Your Biggest Fear of All

Building a business is exciting and scary for anyone who undertakes the task.

Building an art business is even scarier because your artwork is so personal. It’s not like you’re making widgets. You’re baring your soul to the world.

You’d be crazy not to be a little scared.

©Jennifer Joanou, pages from Journal #13. Mixed media, 10 x 16 inches. Used with permission.
©Jennifer Joanou, pages from Journal #13. Mixed media, 10 x 16 inches. Used with permission.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve coached clients with the following fears:

  • Fear of setting boundaries with a spouse. (It ended up that the spouse wanted the same thing. What a relief to have the conversation!)
  • Fear of public speaking, and knowing that it is necessary when you get to a certain level with your art.
  • Fear of the next step when you’ve reached what you always thought would be the pinnacle of your career.
  • Fear of too much success and being overwhelmed.

The fears I have in my business:

  • Fear that there’s not enough time.
  • Fear of sending an extra email to my list.
  • Fear that I’ll create a new program that no one will be interested in.
  • Fear that I won’t be able to help someone get the transformation they need from me.

Lisa Cirenza, Eva’s Ghost
@Lisa Cirenza, Eva’s Ghost. Digital painting and acrylics on canvas, 24 x 18 inches. Used with permission.

The Fear Is Real

These might sound like trivial first-world problems when we think of people who are afraid of being bombed, of finding their next meal, or who are held against their will. But they’re still fears that are real to the people (you? me?) who experience them.

It’s not like you need any more reminders of scary stuff, but since it’s the witching season …

There’s the constant fear of rejection: What if I am turned down or overlooked by jurors, gallerists, art buyers, curators, and other artists?

The looming fear of criticism: What if nobody likes my work?

The fear of the unknown: How can I do this? What happens if … ?

And the fear known as imposter syndrome: What if people find out I don’t really know what I’m doing?

Scary Stuff

But your biggest fear of all should be this:

The fear of not taking action toward your dreams. [Tweet this]

Katie O'Sullivan, Chimeras and Oracles
©Katie O'Sullivan, Chimeras and Oracles. Acrylic, oil pastel, and graphite on canvas, 36 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

You can heal from rejection. You can learn to deal with criticism, the unknown, and imposter syndrome.

But you will never recover from not taking risks.

I can remember the first time I realized that I’d rather regret something I had done than something I wanted to do but never took the chance. I won’t bore you with the whole story, but that moment in my twenties was profound, and I have tried to live that way ever since.

Wouldn’t you rather regret something you’ve done than something you never even tried?

Your Turn

What are your fears, and how have you learned to deal with them?

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30 thoughts on “Your Biggest Fear of All”

  1. Throughout my life as an artist I have had this fear that if something happened to my husband — who earns the majority of our household income — that I would not be able to find employment to sustain us. But trying to live life meeting all of the what-if’s was impossible for me. So I have immersed myself in making art and raising my family. While working through Alyson’s programs, and as a member of the Inner Circle this year, I find myself developing numerous skills that could easily be transferred to the non-art workplace if the what-if actually happened. Computer skills, writing skills, communication skills — everything would be attractive to an employer. So I’m putting that fear (which I will probably never be completely rid of) back into the basement closet and going back to the business of being an artist.

  2. Thank you, Alyson. I am a month away from my first show, and I wake up almost every night now in a cold sweat with the thought of walking into the gallery and everything being bad. I really needed the reminder that the only thing worse than that, is not having the courage to walk into the gallery at all.

  3. “The fear of not taking action toward your dreams.”

    Alyson, thank you. That’s powerful because it’s what I need to hear right now.

    And yes, please “bore” us with the whole story!


  4. Like you Alyson i would rather take action and regret it than never taking action. I woke up one morning in my mid thirties and decided that day was the day i would enrol in a BA Hons in fine art and change my life. I fast forwarded to 20 years later in my mind and imagined life without having gone to uni or tried to live off my artwork and i knew it would be the biggest regret of my life and i would be an embittered old woman. So i booked an appointment at the careers office the next day with encouragement from a work colleague and applied to a uni in another county because i was desperate to broaden my horizons. It was the best decision i made because i have become a better all round person for it.

  5. There are so many intermingled fears in my career right now. The biggest one, to admit I am afraid. To take the step to sign up for #artbiz2015 has been a step toward reaching out and admitting I am not alone, that I can learn from others mistakes and victories and that my mistakes and victories can be of value to me and to others. Thank you Alyson, and all other participants that are willing to step out there and better themselves.

  6. Hi Alyson,
    I count myself among the very fortunate, I travel a lot. I’m in good health as long as I stick to the Gluten-Free diet & have the meds. for my other body issues.

    The hearing & sight are declining senses, but meanwhile I do the best I can to maintain a reasonable semblance of a normal life. I make art if I can & when I can, now mainly for my own enjoyment.

    The way I’m wired-up mentally has no problems with rejection…this is my art…this is me…I can talk about it…I can write about it…You don’t like it? Sorry, go find some that you do then.

    Ditto you don’t like me? Thats your problem not mine, go find someone else then.

    I do not offer criticism to others on any issue. You criticise me? Please explain as I’d like to learn from it.

    This is perhaps the veneer that all artists need to acquire, perhaps?

  7. My current fear is pretty mundane: it’s about dealing with clients and being afraid I won’t be able to “control” the commission process. Every time I think I’ve thought of every contingency and developed a part of my business process to deal with it, I encounter something new and unexpected (and usually, it eats away at my profit margin). Come to think of it, I kind of have this problem with relationships in general… being worried about being taken advantage of in some way, which has made me less active/aggressive about seeking out clients.

    I’m not afraid of rejection/sound of crickets, or even a client hating the work (that happened once and it wasn’t the end of the world)… but being nickel and dimed to death through client requests/expectations I didn’t think of… that has made me shy about promoting my work.

    1. Oh, Ellen. I hope you work out a new arrangement that has you underpromising and over-delivering. Maybe, “This is what it will cost on the high end.” Then, when it’s under-budget, everyone is happy.

      Do you put everything in writing?

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