I remember this one time, years ago, it’s as vivid as if it happened yesterday. I was stuck in this rusty, squeaky chair, staring at the screen, my cursor blinking, almost taunting me with every silent beat. I had designed this stellar campaign for a tech behemoth – it was slick, it was innovative, it was… safe.

Yeah, you heard me. Safe.

The fear had snuck in so subtly, I hadn’t even noticed. I began pondering, hesitating, second-guessing: “Is this too bold? What if they hate it? What if I become the one-hit wonder who lost her touch?” This internal monologue was an uninvited guest, threatening to crumble my confidence.

But then, after what seemed like an eon, my previous hustles whispered in my ear. Reminding me of the sweat and tears (mostly sweat, thanks to a dodgy air conditioner in my old studio) I had poured into my work, ignoring the naysayers, and prevailing against the odds.

Bullocks to fear, I hit ‘send’.

This preamble, dear reader, isn’t just a stroll down my memory lane but an echo of the silent struggle that you, I, and every creative bloody soul endures – the battle against our own fears and doubts. Because that’s what we’re diving into today – recognizing, confronting, and conquering our own silent strangler: fear.

Now, you might be wondering, “Why the hell should I listen to this ramble?” Simply because, my friends, even with over two decades in this chaotic, magnificent world of design and business, navigating through the wild seas of startups and conglomerates alike, that fear, it never really dissipates. It merely transforms, and how you wrangle it determines not only the trajectory of your career but also the authenticity of your creations.

Look, fear isn’t necessarily the villain in our story. It isn’t inherently malevolent. It sharpens our senses, makes us tread cautiously in a forest of uncertainties. But when it starts driving the car, determining the path of our creativity, our design decisions, well, that’s when the trouble starts brewing.

Here’s the kicker: every time you create, it’s a bold declaration of your perspective to the world. And that, my fellow artists, entrepreneurs, and dreamers, is a bloody brave thing to do. The doubts will creep in, the fear will attempt to dictate your strokes, clicks, and taps, but remembering why you began in the first place is the key to keep pushing forward.

As we saunter through this exploration together, remember: Your work, your creation, is a mosaic of your experiences, dreams, and fears. And by understanding the complexity and navigating through the muddled waters of fear, we will unearth strategies to not just manage, but utilize it, crafting designs that are not just seen, but truly observed.

The Silent Strangler: Understanding the Grip of Fear

Pull up a chair, friends, because we’re about to delve deep into the dark alleys of our creative minds, where the silent strangler—fear, resides, ever so quietly, yet potently suffocating our unbridled creativity. The damn thing doesn’t exactly jump out wearing a hockey mask, no. It’s sly, it’s subtle, and it, very delicately, tightens its grip around our creative jugular before we even realize we’re being strangled.

Let’s talk about recognizing this ghoul, shall we? Ever found yourself lingering a tad too long over the ‘publish’, ‘send’, or ‘submit’ button, despite having scrutinized your work for the umpteenth time? Aha! That, right there, is fear, shrouded in the seemingly sensible cloak of ‘quality check’ or ‘perfection’. You think: “One more glance. Maybe I missed a flaw. Maybe it could be… better?”

Then comes the science behind it all. Fear activates our amygdala, a tiny, almond-shaped cluster in our brain that sends out signals screaming, “Danger! Retreat!” Now, in the cavemen era, this was bloody useful to avoid becoming lunch for a saber-toothed tiger. But in our modern, less toothy-tiger populated world, this translates into stifling self-doubt and second-guessing when we face risk or judgment, like putting our creations out into the wild.

A bit of a wet blanket, that amygdala, eh?

Segueing into the “What-If” syndrome, our minds, those magnificent, convoluted mazes, start concocting numerous scenarios where our work is criticized, mocked, or worse, ignored. We aim for perfection, yearn for applause, and validation, because, in our fear-tainted vision, approval equates to success. But here’s the pickle: The pursuit of universal applause is like chasing a mirage. It’s bloody non-existent!

Designing for applause? Yeah, it’s a pitfall many of us tumble into, my friends. When we let fear navigate, we subconsciously lean towards playing it safe, adhering to the ‘tried and tested’, or mimicking the ‘trending’ to safeguard ourselves against potential criticism or failure.

What becomes a casualty in this process? Originality. Boldness. Authenticity.

When fear hijacks our creative process, we inadvertently become slaves to external validation rather than channeling our intrinsic motivations and authentic selves into our creations. Our designs, our artworks, or whatever medium we converse through, start morphing into what we think people want to see, rather than what we truly want to say.

It’s a bit like cooking, really. When you cook with love, tossing in spices with a carefree spirit, not anxious about the Michelin stars (which, between you and me, can bugger off), the dish is splendidly delicious. But cook with the dread of criticism, and the dish, despite being technically ‘perfect’, lacks soul.

The snare of designing for applause chains our creative spirit, subduing the very essence that makes our work uniquely ours. It convinces us that our worth is measured by likes, shares, or praise, making our creativity an external entity reliant on collective approval, rather than a deeply personal and intrinsic expression.

Getting a bit heavy, ain’t it? But bear with me, as the upcoming chapters will gradually light up this gloomy path, introducing strategies and mindsets that will arm you against the cunning strangler that fear can be, liberating your creative spirit to soar unabashedly, and authentically.

The ‘Audience’ Mirage: Demystifying Who We Create For

Grab your goggles, friends, because we’re about to navigate through the foggy notion of ‘the audience’. Oh yes, those faceless entities often seated on the throne in the kingdom of our creative minds. But, who are they really, and why does their silent, invisible judgment sometimes overshadow our authentic creative expression?

Let’s lift the veil on these elusive spectators, shall we?

Diving headfirst into critics and naysayers, we’ve all encountered them. Their words can sting like a bee and buzz around in our heads, long after they’ve left the building. But remember this – the critics aren’t the architects of your creative castle. They might peer over, throw a comment or two, but their words need not lay the bricks of your creation. It’s paramount to distinguish between the constructive criticism that shapes and sharpens your work and mere noise which serves no purpose but to muddy your creative waters.

Now, despite the harshness or bitterness that sometimes taints criticism, there’s an art to dissecting it, extracting valuable insights while leaving the venom behind. It’s about shielding our self-worth from being punctured by the sharp jabs of negative feedback, and instead, wielding critiques as tools to refine, not define, our creations.

And here’s the crux of it all – you cannot, for the love of all things vibrant, please everyone. If you try, your work may be ‘liked’, but it will rarely be ‘loved’. In the pursuit of universal approval, the vivid colors of your creativity are often diluted to a mundane grey, palatable to all, yet passionately loved by none.

This brings us into the light of the real MVP – your true audience. To genuinely resonate, to strike that harmonious chord that echoes within the soul, your creations must reflect an unfiltered, unadulterated version of your creative self. Forget the encompassing, all-pleasing mirage and focus on quenching the thirst of those truly yearning for the authentic flavor of your work.

Understand their pain points, their aspirations, their unspoken desires, and let your creations be the balm, the inspiration, the voice that they’ve been longing for. Prioritize value over vanity, problem-solving over praise-collecting, and your work will not just be seen, but truly remembered, cherished, and missed in its absence.

In the world of creation, depth often triumphs over breadth. A deeply touched handful will always outweigh a mildly pleased multitude. When you shift your focus from seeking validation to solving problems, from being admired to being necessary, your work doesn’t just accumulate likes; it builds connections, fosters loyalty, and crafts a legacy.

In this authentic realm of creation, your work is not a mere object of observation but a conduit of connection between your soul and those of the beholders. And there, amidst those genuine connections, fear finds no breeding ground.

Tackling Fear: Empowering Strategies to Unleash Creativity

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to the gutsy part of our journey, navigating through the tangled vines of fear and yanking them out by the roots to pave our path towards uninhibited creativity. Buckle up, because we’re diving deep into the tactics that power through the barricades, break the chains, and let creativity run wild and free.

Welcome to the arena where feedback isn’t the enemy but an ally, a sharpening tool that carves out the masterpiece within the rough sketches of our initial creations. Remember the first iPhone? A revolution, yet not without its critics. Imagine if the brilliant minds at Apple crumbled under the pressure, tucked their tails between their legs, and scampered off into the abyss of ‘what could’ve been’?

Nuh-uh, they leaned into the feedback, embraced the criticism, and molded it into the subsequent versions. Here’s your first armor against fear: Viewing criticism not as a rejection but a refinement. It’s like chiseling away at a block of marble to reveal the David. Your initial work is that block, and feedback is the chisel that helps bring your masterpiece to light.

Now, let’s stride into the realm of the iterative approach to design. That blockbuster movie, the chart-topping album, the innovative product that has swept through the market – none of them were a one-hit wonder on the first try. So why should your creations be any different?

Every creation is a draft, a ‘version’. And every subsequent iteration, informed by feedback, lived experiences, and acquired knowledge, is a step towards perfection, or rather, a step towards a creation that resonates, connects, and impacts. Embrace the ‘version’ mindset. Let each creation be a stepping stone, not a stumbling block, toward your truest expression.

In this iterative journey, let’s not forget to throw a little party for our small wins. That appreciative message from a client, the breakthrough after a creative block, or simply the satisfaction of a well-executed project – these are not mere moments but fuel. They are the tiny, yet mighty, warriors that battle against the looming shadow of fear, keeping it at bay, ensuring it doesn’t engulf our creative spark.

In this saga of fear versus creativity, the victory is not in the absence of fear but in the ability to dance with it, to channel it into our creations, transforming its paralyzing energy into a thrilling adrenaline that propels our work into realms previously uncharted.

As we linger here for a moment, absorbing the essence of tackling fear and allowing our strategies to marinate, ponder upon this: What if your next creation, your next project, your next design, was approached not with the apprehension of the critics’ gaze but with the excitement of the impact it could create, the stories it could tell, and the emotions it could evoke?

Your Secret Arsenal: Two Mantras to Combat Fear

Listen up, friends, because we’re diving into the realms of mantra magic, where words of wisdom become our secret weapons against the daunting dragon of fear. These are not just mere phrases; they’re shields and armor, protecting our creative souls from the flaming arrows of criticism, self-doubt, and that unnerving fear of failure. So, let’s forge ahead, unveiling these mantras and understanding how they fortify our creative endeavors.

Mantra One: Your Biggest Critics? Probably not your target audience.

Dive back in time and recall a moment when your work was under the scrutinizing eyes of criticism. That design, that project, or that creation – was the critic truly the intended recipient? Did their feedback reflect an understanding and appreciation of the value, the story, or the purpose your creation intended to serve? More often than not, the loudest boos come from the cheapest seats. They’re not the ones experiencing the problem your creation aims to solve, nor are they the ones who will revel in the innovative solutions you bring to the table.

Let’s take a pause and soak this in. Critics will always linger in the shadows, poised to pounce on every opportunity to highlight the flaws, the imperfections, and the ‘could’ve been betters’ of your work. But here’s the tea: Their criticism is mere noise, a distraction deviating us from the path of true creative expression and problem-solving. The ones who matter, the ones who see, understand, and appreciate the value in your work – they’re the audience to cater to, to create for, and to connect with.

Mantra Two: Make Critiques Your Compass, Not Chains.

Flip the script and let’s view critiques through a new lens – envision them as signposts guiding us towards refinement rather than shackles binding our creativity. Every piece of feedback, be it positive or negative, is a directional pointer, nudging us towards a version of our creation that’s more polished, more refined, and more impactful.

There’s a hidden magic within iterative improvements, a transformative journey from being fear-driven to becoming feedback-fueled. It’s not about sidestepping critiques or deflecting criticism. It’s about absorbing the essence, understanding the underlying concerns, and redirecting them into enhancements, optimizations, and innovations within our creations.

Embracing critiques as your compass enables your creative journey to traverse through uncharted territories, exploring new horizons, and uncovering hidden gems that elevate your work from being mere visuals, words, or concepts to becoming experiences, emotions, and impactful narratives.

In this battlefield of creativity, these mantras stand tall as our guardians, shielding us from the crippling effects of fear while empowering our creations to blossom, to evolve, and to resonate. Your creations have the potential to ignite revolutions, to tell stories unheard, and to traverse boundaries unforeseen.


We’ve traversed the tangled jungles of fear, dissected the myths surrounding our so-called ‘audience,’ and geared up with a couple of kick-ass mantras to keep us going. So, where does this leave us in the grand scheme of our creative journey?

First and foremost, embrace an audacious mindset. We’re creators! We bring forth innovations from the realms of our imaginations, turn intangible concepts into tangible masterpieces, and dare to tread where others don’t. That’s some superhero-level stuff right there, if you ask me. So why the hell should we let fear, of all things, be our Kryptonite?

Revisit our inherent purpose as creators. Why did we start down this path in the first place? Was it to seek constant approval? Hell no! It was to express, to innovate, and to impact. Whether you’re designing a brand’s visual identity, crafting a compelling narrative, or conceptualizing a game-changing product, remember that your creation has a purpose – a raison d’être. Stick to that, and let it be your North Star.

Now, let’s talk about critics and naysayers for a hot minute. In the wise words of Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate.” And guess what? That’s perfectly alright. Because for every hater trying to pull you down, there’s someone out there who genuinely resonates with your work. Focus on that connection, nurture it, and let it fuel your creative fire.

One thing we’ve harped on repeatedly, but, it’s worth reiterating, is to take critiques as your compass, guiding your work to higher plains. Don’t see them as barriers but rather as stepping stones to refine your work, improve your craft, and get closer to your vision.

Lastly, when in doubt, remember the two mantras we armed ourselves with. They’re not just words; they’re a mindset. Live them, breathe them, and let them guide your way.

In the grand tapestry of creativity, every one of us plays a pivotal role. Our designs, our stories, and our innovations weave together to form a beautiful mosaic of ideas, expressions, and experiences. So why let anything, let alone fear, hold us back?

Here’s the deal – the next time you’re staring at that screen, brush in hand, or lost in thought, and you feel the icy grip of fear creeping in, I challenge you to take a moment. Close your eyes. Reconnect with your purpose. Then, dive headfirst into your next project, keeping that pesky fear in the rearview where it belongs.

The creative universe is vast, teeming with endless possibilities. But remember, the universe belongs to the brave. So, put on your creative cape, charge ahead, and let’s paint this universe with our indomitable spirit.

About the Author: Geoffrey Byers
Geoffrey is one of the world's foremost Designers. He is also a Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Mad Scientist. Hypothesis-Driven experimentation is his love language.