How should an artist deal with uncertainty?

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“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” ~ Christopher Columbus

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I recently experienced strong pangs of uncertainty after what seemed like days upon days of editing a new series. I’d been working on the images for so long, I vacillated between loving them and hastily hitting delete. Forcing creativity; a familiar cycle and pattern of my need to control, cling and grasp to take away the uncertainty. And there, lurking beneath the layers of uncertainty, was fear, and the critical voice. I’ve learned from past encounters with uncertainty, and especially with fear, that fighting is futile – the critical voice only gets louder and stronger. I find distraction tends to soften the voice, so to take my mind completely off photography I watched the documentary: ’Losing Sight of Shore’

Artistic expression of all types, helps connect us to our life purpose and nourishes our soul. Along with the joy of a creative life, artists deal with a roller coaster of negative emotions: fear, self-doubt and uncertainty. That uncomfortable, daunting feeling of the unknown, combined with the real possibility of failure can hold us back. Not pursuing our creative endeavors impacts us on a deeper level – affecting our well-being and happiness. Uncertainty is essential to creativity and is always present in some form throughout the creative process. The plight of an artist is to trust, and embrace uncertainty. Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, shares her wisdom  on creativity, uncertainty and fear in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Rather than fighting fear, Elizabeth suggests making space so that fear and creativity can peacefully coexist. Her approach before embarking upon a new project, is a welcoming speech inviting fear to join her and creativity, as if a passenger on a road trip. Although fear is welcome to join them on the adventure, it is forbidden to touch the road maps, suggest detours, or drive. It’s a unique, playful approach of dealing with fear.

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“Then we head off together – me and creativity and fear – side by side forever, advancing once more into the terrifying but marvelous terrain of unknown outcome.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

‘Losing Sight of Shore’ follows the inspiring, epic journey of four women’s quest to row a 29-foot bright-pink boat, they’d named Doris, from San Francisco to Queensland, Australia – 8446 miles across the vast Pacific Ocean – without a support boat. The extreme mental and physical challenges of nine months across an unpredictable ocean, rowing 24 hours, seven days a week, in two-hour shifts, pounded by unrelenting rain, pummeled by four-story high waves, and currents pushing them miles off-course, encapsulates embracing uncertainty. The Coxless crew spent 257 days at sea, and rowed more than a third of the Earth’s circumference; setting two world records – the first all-female team, and the first team of four to row the Pacific Ocean. Their spirit, courage and tenacity to overcome the challenges of sleep deprivation, seasickness, and Mother Nature was extraordinary.

How does an artist navigate the unchartered, deep waters of uncertainty? By inviting uncertainty in, be curious about it, dance with it. Changing our perspective and the meaning of uncertainty, and enjoying the beautiful chaos it may bring, gives us the freedom to create something unique. Creativity whispers to us; waits for the opportunity to engage and play. And by embracing uncertainty, we allow the magic of inspiration and creativity to flow through us. When viewed in a more positive light – uncertainty is the gateway to possibility.

“Sometimes we just have to surrender to this flow, embrace it and let it take us in a different direction for a while. There will always be a reason for this and soon enough we will find ourselves back on the right path.” ~ Natalia Cohen, Coxless Crew 


Debbie O'Donnell

Author: Debbie O'Donnell

Debbie O'Donnell is an Australian, fine art photographer, based in Brooklyn, NY, exploring photography, creativity, and the infinite wisdom of the Divine.