Here are five signs you’re not reaching your artistic potential

In this article I’ll cover five of the signs you’re not reaching your artistic potential and five easy tips to help you tackle these and get back on track to fulfil your creative goals. We’ll touch on the hierarchy of needs and why self-actualisation is key to fulfilling your potential.

(You can skip right to the section by clicking the links below)

1. You feel judged or under social pressure to do something instead of art

2. You never finish anything

3. Your life is spiraling out of control

4. You’ve followed the advice and can’t see results

5. You never laugh whole heartedly

In order to reach your potential in any area, especially one as emotionally demanding as art, you must start with a solid foundation of self-understanding. Self-understanding, or an awareness of the self, is the first building block.

self-actualisation is key to fulfilling your artistic potential. image of hierarchy of human needs from Abraham H. Maslow, photo from shutterstock here are 5 signs you're not fulfilling your artistic potential
The hierarchy of human needs from Abraham H. Maslow, photo from Shutterstock

In the 1950s Abraham Harold Maslow described human needs as a pyramid with the most basic human needs at the base. The pyramid stands on those needs being met, as each one is met other, higher needs arise. The highest need is self-actualization1.

Maybe you’re thinking how does Maslow relate to me?

Saul McLeod elaborated on this in 2018 discussed in his article on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is the difference between Being (growth) Needs and Deficiency Needs. Self-actualisation being a growth need increases each time the need is met, hunger as a Deficiency Need decreases as the need is met2. In a nutshell explaining the idiom that busy people have the most free time.

Cambridge dictionary definition of self-actualisation self-actualization and Collins English Dictionary definition of self understanding here are 5 signs you're not fulfilling your artistic potential
Dictionary definitions of self-actualisation and self understanding

Self-actualisation moves on from self-understanding in that one not only comprehends their own actions, they also activate their innate abilities to achieve their full potential.

  1.  You feel judged or under social pressure to do something instead of art

Beware of trying to fulfil someone else’s dreams. The crippling fear of “what will people think?” doesn’t help you understand your real needs.

I finally read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” over the holidays. Keep this quote in mind next time you feel under social pressure:

Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems.

Carnegie, Dale; “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, first published 1937, updated ebook version 2005 Cornerstone Publishing, p.96 3

Everyone has an opinion (I’ve talked about it here), that’s their prerogative. Your focus is on protecting your space in this world.

Take some time for yourself to meditate on why you’re choosing to spend your time making art rather than making car parts or legal contracts. Balance out the social pressure to fit in against the vast joy you get from not fitting in.

We all have bad days, when every Instagram post and line of small talk feels like a dig. You cannot achieve your artistic potential without first building your resilience. Frequently reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing will keep you on track. Once you stop looking for approval from others you’ll find a new creative freedom.

here are 5 signs you're not fulfilling your artistic potential  dale carnegie quote motivation

2. You never finish anything

Are you in limbo with everything from your latest artwork to the laundry? Have you been caught in the busy trap, where every minute is filled yet nothing seems to get done?

In art making the process of being creative is massively rewarding. It’s so easy to get suckered in by all the new materials or methods. Suddenly you find you’re constantly making art yet only have a studio full of half finished pieces to show for it. This is detrimental to your wider art practice, it stops you fulfilling your artistic potential. Think about why you’re not finishing work. It is because you’re genuinely experimenting to find your artistic voice, or because when nothing is finished nothing can be judged?

Where are you finishing in life? Strip it right back. Whether it’s getting off the bus at the right stop, finishing a shift, completing a workout, you’ve finished something. Build on that. Next time you can’t finish an artwork set a 5 minute timer. Take five to breathe and focus on all the things you have completed today (making a cup of tea, washing up your cereal bowl, whatever it is). Choose one piece of artwork and commit to finishing it. Know it’ll take 6 hours? Block out that time. Finish is with your head held high and take pride in it.

Don’t fail to finish to avoid failing.

Finished work is the key to achieving success. You cannot build on wonky foundations. When you have finished work you can organise studio visits, share your artwork online, create series of related works. Most of all, finishing your artwork let’s you share your unique vision of the world with people who need to see it.

S Curve graph showing time and growth here are 5 signs you're not fulfilling your artistic potential
S Curve showing growth over time

3. Your life is spiraling out of control

We all have defeat days…It’s easy to get into the negative spiral and watch as your self-control and dignity wave you goodbye.

We all feel guilty that we’re not the best artist, employee, partner, parent. One of the pit-falls of setting a different in pursing the creative life is the S-Curve nature of most artist’s careers.

Focus on tiny things you can control. When you first wake up say to yourself out loud “I am blessed to have another new day”. Repeat this every morning when you wake up.

Give yourself space to get grounded. Set a 15 minute timer on social media and focus on following positive accounts, Simon Sinek always cheers me up Simon Sinek – The Optimism Company. When you go into auto-pilot take a breath and re-focus.

Understanding what we can and can’t control is key to avoiding the negative spiral. Focus on small things. Make a plan of action that takes you from A to B in small, achievable blocks.

Regaining control of our own lives is within our power. We cannot control what happens only how we deal with it. Once you’ve broken the negative spiral you can move on and unleash your inner power to achieve your artistic goals.

here are 5 signs you're not fulfilling your artistic potential  new mindset new results green blue and pink post it notes
same action same results, new mindset new results. Canva image.

4. You’ve followed the advice and can’t see results

You know how it goes, you’re jubilant to find a secret formula for artistic success, you follow the plan to the letter, you spend time and money and still it doesn’t seem to yield results. It is hard when you’ve diligently worked for no apparent reward.

There are two things that could be happening here, firstly perhaps the results are so gradual you’ve not appreciated them.

List out when you finished implementing all the steps in the advice. Then look at subsequent achievements over one year compared to the previous year. For example, if you followed advice to grow your social media and the account then went from 0 to 500 followers it’s worked. It’s worth making SMART goals here (How To Write SMART Goals) in order to track results.

Secondly, maybe the advice is wrong for you. It might not suit how you personally interact with the world. For example, if you love a good spreadsheet a free flow approach wont work for you, conversely if you love to be spontaneous you need a method that allows for that.

Take a look at the past five years of your practice. What’s changed? How many more pieces have you created? How many places have you shown your work? Is it an upwards trend?

Seek advice from people you trust. Follow a programme only if you really believe in the person teaching it. Make time for self-reflection and keep checking in with yourself to make sure you’re busy heading forward not busy standing still.

Once you’ve really understood your own drivers and planned your unique path the results will follow.

here are 5 signs you're not fulfilling your artistic potential happy laughing woman with flowing curls smiling in blue hoody
a beautiful laugh can light up the room, photo from Canva.

5. You never laugh whole heartedly

Laughter is so extraordinary it’s even been prescribed as a way to increase mental well being4.

Even fake laughing can improve how you feel about yourself and the world around you. When is the last time your laughed whole heartedly? What was it about?

If you have a film or show that always makes you laugh watch it. Get those endorphins flowing.

Laughter and happiness help keep our creative channels open. They help us to socialise and build friendships. Making the time to really laugh is as important as taking time out to eat, sleep and exercise. The best thing of all is it’s totally free, plus all your friends and family can join in!

here are 5 signs you're not fulfilling your artistic potential I am bless to have another new day mantra quote

We’ve covered five of the signs you’re not reaching your artistic potential, how to face these problems head on and the importance of self understanding. Constantly re-evaluating the why behind the action is key to achieving self-actualisation. The biggest BONUS in fulfilling your artistic potential is that you will be able to help others fulfil their dreams too!

I’d love to hear how you tackle feeling like you’re not fulfilling your potential as a working artist. Comment below with the methods that have helped you.


  1. First published in 1943 and refined in two books Maslow, A. H. (1958). A Dynamic Theory of Human Motivation, MASLOW, A. H. The psychology of science: a reconnaissance. New York: Harper & Row, 1966 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid: Uses and criticism (
  2. Saul McLeod’s 2018 article expanding on Maslow’s theory
  3. Carnegie, Dale; “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, first published 1937, updated ebook version 2005 Cornerstone Publishing, p.96
  4. Prescribing laughter to increase well-being in healthy adults: An exploratory mixed methods feasibility study of the Laughie – ScienceDirect

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (

SELF-ACTUALIZATION | English meaning – Cambridge Dictionary

Self-understanding definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary (

Simon Sinek – The Optimism Company

Guide on How To Write SMART Goals (With Examples) |

Six signs that you are not living up to your potential (and what to do about it) | LinkedIn


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