How I Overcame a Fear of Sharing My Work
...and Learned to Actually Enjoy it.
For as long as I can remember, I've loved creating things.
From designing artwork to building websites, and from producing videos to recording music... if there was an opportunity to create something, I've taken it. But creating or building something is never as simple as it sounds, and no matter how much experience you have, it involves vulnerability, self doubt and indecision.
For most creative people, the process of making that thing is the fun part. However, for many, showing it to other people is a painful process where they (and their project) are laid bare, open to criticism and critique.
For years, I hated sharing my work. It was a necessary evil that undoubtedly made my work better, but was uncomfortable and awkward.
I would leave the room when others looked at something I had designed, or talk over songs I had recorded, pointing out every little flaw or half-finished element and justifying every creative decision.
A few years ago, as I approached thirty, I decided enough was enough.
I needed to get over the fear that I had of sharing my work, or I never would.
First, I started recording music with a friend and begun sharing it with close mates. It helped, but I needed to do more.
Here's how I overcame my fear, and actually started to enjoy it...
Face the fear
The first step to overcoming the fear of sharing my work was to figure out exactly what it was that I feared in the first place.
What exactly do you fear? Is it a fear of failure, and not achieving your goals? Is it a fear of hearing criticism? A fear of others seeing the same flaws as you do? A fear or not being accepted by your peers? A fear of feeling like an imposter?
The chances are, it's all of the above (and maybe a couple of others, too), but it’s important to have an honest conversation with yourself about what it is that you find so scary about sharing your work.
Stop overthinking it
We’ve all had times in life where we’ve worried about what others thought of us.
Maybe you wanted to wear that new outfit, admit your guilty pleasure to friends, or go against the grain in a social situation, but didn’t, out of fear of how others might have reacted.
This behaviour is a common trap that most of us fall into at one point or another, but it’s more-often-than-not a result of simply overthinking.
If you had worn that outfit, or admitted you secretly dance around your bedroom miming Whitney Houston’s greatest hits into a hairbrush, would anybody have really thought of you any differently? Probably not. But you let it stop you, anyway.
To put it bluntly, we think other people care far more about what we do and how we do it than they actually do; a phenomenon known as the spotlight effect in social science circles.
The spotlight effect, like other cognitive biases, shows us that our perception of ourselves and the world around us is often out of sync with reality, and how others view us. It's natural to focus on our flaws, inadequacies and shortcomings, but also important to understand that it's highly likely other people don't even notice them at all.
Try to recognise and understand the thoughts that stop you from sharing your work, but don't let them win.
It's normal to feel like an imposter
I once heard someone say "You never really grow up, you just get better at pretending", and it made me think about how no matter what happens in life it's common to feel like a fraud; like you're not quite ready.
Imposter syndrome is all too common in and out of the development community, and creative people of all kinds so often feel like they don't have the skills needed for the task.
So if you feel like a fraud, try not to be hard on yourself; the truth is, most people feel the same way as you do, even when it's not true at all.
Take your own advice
I’m a teacher in my day-job, and have conversations with students about this very topic on an almost-daily basis, but it’s one thing to give advice to somebody else and something else entirely to listen to it yourself.
I took time to try and take an objective look at what I was missing out on by avoiding the awkwardness of sharing my work with others, and think “what advice would I give myself?”.
After discussing this with a friend in a similar position, we settled on the following mantra to live by (or at least, creatively): “Keep consistently creating content, but edit less, and show more.”
Boiling your approach down to it's essence like this can help you to focus in on what you're trying to achieve, and to avoid getting lost in the minutiae of a project and losing sight of the big picture.
Accept that everything is a work in progress
When you build or create something new, it's easy to focus on the finish line; the moment when you throw your hands in the air and shout "It's done! I'm finished!".
The problem is, that moment rarely (if ever) actually happens.
Making something is often an iterative process, with each version of it incrementally better developed than the version before.
For developers, GitHub structures this process and helps to make it a little more obvious, so that each 'commit' marks an upgrade or change in direction in a project.
While this this version-based approach is common, it also means that it's rare that you'll feel your project is ever really, truly complete, without any room for improvement.
Now don't get me wrong, this doesn't necessarily feel like a good thing; truly completing something (where you no longer return to it and edit it) brings a feeling of satisfaction that we miss out if it's just another version. But what if we look at it from another perspective?
In life, we learn from our experiences, develop new skills and work to become a better person (whatever that means to us), but we never get to the stage where we think, "That's it! There's nothing else I can learn, and no improvements to make... I've reached perfection!". So why do we do expect this from our projects?
At the same time, we don't hide away from the world until we're good enough, do we? Our self-improvement happens out in the open, every single day. So why would our projects be any different?
Accepting that your projects, like you, are a constant, never-ending work in progress that you revisit and develop will allow you to be less critical of the flaws that you find because once you've found them, you can fix them, one at a time.
Share the process, not just the product
If you agree that a project is never really, truly complete, then it's much easier to share your work because it'll always have some flaws (no matter how minor), but they won't bother you quite so much because you just haven't fixed them yet.
If we remember that the process is more important than the end product, then why wouldn't we show the project as it develops?
When I first started to learn to code, I started sharing screenshots, videos and links to my projects on Twitter to show each step in the development process.
Not only was this a great way to document the progress of each project, telling the story of how it took shape, but I found that others became invested in my progress and what I was learning and building. This gave me a huge boost in confidence, and helped me to see I was on the right track.
Expect criticism and accept critique
Everybody loves a try-er, right? Well... not everybody, but that's to be expected. It doesn't matter what you do or how well you do it, you just can't please everyone.
Depending on how big your following is, you're bound to receive both criticism and critique, but it's important to recognise the difference.
Criticism is judgmental and focused on finding fault, while critique is balanced and justified by explanation. It's easy to think the two are the same, but critique is constructive and helps you to improve your work, criticism often doesn't.
In my experience, the vast majority of people in creative communities online (and in real life) motivate others around them, not criticise them.
Sure, a small number of people are bound to criticise your work, but most will look for the positives in it or offer ways to help you improve it.
The benefits you'll get from receiving constructive feedback will always outweigh the small amount of negativity that might come your way because you decided to share in public.
Others complimenting your work can be a huge confidence boost and so if you can find a way not to take criticism personally but to learn from critique, you'll be far happier for it (and better at what you do, too!).
Sharing your development work isn't easy, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. The #100daysofcode challenge is a great way to hold yourself accountable, and get used to showcasing your work, warts and all.
So go for it! Start sharing with others, you'll be surprised how good it feels.
Hopefully this article will give you that push you need to start showing others what you do, and maybe one day you'll actually enjoy it, too!
If you enjoyed this article and want to see what I'm working on (or read more content related to web development, design, creativity and learning) then follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/danielcranney .