Swooning sensation of new aspirations is quickly stamped out by self doubt slowly rising from subconscious to surface All energy is exhausted in efforts to extinguish the inward agony of not being worthy enough for your own endeavors The thought itself becomes tainted with terrible ties to negative self-talk until all you can do is turn away from once cherished dreams all together The heaviness of this heartache is enough to halt everything even the hopes inside your own head that you've harbored to help you hold on
Do I want a diagnosis? I still can't decide would it be soothing to have a name for my shortcomings? Part of me would be relieved to know I'm not just a failure that my inner struggles are more than just imaginary that they have medical substance It might be a comfort to know my distraction and distress my lack of tolerance for frustration in any form are not merely personal faults But what if a definitive label would be something I would use as an excuse to clip my own wings in yet another new way a limit to my possible potential It might reinforce my self-doubt assure me that I'm inherently limited in my creative and cognitive abilities a dark stain on the one part of me I've always felt proud of The older I get, the less sure I am that this brain is something superior the intellect of the collective world moves forward as it gets tangled inside it's own inner alleyways unable to keep pace with progress If I'm not the smartest person in the room I'm not sure who I am at all left doubting the one thing that made me feel safe in myself unable to trust even that
A poisonous worm eats away at my heart excreting the thick slurry of selfishness that runs through my veins Sudden flare of fierce emotion at the disclosure of others' good fortune leaving me feeling ashamed The wretched sensation of anger that suffocates more appropriate emotions choking off a chance to celebrate A friend's success could be shared by relinquishing comparison and competition fed with heavy spoonfuls of self-doubt The fear that another's joy might threaten my own as if there is only so much happiness to go around and my chances of winning that lottery are now lessened What a sad state of affairs to let the luck of a loved one tear at me instead of fill me up What kind of person am I that my first instinct is to be unkind to someone that is thriving? The best I can muster is to remain silent when I should be smiling and adding my positivity to their blossoming abundance
I am an artist afraid to practice because each effort must be a masterpiece inspiration extinguished under the weight of violent, consistent self-criticism Repulsed by the bitter taste of trail and error searching for a sure formula for success unable to reconcile the necessity of an amateur's imperfect products I marvel at the innocence the way a child creates with an open heart with no concern for mastery or exceptionalism content with whatever comes Surprising their own curiosity the natural progression of true talent disguised in the simple joy of creation itself satisfied to make anything at all
The maddening drumbeat of self-doubt filling up all the silent spaces pushing out all other sounds A low rumble that underlies existence made natural and unquestioned by repetition unnoticed like the soft rustles of steady breathing The regular and consistent rhythm I've come to rely on looked for reluctance in any new endeavor the steady signal flash of certain failure Siren song inside my head that guides me towards the rocky shore of inner oblivion a false friend I've always carried with me
Silence settles in my throat a choking conviction that coils around my vocal chords a sickening, slithering sensation A sacred connection cruelly muffled by shame the all consuming ocean of not being enough Set me free from the binding belief that I am unworthy of witnessing taking up spaces where I have to earn my place, but haven't Grant me the courage to exist within this vast, incomprehensible world to take what I need, what is offered to me without guilt or apology Give me permission to be present to consume and create and collect my share of love from the universe
For months now every time I sit down to write, I am overcome with a deep piercing pang of unworthiness. I heard someone say the other day that creating starts with believing that you have something worth sharing. This struck a chord within me. Maybe once I felt I had valuable input, interesting concepts to put forth into the world, but now? Now I feel empty. The longer I spend trying to come up with an idea, the worse I feel about myself as a writer, as a person.
Again and again this idea has been reinforced. I have nothing worth sharing. I’m embarrassed by the assumption that I might. I feel ashamed of the blank page in front of me, reminding me that I’m not enough. That blinking black line on an ocean of white is agonizing. What could be more painful than plumbing the depths of your soul and finding nothing?
This intense internal pressure never reaches a breaking point. There is no release from this ever tightening grip of anguish. Why does this vague desire to pour out my soul in colorful, living form not subside? When I try to pin down the essence of that longed for expression, there is nothing but smoke and shadow. There is nothing but a looming sense of emptiness, dusty bare walls of an empty room.
I don’t concern myself much with what other people think about me. I can never really know what they think, or have any control over it. For me, it’s always seemed like people think better of me than I think of myself anyway. It often feels like everyone around me believes in me more than I believe in myself. If anything, considering what other people think about me makes me feel guilty, as if I’ve been deceiving them. They don’t know how incompetent and weak I truly am. I’ve somehow given them the impression that I’m worthy of respect and admiration.
There are very few people in my life whose opinion I genuinely value. When it comes to most people, I assume they are just not smart enough to realize how worthless I really am. Recently I’ve started to spend more time considering the high regard those closest to me still maintain. Surely I don’t think they are too stupid, or don’t know me enough. Some of them might even know me better or in a different way than I know myself. So what am I to make of their perception of me?
I may not have much confidence in myself, but realizing that people that mean a lot to me do have confidence in me, has been transformative. I’ve been trying to think of myself from this outside perspective whenever I begin doubting or getting down on myself. When I’m faced with something that I don’t think I’m capable of, I think of how a loved one might see things differently. For instance, my friend at work, whom I deeply respect and admire, has complete and utter confidence that I’ll be able to do what he does and interview the kids we see. He seems so sure that I’ll be a great interviewer one day and be just as important in the lives of our clients as he has been over the years. When I begin to feel crushed under the weight of my own disbelief and self-doubt, I think of him reassuring me.
I may not have faith in my own abilities, but when I remember that those I have complete faith in do, I feel so much better. If you’ve never tested out this fun thought experiment for yourself, I would highly recommend it. The next time you are facing an intimidating goal or task, try to imagine someone you love and admire knowing that you can do it. Their confidence will surely be a great support. If nothing else, thoughts like these inspire me to do my very best and exceed my own expectations just to make the people who believe in me proud. It gives me the courage to try despite the intense fear of failure that would normally hold me back.
I have met tons of people that identify themselves as competitive. I’ve been told that is a natural part of human nature, and I suppose all living things must have a certain competitive drive in order to survive. I, myself, however, have never considered myself competitive. I’ve never been very interested in sports or even playing cards or board games. There is nothing inside of me that drives me to win. Winning a game or a sport means little to nothing to me. Yet losing still makes me feel badly about myself. Therefore there is really no benefit to me participating in competitive activities.
I’ve wondered about this aspect of myself since I became aware of it. I do think a lot of it stems from social anxiety, but there is another aspect I think might be relevant. Growing up as the youngest sibling, you learn pretty fast that the chances of you winning anything or outperforming your older sibling are slim to none. I got used to always losing every single game we would play growing up. One particular incident stands out where I was playing “Mouse Trap” with my sister and grandmother. When I lost I was so distraught and unwilling to surrender my cheese game piece that I cried and shut myself up in my room. From all of these experiences, I think I have internalized the idea that challenge and competition inevitably means failure and disappointment. This has become so ingrained in me that I feel no more likely to win games of chance than I do ones that involve skill.
To this day, I still don’t enjoy playing games at parties (drinking games are a bit more acceptable) and even the video games I play are much more about casual, steady progress and creativity than winning and losing or being challenged. Until recently this was all the further I really thought about this mindset of mine. So I don’t like games very much, that’s no big deal. I dug no deeper into the matter.
The other day, however, I realized just how much this aversion to challenge has skewed my entire worldview. After all, competition and challenge is something that we all encounter each and every day in our careers, in our relationships, and even within ourselves. How you choose to perceive and respond to these challenges has a huge impact on your self-perception and your overall quality of life. Only very recently did it occur to me that not only do I anticipate failure in games, but in the challenges I face in life as well. I’ve come to view any type of challenging situation as inherently negative, foreshadowing only failure and embarrassment, never as an opportunity for self discovery or personal growth.
I think one of the ways I can start to change this mindset, is by allowing myself space to fail. There was a wonderful example of this practice in the yoga class I did yesterday. Vrikshasana or tree pose, as well as all the other balancing poses in yoga, are a great place to start playing with this. Once a balancing posture becomes second nature and relatively easy to hold, it’s time to start pushing the limits of our balancing ability. Often a cue is given to try closing your eyes. If you’ve never tried this, it is exceptionally difficult to maintain your balance with the eyes closed. Normally, I ignore this option. I inevitably fall out of the pose and get upset with myself.
Yesterday the cue was given in a slightly different way though. Because of this, I was able to let go of the expectation or even the goal of maintaining my balance perfectly and staying in the pose for any length of time with my eyes shut. It wasn’t about how long I could manage to stay still, but simply what it would feel like to try. Once I released the pressure of perfecting the pose, I actually was able to do better at this challenge than I ever have been in the past. Not only that, but I didn’t feel any irritation or disappointment when I did fall out of the pose.
Whether you enjoy challenges or not, the fact is that you are going to be faced with them regularly. It’s not an option to avoid all challenge for the rest of you life. Rather than trying to avoid challenges, perhaps we can try to look at them in a different, healthier way. Sometimes it even helps me to imagine what it would feel like to be someone that is competitive or excited by the idea of being challenged. Despite my initial reaction, I do admit that there is a certain pleasure and even peace in being challenged. When I’m doing something new or difficult, I am usually more focused than usual. And the only thing I really have to fear is my own self criticism.
In order to let go of the outcome and my expectations for myself, I find it helpful to start off by viewing failure as a likely and acceptable option. It’s almost more pleasurable if I assume I am going to fail from the beginning. Success or failure was never the point most of the time anyway. The point of life isn’t to do everything perfectly all of the time or even most of the time. Life is about trying new things, being curious, and growing through adversity. Failure is a natural part of these things and what’s most likely holding us back from them. Once we realize that we have the choice to live happily with our mistakes and failures we can finally be free to explore and blossom as we were meant to.
The older I get the more saddened I am by how few people seem to have their own artistic or creative hobbies. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard people admitting with downcast eyes that they “can’t sing.” Even I struggle with the idea of dancing in front of anyone else, and until recently even when I’m alone. I don’t remember where I heard this, but I’ll never forget it because it made such an impression on me. A reporter went to a tribal community for a documentary. The tribe was having a festival of sorts and wanted the reporter to join them as they sang. When he told the leader that he couldn’t sing, they stared at him perplexed. This was such a strange concept to them that at first they assumed me meant he was physically incapable of singing. It hadn’t occurred to them that what he really meant was, I’m not a good enough singer.
As children we didn’t stop ourselves from doing things because we weren’t as good as celebrities or others in our lives. Kids sing and dance and draw and create endlessly. It’s one of the most special parts of human nature. Somewhere along the line, we became ashamed though. We’ve gotten it into our heads that we don’t deserve to spend time and energy on these things unless we are “talented.” (Whatever that means.) So often when I show other people my drawings they respond with, “wow, I wish I could draw.” Sometimes they’ll even recount to me how much they loved to draw as a child. This is so heartbreaking to me, partially because I understand the feeling.
My sister is a wonderful artist. At the height of her painting career, I had already moved away from drawing, but certainly wouldn’t have felt it worthwhile anymore comparing myself to her artwork. Eventually she stopped painting all together though for another reason entirely. Her reason wasn’t that she wasn’t good enough, it was because she couldn’t make a living painting. This is the other side of the same problem. We either think we aren’t good enough, or that it isn’t worth it if we aren’t able to monetize our work. I have to suspect that our capitalistic culture is to blame for these absurd notions we all seem to share.
Even though I’ve been making a point to write and draw every single day for over a year now, I am still constantly battling my own self-doubt. There are definitely far more days where I create something I deem mediocre than days where I impress myself, but it’s important to remember that each of those days holds the same value. Art and creativity aren’t about being superior to others or making money. These endeavors are not limited to an exalted few. They are an essential aspect of human nature. We were made to create. There is no such thing as “talented” or “untalented.” It’s all a matter of perspective. The more you practice, the better you will inevitably become, but even that isn’t my point. My point is that it doesn’t matter.
Whether you believe what you create is “good” or not, keep creating! Art isn’t about comparison and metrics and measurements. We all contain a deep well of creative energy that we allow to stagnate from disuse. And if you find yourself still shaking your head thinking “I’m just not creative” imagine a crayon drawing given to you by a child. I feel most of us have had this experience or at least can imagine it. When I got a bit older, I thought adults must have just pretended to like my pathetic scribbles and misshapen forms. However, now as an adult myself, who is often the proud recipient of such art, I understand that my parents and teachers really did love what I created all those years ago. Art has the power to make people happy, to make you happy, if you let it. And it has nothing to do with how professional or perfect it is. Art is about who made it, not the final product.
I always think back to a little character my friend drew a few years ago while we were playing a game. She never does anything creative anymore, although she used to draw just as much as I did when we were kids. She was embarrassed to reveal this little doodle to me, but even all these years later, I think back on it and smile. It was so incredibly adorable (yet so far away from what she was “supposed” to draw for the game.) It brought me so much joy. It wasn’t just the drawing itself either. It was the fact that this wonderfully unique little creature had come out of the mind of my dear friend. Anything creative is a glimpse into the private mind of the creator, and that is where its value truly lies.
The saddest part of this whole cultural predicament is that our deeply ingrained beliefs about productivity, creativity, and talent leave a lot of us disillusioned with art all together. I want to say, if you like doing something, do it, whether you’re “good” at it or not. But that isn’t enough. The joy of creating has been tainted by these critical thoughts, so much so that I lot of us don’t enjoy creative pursuits. After all why would you enjoy something that makes you feel inferior and “untalented”? For this reason, I would encourage everyone to make an effort to integrate more creative hobbies into their daily routine, whether you think you’ll enjoy it or not. Just do it as an experiment. You may surprise yourself. At the very least, you’ll be giving your right brain some much needed exercise.