Why we need uncertainty to be creative

by Annelise Mitchell September 12, 2016

Why we need uncertainty to be creative

Do you feel anxious when you even think of doing something creative?

Especially creating something outside of what other people are doing?

If so, then what you are going through is completely normal.

Most creatives throughout the whole of human history – from writers, painters, architects, you name it – have felt a terrible dread when they even think of doing something different to the norm. In fact, the desire to be and do like everyone else is in our evolutionary genes.

We so want to be the same as the people we interact with day-to-day, but most of all, we want a guaranteed outcome.

If probed, many creatives will say that they would love to create but they have far too many demands on their time. They also have far too many financial commitments that will condemn them until at least the year 2040.

But if we were to dig a little deeper, below the surface, what we’d find is a deep fear of uncertainty. Uncertainty about what will happen to them if they begin doing what they love.

Every creative will go through this relentless period of self-questioning – What if I don’t make enough money? What if no one likes what I have to offer? What if I end up being ridiculed for having the balls (or even the hide) to try something that was obviously not going to work?

This uncertainty is masked by a constant busyness or striving for more money, or any other type of behaviour that helps us avoid the angst that threatens to grab us when we let our guard down. In fact, Dr Dorothy Rowe, a clinical psychologist says that we can spend our whole lives running away from who we are if we are not wise. Endlessly cleaning the house, drinking alcohol or taking drugs, finding doctors that will medicate us, and anything else that will distract us from facing what is really gnawing away at us.

The fact that we are not doing what we were born to do.

Despite our best efforts, the gnawing feeling will not go away… no matter how much we try to ignore it.

Why do we try so hard to ignore our inner voice?

We silence our creative selves because we are afraid of uncertainty.

To feel uncertain can feel dreadful, and most of us, since as early as we can remember, will do anything to avoid it. As we get older, we aim for comfort and security, not realising that these goals will not lead us to ever realising our creative potential. We will be comfortable, for sure, but fulfilled, definitely not. This is one of life’s truisms – a thread of truth that can be found all over the world and in every human life.


It is perhaps one of life’s most bizarre truths too. The more we target comfort and security, the less likely we are to create things that express our creativity. The more we suppress our creativity, whatever that creative act is, the more we will feel frustrated, anxious and ultimately depressed.

Dr Dorothy Rowe in her book Beyond Fear, reveals that to live a life that expresses who we are, and allows us to explore and share our creativity, we need to find harmony between life’s polar opposites.

The following infographic illustrates the polarities that exist between the six major areas that we need to find equilibrium. It is our task in life to find a balance between the two opposites in each area if we want to feel fulfilled in who we are and what we create and contribute to the world.


In life we are faced with the challenge between…

  1. being an individual and being a member of a group – The conflict for creatives is juggling the fine line between expressing our individuality through our creative work but also ensuring that the work we create connects with our audience. If we don’t care what other people think at all, and swing too far to the left, we lack the much needed input that others provide in helping us get better, and if we continue down this road, our work risks no longer connecting with our audience. However, when we swing too far right, and become lost inside the group, we no longer hear our own voice and we create things that do not reflect our unique perception of the world. Our work looks and sounds the same as everyone else. The key to creative fulfilment is finding a balance between these two polarities, ensuring that our work connects with our audience but also expresses our unique talents and ways of looking at the world. It is this “sweet spot” that will help ensure that our work gets noticed.

  2. being valuable or being valueless – This conflict can cause immense distress, as one side of the polarity results in pride and arrogance, whereas the other side results in getting nothing done because we are paralysed by fear of failure, often ending up where we do nothing. If we see everything we create as being perfect and better than everyone else we risk alienating people, whereas when we believe that what we create has limited or no value, we become frightened of doing anything and we fear the competition. We need to see what we create as having value to some people, but not to everyone. We are not perfect, nor should we aim to be, as through making mistakes, we will get better and are more likely to meet the needs of those that do value us.

  3. being free or having security – One of every creatives major challenges: to be free or to be comfortable like a hobbit in his hole. It is the wise creative that realises that either of these polarities can be miserable. When we have too much freedom to create what we want (no time constraints) we can be faced with infinite possibilities of what to create, whereas, when we have a lot of security, such as being in a job that provides money and status, we have very little freedom to create what we want. Having too much freedom can result in feeling overwhelmed by too much choice and nowhere to focus our time and efforts, resulting in very little getting done. However, having complete security results in feeling hopeless. When we are certain about what our creative future holds, we will feel hopeless. Creativity by its very nature requires uncertainty, however, to face this uncertainty we need to build our self-confidence.

  4. having too much choice or no choice – Like being too free and having total security, having too much choice and no choice is very similar in effect. When faced with unlimited choice, we have no boundaries and can feel out of control, with nothing to provide us with focus and stability, whereby when faced with no choices, we can feel trapped and powerless. A lot of creatives who are not practicing their craft believe they have no choice. This belief is the worst place to be and must be challenged and undone.

  5. being responsible for everything and not being responsible for anything – It is very obvious why either of these polarities are unrealistic. In a world that is mostly out of our control, we can only be responsible for very little of what happens, however, if we deny any form of responsibility to what happens in our lives, we can’t take credit for things when they go well. We have the responsibility to discover who we are and how we can live a life that expresses our talents and what we feel is worthwhile and realise that most of what happens to use will be out of control, but that is okay. We will keep creating our work anyway.

  6. being rejected or being lonely – Another painful area for both are associated with misery. To have people either ignore or point out what they don’t like about our creative work can feel terrible because it confirms our deepest fears, that our work is not good enough. However, when we avoid any type of feedback, we feel isolated, as no one knows we are there. If we are to improve and gain recognition for what we are creating, we need to see criticism as either constructive or worthwhile ignoring. It is learning how to identify worthwhile criticism and useless stabs that is critical to being a long-term creative, especially a successful one. For if we don’t put ourselves out there, we can’t get the feedback that we need to become even better.

A lot to take in but when we gain awareness of these polarities, and our ability to find balance between them, we learn that we can live a life where we contribute our creative efforts and continually grow, despite being uncertain about the end result. For, as Rowe highlights time and time again in Beyond Fear, we cannot change our lives, grow or create, until we go through a period of uncertainty. There is no other way.

Ultimately, we need to teach ourselves to tolerate the uncertainty that comes along with living the creative life. There is no doubt that throughout this period of uncertainty we will feel at times an overwhelming urge to run back to security and comfort, I have done this quite a few times, but each time learning why I’m doing it and how I need to learn to work through discomfort, or face the prospect of living an unhappy, and uncreative life. That prospect is far more terrible than facing an uncertain future.

The following video illustration of this blog post. I hope you find it constructive on your creative journey.

Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell


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