Starving Artist No More Blog

039: Fix Forward

Oct 24, 2023
Starving Artist No More | Jennifer Jill Araya
039: Fix Forward

A few weeks ago, I woke up to an email from a creative entrepreneur that I’ve been coaching over the past few months. This wonderful artist had recently faced some pretty big obstacles in their creative business and was feeling really discouraged. They had wanted to start a new thing in their creative work, but they found themselves completely unable to take that first step and get started. As a result, they told me they were feeling “brutally defeated.” And my heart broke for this wonderful creative. I just wanted to wrap them up in a big hug! Shame and defeat have no place in our work as creative entrepreneurs. In today’s podcast episode, I want to share with you some of the advice and action steps that I gave this delightful artist. When you are struggling with your creative work, there is hope. You have no need to feel ashamed or defeated. You are not powerless, and you can take action that will make things better. You can fix forward.


Hello, thriving artists, and welcome to Episode 39 of the Starving Artist No More podcast! My name is Jennifer Jill Araya, and I am a creative entrepreneurship coach, and a creative entrepreneur myself. I am so excited that you’re here today for this discussion of how to build an artistic business that actually works and that allows you to fully live into the incredible, innovative artist you are meant to be.

Today’s episode is all about how to move forward when you’re feeling discouraged and beaten down by the circumstances around you, but before we dig deeply into that topic, I do want to share a free resource I have available for you. I know one place where a lot of creatives feel perpetually discouraged is in their business finances. Figuring out the money part of your business is a really difficult thing for us artists. Most of us have fine arts degrees, not business degrees, and handling the financial part of our work can be really confusing. But there’s a resource on my website that I think can help. It’s a free guide, titled “Say Goodbye to Feast or Famine: Three Financial Must-Haves for Creative Entrepreneurs.” And it gives you exactly what it sounds like: three focus areas around the financial aspect of your artistic business that, when you address those three areas, you’ll be able to get a handle on your business finances. Financial stuff isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and this guide can help. Just visit my website,, and fill out the contact form to have the guide sent right to your email inbox. I really hope it helps you.

So, as I just mentioned, finances are sometimes a source of discouragement for creative entrepreneurs, but that’s far from the only reason that you might be feeling demoralized around your artistic work. Setbacks and difficulties can come from all over, and we all have to deal with those upsetting situations at one point or another. Even when we do everything right, tough times happen. And when those difficult circumstances smack us upside the head, what do you do? Where do you go from there?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes you’ve got an idea that you’re enthusiastic about, a new thing that you’re excited to try and that you know can make a difference for you. But you find yourself unable to actually take the first step to get started. You have this vision in your mind for what you can do, but you just can’t get yourself to take action and do it. How do you get started when you feel like you aren’t capable of taking the first step?

It might seem like these two scenarios have nothing in common, but my advice in both cases is actually exactly the same. My encouragement to you in both of those situations, whether you’re beaten down by problems you’re facing or whether you’re feeling paralyzed in your desire to start something new, regardless of which situation you find yourself in, give yourself permission to fix forward.

What does it mean to fix forward? Well, that’s a complex question to answer, which is why I’m going to spend the next 20 minutes or so examining it in detail and discussing it with you. But in short, fixing forward means letting go of whatever has happened in the past and of whatever is causing you shame and defeat, and instead focusing on the positive action steps you can take to move forward, even if those action steps are small and feel insignificant.

I always say that change is a direction, not a destination, and fixing forward is about doing anything and everything you can to focus on a mindset of abundance. Fixing forward puts your focus on your positive belief of what is possible for you in your future, rather than berating yourself for what you did or didn’t do in the past.

And the first step in fixing forward is entirely a mindset shift. I already told you that shame and defeat have no place in our work as creative entrepreneurs. To fix forward, you have to let go of judgment. You have to resist the impulse to berate yourself for your perceived past failings, whether that was incorrect actions you did take, or correct actions you didn’t take. Either way, you have to let it go.

For me, three specific thoughts help me to let go of that unhelpful shame.

First, I acknowledge and affirm to myself that the situation I’m facing is a difficult one. Whether that’s a problem I’m dealing with, or whether it’s a situation that has me paralyzed and not able to take action, allowing myself to explicitly acknowledge the struggle and the pain inherent in my situation.

There is no shame in struggling to handle a difficult circumstance. There is no defeat in not immediately "rising above" the problem you're facing. When something is hard, there is freedom and liberty in acknowledging that it is hard. Don't brush it off just because you don't see others struggling with it or because you think you "shouldn't" struggle with it. If it's hard for you, then it is hard. Different people have different strengths and weaknesses and skill sets, so it objectively doesn’t matter whether or not this thing is easy for others. If it’s hard for you, then it is hard.  Acknowledge that it's hard. Let go of any shame around it being hard.

And the second thought that helps me let go of shame and defeat is to remind myself that my past self did the very best she could to handle that difficulty.

Sometimes, I find myself in yucky situations that are entirely of my own making, or at least exacerbated by my own actions. I did things that made the problem worse, or I didn’t do things that would have made the problem better. Either way, my own past actions are at least somewhat responsible for the mess I now find myself in. If I let it, this could lead me into a spiral of self-recrimination and guilt and shame and self-anger, the exact opposite of where I want to be. If I let it, my mind could get stuck in a loop of asking myself, “Why did I do the thing that led to all these problems? Why didn’t I do the thing that would have helped? Why why why?”

But I also know myself. I know that, as I already acknowledged, the situation I’m facing is one that is difficult for me. And I know that I didn’t intentionally do or not do anything that led to my current predicament. My past self didn’t do this on purpose. In fact, my past self did the very best that she could with the resources and knowledge and skills and abilities she had at the time. I did the best I could.

The specific place where this forgiveness and grace for my past self comes up most frequently for me is for problems caused by my chronic pain condition. I’ve shared on this podcast before that I suffer from a chronic pain condition, specifically chronic migraines. This has been my reality for my entire life – seriously, I was diagnosed when I was five – so I’ve developed all sorts of coping strategies. Most of the time, I’m able to focus through the pain and manage things just fine. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes my medications and my coping strategies aren’t enough, and I end up having to take significant time off from work. Not often, but occasionally I have to cancel commitments or reschedule projects if a pain episode gets too overwhelming.

My reaction to these situation used to be heaping guilt and shame and recrimination on myself. Why didn’t I push through? I pushed through all those other times. Why didn’t I just deal with it like I always did?

It took a lot of time and internal work and, frankly, the consistent love and encouragement of several people in my life for me to realize that, when I was in the midst of a particularly bad migraine, I was doing everything I could. Allowing myself to berate myself for not doing more wasn’t helpful. In fact, it was compounding the problem because not only was I missing work time due to the pain episode itself, but then I was also missing work time because I was spending so much mental energy being angry at myself and feeling shameful for missing work time in the first place. I was causing myself double the trouble! The shame and the defeat weren’t helping me at all, but giving myself grace and forgiveness would allow me to move forward. To fix forward.

In all sorts of ways and in all sorts of situations, your past self did what they could. Maybe you made a mistake because you just didn’t know any better. Maybe you rushed into a situation without getting all the facts and made a blunder as a result. Maybe you botched a project because you misunderstood the project parameters. Maybe you froze and didn’t take action because you felt paralyzed by the situation in front of you.

Whatever the circumstance, be kind to your past self. Don’t berate them for their wrong actions or inactions. Acknowledge that they – that you – did everything you could with the resources you had at the time. You can’t change what happened. All that you can do is give yourself the same kindness and respect that you give everyone else in your life, and allow yourself to focus forward, rather than fixating on the past.

And finally, the third thought that helps me let go of shame and defeat is recognizing that my past doesn’t define my future. The situation being hard isn't the end of the story. There is also hope, because beginning in this moment right now, you can choose to respond differently to that difficulty than you have in the past. The situation is hard, yes, but you have agency and control within that situation. You can choose how to respond to it now and going forward.

Just because you took steps that inadvertently led to your current problem doesn’t mean that you can’t also take steps that will get you through the problem. Your past is not an accurate predictor of your future. The way you've handle the problem in the past doesn't define how you are able to handle it in the future. You can make different choices now that will change the outcomes you experience.

Your past doesn't define your future. Your present actions define your future. You can't change your past, but you can change your present actions, which means you can change your future. Let go of any defeat and the shame you're feeling. Those are not true stories. You were dealing with a lot when you made those decisions. (Maybe you're still dealing with a lot!) You did the best you could to this point. And now, you can choose to respond to that "lot" differently going forward.

When I consciously make those three mindset shifts – (1) acknowledging that the situation is difficult, (2) accepting that my past self did the very best she could, and (3) recognizing that my past actions don’t define my future actions – I am able to move past my shame and defeat. I am able to actually look forward so that I can fix forward.  

Once you’ve internalized those mindset adjustments, it’s time to figure out your strategy to move forward. Recognizing that your past actions don’t define your future actions, you need to decide what you want your future actions to be. How do you want to behave differently going forward so that you do actually fix the problem going forward? What strategy will get you moving in a positive direction of change?

Figuring out strategies that will work for you and your unique situation is much easier said than done, and in a setting as general as this one, a podcast that’s designed to be relevant to all creative entrepreneurs across all artistic industries, I can’t give you much specific and detailed advice. But I can pose some thought questions that will hopefully help you figure out for yourself what strategies are worth a try.

The first two questions to ask yourself as you determine how you want to act differently going forward are (1) what didn’t go well around this problem in the past, and (2) what did go well around this problem in the past?

As you pose those two questions to yourself, remember, you have let go of your shame and defeat around how you’ve handled this situation in the past. Ask these questions with a perspective of curiosity and inquisitiveness, not one of judgment and accusation. You’re gathering information that will allow you move forward positively, that will allow you to fix forward. You’re not looking to assign blame. Who or what is to blame for your current predicament doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is how you’re going to move forward from your current predicament. And in order to figure that out, you have to understand the good and the bad around the path that led you there.

So, ask yourself: (1) what didn’t go well around this problem in the past, and (2) what did go well around this problem in the past?

I can hear you stopping me right now. “Wait, what do you mean ‘what went well’? There is nothing good about my current situation! There is nothing good around the path that led me to the place where I am right now. Nothing went well around this problem in the past!”

And I’m going to challenge you around that assumption just a bit. Nothing is all or nothing. Nothing is truly black and white. There are always shades of grey. There is good and bad in every situation. And if you truly want to fix forward out of your current problem, you have to acknowledge the messy complexity of the situation. Recognize the bad, what didn’t go well, and also recognize the good, what did go well, even if the situation as a whole is a disaster. Recognize both.

And use that information to decide on a plan of action for yourself. In last week’s episode about how to handle failure in your creative work, I mentioned a quote from American psychiatrist John Dewey, and it applies here as well, so I’m going to share it again. Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

The process of acknowledging both the bad and the good that led to your current situation is an act of reflection. It allows you to learn what you need to learn to move through the situation with hope and excitement. It allows you to fix forward.

Don't judge yourself for past mistakes and missteps. Use those experiences to learn and fix forward. Don't let fear of failure or "not being ready" keep you from taking the first step. You'll learn from every step you take and be able to make better plans thanks to that action. And if one of the steps is the wrong one, you can fix forward. Change is a direction, not a destination! Just keep moving! Allow yourself to fix forward, to fail forward. Anytime you learn something useful from an experience, you come out ahead!

So, reflect on what went well and what didn’t go well in the past, and use that knowledge to craft a strategy for yourself about how you will behave differently going forward.

Once you’ve crafted that strategy for yourself, then comes the really hard part: taking action on that strategy. Taking a plan and turning it into reality. This is where the rubber really meets the road, where your commitment to move in the positive direction of change really comes into play.

Taking action is hard. At the very beginning of this episode, I mentioned two situations in which you might find yourself in need of fixing forward: when you are beaten down by problems you’re facing, and also when you’re feeling paralyzed and unable to move forward in your desire to start something new. Especially in that second scenario, taking action sometimes is the problem. You find yourself stuck and doing everything except the very thing you know you need to do. Taking action can sometimes itself be the roadblock.

When you find yourself in that place of stuckness and inaction, that is the time to get help. If you’ve got a strategy that you feel confident will make a difference for you if you would only take action on that strategy, and yet you somehow and for some reason just can’t take action on the strategy, get support. Don’t try to do this on your own.

The simplest way to spur yourself to take action is to make yourself accountable to someone else. Share with a friend, colleague, or accountability partner what you are planning to do and when you plan to complete it by. And ask them to hold you accountable around taking that action. Ask them to check in with you. “Hey, did you do the thing that you said you’d do? How’s it going? What have you done? What is still left to be completed?”

It is human nature that we are more likely to actually do something if we know that someone else is going to be checking up on us. Sure, we may be internally, or intrinsically, motivated to do something because we know it’s the right thing for us and our creative work. And sometimes that self-motivation is enough. Sometimes knowing that you are doing something that will be good for your future self is sufficient to allow you to get that thing done.

But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you need more than just your own internal push to get something done. That’s where external, or extrinsic, motivation comes into play. If we add external motivation to our already existing internal motivation, then we have that much more incentive to do the thing we need to do.

I’ve talked before on this podcast about how valuable my business accountability partners are. I meet nearly every week with two other narrators, Marni Penning and Gail Shalan, and together, we hold each other accountable to do the work that we know will allow us each to succeed. There are so many specific instances I can think of just in the past few months where I know I wouldn’t have done the thing I needed to do had I not had their support and encouragement. Knowing that I was going to meet with Gail and Marni in just a few days and that they were going to ask about my progress on a specific task gave me that extra little push I need to actually do the thing and get it done.

If you need help to put your strategy into action, find someone who will hold you accountable and who will support you as you get it done. You are not alone in your creative work. Allow your colleagues to help you by holding you accountable so that you can actually do the work you set out to do. Let them help you fix forward.

And finally, as you’re thinking about this whole process of fixing forward: adjusting your mindset to let go of shame, deciding how you will behave differently going forward, and getting the support you need to take action, I want to encourage you to be willing to share your journey.

In a very practical sense, sharing your struggles and your flaws encourages others to like you and your brand more. That might sound counterintuitive, but in marketing and psychology circles, this is called the Pratfall effect. Here are links to more information about it: a brief YouTube video, an article from the newsletter Why We Buy, and a research paper about the Pratfall effect.  In 1966, researchers Elliot Aronson, Ben Willerman, and Joanne Floyd conducted an experiment in which study participants were shown videos of actors answering quiz questions, and study participants had to rate how likeable the actors were. If the actors got all the questions right, they were rated as more likeable than if they got some questions wrong. The actors who answered correctly were perceived as more competent, and so more likeable. But at the end of some of the videos, after answering all of the quiz questions, the actors spilled coffee on themselves. Oh no! What an awful accident!

The counterintuitive thing is how that coffee spill impacted the actors’ likeability rating. If an actor got all the questions correct – so he or she was generally perceived by the study participants to be competent – and then spilled coffee down their shirt, that actor was rated as more likeable than if the study participant just watched a video of that same actor getting the questions right, without the coffee spill.

The actor got the questions right, so they were obviously competent, but they made this big and obvious blunder, spilling coffee. And that mistake – spilling coffee, something that I daresay all of us have done at one time or another – allowed the study participants to relate to them more and made them like them more, not less.

In other words, when you are honest with your audience about the good and the bad, that honesty will actually allow your audience to relate to you more genuinely, and they’ll like you more for it, not less. You don’t have to hide your mistakes. It’s ok to be a bit of a mess sometimes.

When you start a new venture or when you figure your way out of a difficult situation, you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know everything. Your audience will not think less of you if you make blunders and mistakes during your “fixing forward” process. In fact, they will like you more if you embrace and share the fullness of your experience, blunders and all.

Fixing forward gives you permission to start messy. Again, you don’t have to know everything at the outset. You will fix it and make adjustments and make improvements as you go. You will grow and learn through the process, and you will do better as you know better.

Do you feel like you’re a mess? That’s great! Start anyway. Share the process with your audience as you go anyway. Make improvements over time. Don’t wait until you have perfect knowledge and perfect understanding to start implementing your new strategy. You will never have perfect knowledge and perfect understanding, so if you wait for that, you’ll never start at all. Start now, with that imperfect knowledge and imperfect understanding, and allow yourself grace and forgiveness to fix it forward as you go.

One big benefit of starting messy and sharing that mess is that, when you start messy, you have marketing material! Like I just said, the Pratfall Effect means that sharing your downs alongside your ups gives your audience a fuller view of who you are and what artistic work you create, which makes them like you and your work more.

If my creative entrepreneurship journey over the past two decades had been completely perfect, with no problems or difficulties, first of all, I would have learned nothing from the process. I would not have grown as an artist at all, and I know that’s not something I want for myself. But also, I would not have stories and been-there-done-that encouragement to share with you, here on this podcast, or to share with my coaching students. Going through the mess myself and fixing forward along the way is what allows me to learn and grow myself and to share with you right now. Because I worked through the mess and fixed forward, rather than waiting until I was perfect to get started, I have stories I can share with you right now. Sharing the mess gives you marketing material. Give yourself permission to work through the mess, sharing your “fix forward” process as you go.

Thank you so much for being here with me today. I know how valuable time is to creative entrepreneurs, and I really appreciate that you spent this time with me. I hope today’s episode reassured you that you can handle whatever difficulty you’re facing right now, that you don’t have to be perfect and that you can actually learn and grow more by fixing forward than you could from perfection. If you enjoyed today’s conversation, I would so appreciate you leaving me a rating or review, and as always, I encourage you to share this episode, or any episode, with other creatives you think might be encouraged by it. Sharing is caring! And a huge shout-out of gratitude goes to Arturo Araya, my audio engineer for this podcast who also happens to be my fabulous husband. Thanks, Arturo, for making sure I sound good. If you have questions about my work as a creative entrepreneurship coach, if you’d like to learn more about me, or if you have comments, feedback, or topic suggestions for this podcast, please reach out to me via my website: I’d love to hear from you.

When you find yourself stuck or facing a problem that just feels too big for you to handle, acknowledge the truth of the situation: that the situation is indeed a difficult one, and that your past self did the very best they could in that difficult situation. Allow yourself to review the past with a perspective of curiosity so you can decide on a strategy that will allow you to fix forward. When it comes time to put that strategy into action, get the support you need. Find people to hold you accountable so that you’re able to do the thing you know you need to do. And through it all, share the mess. Don’t wait until you’re perfect to get started, because perfection will never come. Get started, in the middle of the mess, and make improvements as you go. Allow yourself to fix forward, and you will grow and learn along the way. I am sending each and every one of you a big dose of encouragement today. You are an amazing artist, and I can’t wait to see what you create.


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