Some Fears that Designers and Artists Need to Dismantle in their Life and Work

By Atim Annette Oton

Each month, I encounter artists and designers whose life and work are deeply engaged in fear in ways that even their creative minds can not overcome. I find there are four failures that define what they are experiencing and writing about them is a way to provide a guide and path to transformation. There are some fears that designers and artists need to dismantle in their life and work.

Fear of Failure:

“I really don’t think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don’t mind the failure but I can’t imagine that I’d forgive myself if I didn’t try.” – Nikki Giovanni

“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” – Japanese Proverb

“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”- Bill Cosby

The fear of failure is a common fear for everyone but it is most paralyzing for artists and designers. I often say tell them that life is too short to let fear make big decisions for you. So many of them spend time thinking about failure that they decided not to try it at all. And even subconsciously, they undermined their own efforts to avoid the possibility of a larger failure. Mind blogging, right? Try this, some artists and designers self-sabotage themselves by procrastinating, being very anxious. and fail to finish projects.

My solution and response to changing this dynamic is six short steps:

  1. Take risk in small steps.
  2. Take time to understand every time you fail, simply write down why to remind yourself.
  3. Embrace your mistakes.
  4. Write a list of your successes, simply write them down why to remind yourself too.
  5. Approach your fears as opportunities for growth.
  6. Ask for help

Fear of Collaboration:

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller 

For me making music is part social, part interaction, part collaboration. – Norah Jones 

It’s such a joy to work with different ensembles and create a collaboration. Rehearsing and building a performance is very interesting for me. – Cecilia Bartoli 

Even the lamest page can be saved by collaboration. – Philip Greenspun 

collaboration-not-compromise-control-agile-blog-solutionsiqThe fear of collaboration is the one fear that artists and designers never get over. They tend to work alone and do not build trust with others so there is no collaboration. Successful artists are decision-makers open to partnerships and multi-disciplinary processes because they understand that it break down silos in their work and life. And true leaders understand the power of collaboration. Former President Clinton noted its importance when he said, “We’re moving into an era where the only way you can create enough jobs for people and generate enough wealth to have decently-rising wages is if you have creative networks of cooperation.” Simply, your survival as an artist or designer depends on collaboration. One thing I know is that fear of collaboration stems from focusing on the weaknesses of the others, rather than their strengths. This always amazes me.


To be collaborative, you must:

  1. Take Responsibility and Be Accountable
  2. Clearly define what you can do together
  3. Put aside self-interests to advance their shared objectives.
  4. Seek collective impact
  5. Share ideas and work to generate joint ideas
  6. Speak up and Listen more.

Fear of Change

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou

Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. – Confucius

In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first. – Jimi Hendrix


So many of the  artists and designers who I consult with tell me they want to change and are here to make change. It takes about 6-10 meetings with them to transform them from the “talk” of change and make them “walk” the walk of change. Change can be a wonderful experience but it is scary. And it does not matter whether you like change or not, you should learn to embrace it rather that run in the opposite direction.And changes take place all the time, with and without your participation.

I tell artists and designers to embrace change because:

  1. Nothing Is Permanent
  2. You need to acknowledge and express your emotions.
  3. You need to Stay Grounded and Calm
  4. You need to Get support from others.

Fear of Perfection

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it. – Salvador Dali

Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. – Kim Collins

Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything. – Eugene Delacroix, artist


In 2011, Dmitry Fadeyev wrote that “perfection is a concept that is responsible for a lot of grief, a concept that sends artists chasing a goal that does not exist because it has never been defined, nor can ever be defined.” I agree with him on this notion as he notes very clearly, “instead of chasing perfection, we should be chasing completion. A work need not be prefect, but it has to be complete.”  It is interesting to note that perfection seekers really have the fear of failing and often the search for perfection is leading them to diminishing returns and an avoidance of action.


To resolve perfection fears, I often ask artist to create a feedback loop, a person or group who can provide feedback about their work.

  1. Practice accepting imperfection—in yourself and in your collaborators
  2. Acknowledge effort—on your part and on the part of your collaborators.
  3. Cut yourself some slack and Develop a sense of humor
  4. Stop procrastination
  5. And remember, mistakes are not catastrophes
  6. Define a goal and focus on what is really needed

Fear is a powerful emotion. It breaks people and keeps them from being at their best. You can struggle, or surrender to fear. Life should not be about fear, as I have always said: Take a risk, life is too short. And most importantly, fear is a waste of time.


One response to “Some Fears that Designers and Artists Need to Dismantle in their Life and Work”

  1. I thank you so much for this inspiring information. I have gotten over a lot of my fears and still need to work on my procrastination. I’m not giving up!

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