Are You Free?

Do you feel pressure when you are practising creativity? So much that you don’t even get started? I certainly do. Not always, but sometimes I have a really hard time getting myself out of the comfort zone. I feel pressure to come up with something extraordinary or at least something worthwhile. I may be holding back by what I consider expectations from my surroundings, but most of the time it’s most likely my own expectations that keep me from exploring a free creative path. I might be afraid of failure – and sometimes even afraid of success.

Performance anxiety is causing plenty of struggles for most creative persons. Moreover, I find it fascinating that in most cases it’s all for imaginary reasons. We construct all kinds of ideas about what we want to achieve, instead of just getting started and see where we end up, without any predefined expectations. Performance anxiety is good for nothing. Still most of us can’t put it to rest.

At best, to be creative means being free to explore possibilities. It means having energy to play, to let go of preconceived ideas of what things should be or not be. Just going with the flow – as it’s often described.

Performance anxiety keeps us from being free. Interestingly enough, when we think in terms of freedom, we most often assume that it means being free from. Particularly in our western culture (and I write us, since it’s where I come from) we talk about freedom from oppression, freedom from regulations, and yes freedom from expectations. In this sense we will never be free, because there will always be something that regulates our lives. But there is a different kind of freedom, namely being free to.

While the first is related to limitations, the latter is opening up to no an unlimited realm. We feel we need freedom from when we are pressured in one way or another. It may be pressure from yourself, your job, your boss, your spouse, your parents, yes even society. At least that’s the way it feels like. Sometimes it has great value to ask what is it that really holds you back. Could it be a feeling that whatever you do doesn’t come spontaneously from inside of you?

If on the other hand, you feel energized, being in the moment, without having to perform – in whatever connotation of the word – then you are have freedom to the create process. Nothing will hold you back. It’s not possible to live in a society and be completely free, that would lead to complete chaos. However, when it comes to creativity, complete freedom is possible – if we let ourselves loose from expectations and preconceived ideas of what should and should not be.

You know yourself, when you don’t think about it but just create, it’s playfully easy.

77 thoughts on “Are You Free?

  1. Your last line summed it up beautifully Otto. Allowing ourselves the freedom to simply enjoy and lose ourselves in the process, now that’s freedom. Thanks for a thought provoking post that I can certainly relate to.

  2. I first heard that expression when i was very young, reading the book ‘the handmaiden’s tale’ by margaret atwood… ‘there are two kinds of freedom; freedom to and freedom from’… I expect that the guy meant it that they were protecting women, which was very sinister in that case.

    1. As you know, any idea can be used both positively and negatively. I didn’t have The Handmaiden’s Tale in my head when I wrote this post, but you brought that exact moment into my memory. Definitely a very sinister move by the “commander”.

  3. Thank you, Otto. I needed to read this today. I am beginning to think that expectations are the bane of our existence. I especially liked this: “…when it comes to creativity, complete freedom is possible – if we let ourselves loose from expectations and preconceived ideas of what should and should not be.”

  4. I needed this today. I’ve been struggling with my art lately and i think it’s because I’m trying too hard to create. I need to go back to the beginning, when I first created my new pieces and just go with the flow like you say.

  5. gotta love that sky in the backdrop and yes, sometimes to answer both of your first two questions : – )

  6. Every.Single.Painting. of mine starts out with procrastination. “Almost” every one ends with, wow, how did I ever do that? That looks really nice. Don’t ask me how I do it. I don’t know. If I knew ahead of time I wouldn’t have to procrastinate! 🙂

  7. I’ve approached creativity from 3 platforms. When I was younger I was involved in music. I had absolutely NO confidence in my ability or my talent, which lead me to abandon music as a field. I write, but avoid the “creativity” aspect by saying I’m a technical writer. In other words, I hide behind structure. In photography, I say (and mean) that I am just playing around and experimenting, which is much easier to sell with a phone camera than with a DSLR dangling from my neck. People assume a “real” camera indicates a “real” photographer and they always ask, what are you shooting? Did you get some good images? I always shrug and walk away, feeling like a fraud. I am only as free as I allow myself to be.

    1. What is a “real” photographer? I am not intending to make fun of what you write, but whatever you say to yourself to get going, is the key to your creativity. You may not think in terms of creativity, but I see your ability to be creative in everything you do. And yes, you are only as free as you allow yourself, but sometimes creativity goes beyond that.

      1. I thought about editing that comment, Otto, because I figured you’d pounce. Creativity is just a loaded word, isn’t it? I still feel like an imposter with a DSLR dangling. But you’re right, I try to not let that feeling interrupt the effort to create. That word again.

  8. I feel pressure to come up with something extraordinary or at least something worthwhile.

    That’s certainly the issue fo rme and when it happens I often put the camera down and do something else. I’m not sure how to get out of my way.

    1. We all have to find out what works for each of us. For me, it’s actually just getting started, even if I know it’s going to be crap. But then suddenly something may change…

  9. Freedom in creativity is always a big battle…at least for me. Shall I take this photo as I feel, free wheel photographing or should I take as people think it should be taken following varuoius rules set up by others?
    The same happens later when editing…shall I keep this blurred photo which I like bbecause it is blurred or not?
    It’s a battle but when freedom wins is a great satisfaction…thanks for this post, interesting and stimulating as usual!

  10. Oh, the pressure I can put on myself some times-it just messes me up, but if I just go out and play,and get absorbed in the wonder of the world around me it is amazing what I can discover without worrying about pleasing others.

  11. Yes, sometimes our thoughts get in the way of our response to living. Whether making art or just experiencing all that is available. “You can’t please everybody, so you have to please yourself”.
    My photography is more reality based than imaginative, but that’s what I like. Most of the time, although I do start out with a destination in mind, the surprises that ask for a response.are what offer up the best images. The same can apply to looking at the art made by others. An open mind offers many lessons.

  12. I guess I have performance anxiety. I also think that is one of the things that has kept me from blogging because I am afraid of what other people will say. The same is true whenever I am asked to play an instrument in front of an audience. I think I need to learn how to be energized when I am in the moment–I’ll follow your advice and free myself from preconceived notions of what others expect of me. Thank you for the post.

    1. Of course we would like to have others get engaged in what we do. But if you can free yourself from the notion of what others expect, then whatever you create will be yours and only yours.

  13. I enjoyed your post Otto. I am currently reading Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time – which is effectively a biography of the Russian composer Shostakovich during the Stalin regime – so restrictions on creative freedom have been very much on my mind.
    The hurdles most of us face on a daily basis are self-inflicted: deadlines (imaginary or otherwise), over-ambitious expectations, self-criticism etc But I suspect these are all part of being human. We know they’re not helpful, but they’re very difficult to give up!

    1. No doubt it’s very human. Limitations of creative is often selv-inflicted, although in some places, it’s also a system enforced way of controlling freedom of expression, like in the old Soviet Union.

  14. Yikes!!! The Seas of Climate Change will soon swallow us up. And if an asteroid hits the ocean then it’s really all over zillions of coastal dwellers.
    Not a pretty picture I’d say.

  15. Feeling energized and being in the moment is such a good way to live. I like the words you have descriptively used here, Otto. And the photo is the perfect illustration to demonstrate feeling free!

  16. So much wisdom in your freedoms post here – and like other readers, I really liked the closing part – especially the part about loose expectations – that is powerful

  17. I’ve been reading Paul Nicklen’s excellent new eBook, Photographing Wild. In it, he talks about doing a lot of research and prep work before going out into the field, and spending the first 20% of the time in the field getting the safe, sharp, planned, technically good shots out of the way. The next 60% he calls the creative time, where he can relax and let the creative juices flow. The last 20% is for out of the box ideas, where relaxing the rules turns into ignoring them completely.

    Of course, he takes thousands upon thousands of shots over several weeks for a project so he has time to invest, and recognizes the keeper rate for good or great shots is very low, so maybe he doesn’t feel that much pressure for any given shot to be a world beater. On the other hand, his world beaters land in National Geographic so that could add a bit of pressure..,

    I think you’d enjoy the book.

  18. Words to really ponder over ~ yes, sometimes the desire to create and perform get doused by the pressures we put on ourselves. As my old coach once told me “listen, while you think everyone is watching you – they actually all have things more important in your lives, and at most you are just a distraction…” and I laugh at how well this imagery worked, relieves some of the pressure 🙂 There is a certain freedom in knowing this 🙂

  19. I really enjoyed reading this because I felt I could relate. I imagined the shackles of society, government and family for example but then it’s very true what you said, there is personal freedom in the sense that we can create. Nobody can take that from us, possibly is endless if we open ourselves up to it. Great read, thanks 😊

  20. Performance anxiety can be crippling! I recall having a bad case of it years ago in art school … particularly life drawing class. I wanted my work to be among the best in the class so badly it hindered my success. Perhaps being in a class situation contributed. I don’t feel that way with my photography. Maybe its because I do it for myself first. I don’t worry as much what others think and perhaps that’s where performance anxiety comes from.

  21. Love the blog – I think you nailed it. Sort of like Nike’s slogan – just do it! I have to admit I sometimes have a hard time getting going. I find it funny that when I think I have absolutely no idea about what I want to do, something just pops into my head and a fresh perspective appears. I find it strange how the mind works with creativity.

  22. your post was very inspiring I love the way that you described freedom. I to have found myself in this situation worrying about what to create instead of letting creativity create. thanks for sharing

  23. This rings true for me, I have a tough time getting myself started with what ever project I want to do. I put too much pressure on myself, because I have an image in my head of what my project needs to look like, instead of just getting on with it.

    1. I think most of us recognize what you write. The more we try to have it all finish in our heads beforehand, the harder it often is to get started, at least that has been the case for me.

  24. So true. Oftentimes it’s just a matter of giving ourselves PERMISSION. Loved this one Otto – you’re on point, as usual!

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