.

4. Seek Guidance.

In the same way we turn to trusted teachers for guidance, sometimes it can be helpful to ask for advice. Find someone reliable and honest who has knowledge in dealing with discomfort and uncertainty. Let them know you’re trying to get better at handling uncertainty and being vulnerable. Having someone to share your experiences with and validate your feelings can make the entire process much easier. They may even be able to give you more personalized and specific instruction.

Young artists with business skills. Women's ALI Fellows

5. Keep Practicing.

Understand that practicing discomfort is going to be hard at first. Your natural instinct will push you to give up and return to the safe behaviors you know. But each time you practice this skill, you’re taking baby steps in the right direction. Being uncomfortable is important for your professional and artistic growth, so don’t be discouraged! After all, practice makes perfect!


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