Courage! Five top skills for taking the creative plunge

Let go of certainties and embrace vulnerability, advises Emmy and AACTA Award-winning producer turned creative sector coach Ellenor Cox.
A goldfish jumps from one fishbowl to another, larger bowl.

Ellenor Cox provides regular insights and advice for supercharging your creative career. They all just happen to start with the letter C. In her last column, she talked about the importance of consistency. Here she identifies the key steps to grow our courage.

Creativity takes courage‘ – these beautiful words of Henri Matisse surely ring true for every creative person.

When creative people express their emotions through their films, writing or music, and present it to the world, they in effect put themselves on the chopping block to be critiqued by everyone on the planet. It’s bold, it’s brave, and it requires a certain level of self-esteem and courage to be so vulnerable and open to criticism, rejection and even ridicule. After all, how many other sectors do you know where professional critics are gainfully employed?

What many people don’t know is that the root of the word courage is ‘cor’, which is the Latin word for heart. Originally it meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart’ which in today’s parlance could be equated to us putting our vulnerability on the line.

Read: Ellenor Cox on the chord of connection

It takes a lot of courage to freely express our creative ideas and to be comfortable with this vulnerability of making public how we connect our art with our identity.

As the American psychologist Ellis Paul Torrance so eloquently put it: ‘It takes courage to be creative. Just as soon as you have a new idea, you are in a minority of one.’

For many of us, however, our creativity is often diluted by the pressure to conform to societal norms or our fear of being judged.

Read: 7 tips for languishing creatives

Courageous creative people are those who’ve learnt the art of not feeling burdened by conformity and who focus their energies instead on what they feel and express through their art. They’ve somehow learnt to grow a tough skin against the seemingly endless rejections and knockbacks or public criticisms of their work.

How do they do this and what are the top five skills needed for us to build our muscles of courage for our creative pursuits?

1 You can always choose how you react

When someone rejects or attacks your creativity, your first impulse might be to react with a flurry of emotional emails or DMs. It may make you feel better in that moment but it’s just a fleeting emotion. The harder stance, but the better reaction, is to choose to either just turn the other cheek and ignore the criticism or distance yourself from these people in the future. Through our choices we have the ability to create a happy and harmonious environment around us and to learn over time how to become more proficient at ignoring the critics and naysayers.

2. Learn to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the luxury of feeling courage without also feeling fear alongside it. They are permanent if unwilling bedfellows. The trick to mastering this is focus on the small wins whenever we do experience this fear and to reward ourselves afterwards by reflecting on the fact that we were able to handle that discomfort. The more our competency grows at learning to live with discomfort, the more our confidence grows in our ability to handle the more challenging emotions.

3. Don’t let your fears become bigger than your reality

The adage ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger’ has stood the test of time for good reason. Breakthroughs occur most often at the end of chaos but we need to learn to overcome our fears in order to start something. How many projects have not even got off the ground because people have been paralysed by all the fears around the ‘What Ifs’. Naming these fears from the outset is a great tool to create momentum. List them all out and then take this to the extreme of what the worse case scenario would look like. Could you survive this no matter how uncomfortable you might find it? If the answer is yes then take action! Taking action is the quickest and most effective way to reduce our fears.

4. Focus on your ‘bounce back’ strategies

Resilience is the art of picking yourself up again after rejection and disappointment and moving forward. Don’t shy away from the negative feelings that come up in these moments but instead put a time frame against them. For example, “I’m going to vent in my journal for 30 minutes and feel sorry for myself and then I’m going to do something constructive to make myself feel better”. Get current around what are the things that get you quickly back into a better frame of mind. Could it be a coffee with a friend, a long walk, a cuddle with your pet, a call to your Mum?  Don’t take these simple things in life for granted as they are often powerful and easily accessible tools.

5. Connect with your inner purpose

Creative people who dare to be courageous often link their creativity to their identity. They feel compelled to pursue their chosen art form and there’s a lot to be said for this, as we all know that there’s safer and more stable career choices that could be made.

Remind yourself that your choice to be a creative person is based on you believing that the sharing of your creative ideas is meaningful and valuable. When we hold this attitude then we remind ourselves that our creative pursuits are based on our personal growth and not our desire to show off our competencies. This reminds us of the very personal connection that we have with our creativity and provides the fuel for our courageous fires.

In the end, opinions will always differ and people will always have the right to voice their opinion or choices. So no matter how good or how bad you are, you will be judged. What is in your power is how you react to these challenges.

As the author Viktor Frankl put it so well in his seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning: ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’

So inculcate positivity, learn to let go, develop the resilience to bounce back with your full might after any challenging episode and embrace the courage to be a creative!

Looking forward to sharing the Chord of Confidence in the Key of C with you next time round!

Ellenor Cox is a veteran Emmy and AACTA award winning producer now providing the industry with coaching and mentoring services. More information and extensive free resources available at