It takes a good amount of courage to get yourself to share your work in public. And by public, I mean family, friends and the rest of the world. Many of us tend to shy away from this idea because we’re too consumed with “What if they don’t like it?” or “What if I actually suck at painting/writing/etc?”

When I was in the process of convincing myself to share my poems on Instagram, I used to refer to the little voice in my head as “toxic voice.” But now, I don’t think it’s that toxic. I think it’s part of how this process works.

I’m starting to believe there are three stages in the Creating & Public-Appreciation relationship:

First is when you create and hide your work from everyone.

Second is when you create something and you’re actually ready to share it but are anxious about the reaction, and afraid no one would react at all.

Third is when you create, screw up, keep creating, sharing it to the world and don’t care whether or not they appreciate your work.

Time and time again, I find myself on the second stage of said relationship. It’s probably the most difficult to get past. With the kind of world we live in today, it seems innate for us to expect our social media followers to like, comment on, and share our work. And when we don’t get the public appreciation we expect, day after day, it can be borderline frustrating.

But how do we work our way around this and learn how not to expect so much from our followers?

I asked Jon Westenberg about it. Jon is a writer, entrepreneur, and founder of Creatomic. I first encountered his work through Medium and I’m in awe of how he talks about vulnerability, imperfection, and pretty much anything and everything most people today are afraid to discuss.

Jon Westenberg

Jon Westenberg

What have you been creating for the past 5 years? And at what point in life were you when you realized you were on stage three of the Creating & Public-Appreciation relationship? How did it feel, realizing that?

I’ve been working on a lot of things – the most public, obviously, being my blog. I think it’s safe to say that I’m definitely on the third stage of the creative relationship – at this point in my life, I make what I want to make, when I want to make it. I’ve spent years, absolutely years, stressing about how an audience is going to receive my work, and whether or not it’s good enough. I’ve wasted, and thrown away so much creative work out of that crushing fear, and I realized that it was preventing me from growing in any way!

How did you get past the stage where every like and every page view matters a hell of a lot more than it actually should?

Sure, so a big part of it, was just being mean to myself. I know that’s going to sound pretty negative, but it’s true. I have this system where I’ve started blocking my analytics platform throughout my week, and only view it once every seven days. That’s tough to stick to, but it means I can’t keep checking and rechecking and getting too caught up in the clicks and the views!

What’s your take on the idea of “if my product/output didn’t get as much interaction from the public, then it’s probably a sign I’m not good at it”?

I think that if you always give people what they want, you’re going to end up with a lot of shallow fans – because you’ve never given them what they need. You’re going to be the McDonalds of content creation, where everything you make is tasty, and delicious, but if it’s all people consume, it’s going to destroy them. That’s the way I’ve always seen it.

Do you think public appreciation and negative feedback differ from someone monetizing his product and someone who isn’t?

I don’t think that’s entirely possible. I think public appreciation affects everyone the same, whether they’re a small fashion blogger on Instagram or Kanye West – negative feedback still hurts the same and positive feedback still buoys the spirit!

Is there a generic, cookie-cutter way of describing success?

I like to think of success as being relative. For example, one of the most successful bands ever, in my view, is a band called Fugazi, an alt-rock and post hardcore group from Washington DC. They never reached mainstream status, never had a hit song, and they turned down million dollar contracts – as a result, they were never superstars. But they appealed to, and found love in the audience they wanted. It’s the same with any creative work –  your success is only dependent on what you’ve determined to be your metric.

Throwback to when you were on stage two of the Creating & Public-Appreciation relationship, did you have angry moments like “I have 30,000 followers… why is this post getting only 50 likes?!” If so, how did you deal with it?

Oh, constantly. I still have those moments. Essentially, I just think well, it doesn’t really matter. Because 50 people is still a lot of people who liked my work. Here’s an interesting fact – Rihanna has over 120 million fans on social media – but only sold 450 thousand copies of her last album. That’s just the way it goes.

What are your tips for managing public appreciation expectations?

I think you have to expect that not everyone will like everything you do – and understand how positive that can be, because you’ll always be challenged by different points of view on your work. I think the real trick to being able to live with that, is realizing that some people will hate anything. There were reviewers who thought the Great Gatsby was a piece of sh*t when it was first published. As long as you’re making the work that you love, public reaction doesn’t have to dictate or control you. It can be useful, but it’s never the end of the world.

Jon Westenberg

Jon Westenberg

Getting all those fancy hearts and re-shares is definitely a great thing. Having more sales this month than last month is definitely something to celebrate. But at the end of the day, it’s actually just us, the art that we love and we do, and the people appreciating it – be it 10 people or 1,000 people. There are tons of products out there and millions of people post stuff online everyday. To get even five people to like your work – that is something.