The fear of being a “sellout” plagues many artists and creative folks–but it doesn’t have to. Here’s a way to think of it that will help you determine if your efforts to market yourself are in alignment with your values.
First, a framework. There are two sides of creativity, process and product.
Process: the internal work of uncovering something personally meaningful through creative output.
Product: a finished, cohesive work that other people can access and find value in.
Process and product are two sides of the same coin, and yet if you focus just on one or the other you lose something.
If you focus exclusively on process, you won’t produce something that others can access – your creation will hold personal meaning, but not universal meaning. The packaging is the bridge that lets others access it.
If you focus just on product, you will lose the heart of why you were creating in the first place. You will be selling just for the purpose of selling. You will be creative in order to be liked or rewarded, but your creations will be empty. The world is full of products like this, which is what prompts the fear that you will do it too.
The fear of selling out is a fear that success will create so much incentive for product over process that you won’t be able to stay true to your work.
The key is to stay aware of the possibility, rather than avoiding it.
It’s true that many shiny, empty things are very popular, while other things that may deserve more attention languish in obscurity. But that in no way means that everything that is popular is empty, or that you can’t become popular without giving up your authenticity. It’s a fine line, but you can walk it.
It’s certainly true that internal greed or other people’s needs and desires have pulled creators away from their authentic desire to serve or create. They lose touch with the “process” side of creativity.
It’s scary to imagine this would happen to you. But the thing is, you have a choice. Everyone has that choice. It is a choice of what you do with your power to create.
For some people, the idea is so scary that they never learn how to package their work and market it. They view all packaging as “selling out”, and have no discernment about which is serving the work by making it more widely accessible and which is hollow.
Instead of learning to be responsible with power, they choose to not have any power at all. In doing so, they fail to reach the audience they could have. The world doesn’t see what they had to offer.
That’s a real loss, for both the creator and the world.
The fear of selling out is a fear of owning your power in an ethical way.
Fear of selling out is one form of “fear of success” – the fear of losing touch with oneself. For people who have big hearts and big visions, this fear can be especially poignant.
It can also be unconsciously limiting you without you realizing it.
How to not be afraid of selling out:
Admit that there is part of you that is greedy, and another that is afraid you’ll never have enough. There is part of you that wants to be liked and needed and rewarded. These are all parts of all of us! It’s called the “shadow”–the parts of us we’d rather not admit to having. But only grows out of control if we ignore or deny it. Instead, commit to being aware of it. Denial leads to unconscious behavior.
Make a conscious decision that you are going to work with your inner greediness, need for approval, and grasping when it comes up. Decide that you are opting for conscious awareness, not avoidance. Take time with your dark side–get to know it. Have fun with it. Laugh about it. Be OK with being human (and grounded in the knowledge that you have values). Having an ongoing and healthy relationship with this part of you means you’ll notice long before it takes over. You will be in charge.
Discern greed from the desire to grow. Humans want to grow and create and serve in ever-expanding ways. That is natural. That’s not greed–it’s your heart reaching for the stars. Learn to discern the difference between expansive desire and constricting fear-based greed. Cultivate that expansive desire. It comes from an abundant place of pure love for creating, and it’s magnetic.
Package your work in ethical ways. Examine your marketing decisions both in the light of who they might reach, and if they are truthful. Base your business on openness and respect rather than fear, hoarding, and competition. Package your work so people will be able to access it, not so they’ll like you and make you rich. Opt for developing quality and eschewing hype. Pay attention to what other people do with their marketing, and see how it feels to you so you learn what is right for you and what isn’t. Create ways of speaking about what you do that create connection and understanding, not scarcity or worry.
Don’t undersell yourself. Show up fully, honestly, and authentically in what you do. Cultivate a solid center in yourself that you market from–a center that knows your worth and doesn’t need to either undersell or oversell.
Relax. You are a good person. Trust yourself.