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This morning, for no reason at all, I became intensely discouraged about continuing a writing project that had really been on a roll.
I’d been having the time of my life writing about creativity and overcoming the hurdles to creative expression, yet when I began to write this morning, it suddenly seemed absurd to be talking about creativity when I am an unknown nobody with no credentials in this subject area.
And to make matters worse, I felt like a hypocrite because I had been yammering on about doing something simply because we love doing it, without attachment to the outcome. And now, my own resolve was wavering; the doubt became louder than the love, and it seemed to me that I couldn’t walk my talk.
I suspect that doubt is one of those things that will never fully vanish from our psyches as long as we are in these human suits, navigating the realm of human experience. I used to believe that the key to personal freedom was to clear all fear from my mind. Now, I realize it’s not to create an absence of fear and self-doubt, it’s the ability to move forward in spite of them. No matter how comfortable I am in my skin, doubt will likely still come knocking from time to time.
That doesn’t mean I have to identify with it. It’s just a tired old boogeyman, trying to sell me some junk I don’t want to buy.
With this in mind, as my doubts arose this morning, instead of scrapping my project and going into a self-deprecating tailspin, I decided to take an observational approach. I allowed the doubt to be in the room with me (resistance is futile), and I decided to make it a part of my project. I decided it was not going to scare me away from writing, but rather I would write about it.
I figure it’s better to just bring it into the fold, admit its presence, and examine its agenda.
I sat with the doubt and let myself feel what was arising in me. I didn’t try to ignore it, push through it, or pep talk my way around it. Only then did I realize that my doubt was actually a protective mechanism against rejection. Ah yes, good old rejection! God forbid someone not like us or our work!
I think that underneath all of our adulting most of us still feel like little kids in grown-up clothes just trying not to feel stupid.
Aha, so now I know what I am really dealing with. My mind is trying to protect me. It is trying to spare me from the wounds of failure and criticism by placing doubts about my efforts in the forefront of my psyche. This is stupid. No good. Save yourself the embarrassment of creating this underwhelming, mediocre, second-rate crap.
Now that I’ve pulled this out of the subconscious background and have it on the table, I can look at it and make a clear choice. Is this something I genuinely need protection from? No, actually. I am not that fragile. I will not break under the weight of someone’s criticism. I won’t even bruise.
What if someone mocks my work? What if someone mocks me? So what? I mean this literally: so….what?
Instead of just jumping on the hamster wheel of fear, I stop and ask myself all the ‘”what if” questions that fear/doubt brings up. What is the worst-case scenario here? Rejection? Embarrassment? Criticism?
Okay. So what if all those things come to pass? What then? Will I die?
Will my feelings get hurt?
Then, will I die?
What about failure?
Oh well, I’d mostly be happy I gave it a go.
Oh, hey! Look at that…once we actually look the boogeyman in the eye and answer all its “but what if” questions, we strip it of its power. It turns out my survival and well-being are not actually threatened by any of this.
I like what Martha Beck has to say about criticism of her work: “I respectfully do not care. Trying to avoid pain creates its own kind of pain which is artistic suffocation.”
Yes, Martha, yes. No matter what we put out into the world, there will be people who love it and people who hate it, and, probably most of all, people who don’t give a hoot one way or the other. This is the very least of our concerns, and yet, we tend to make it the biggest concern. Life is too short for these silly hoops.
Doubt is just fear trying to tell me that what I am doing is probably not good enough.
But I don’t need to create something great. I give myself full permission to create something mediocre in exchange for the extraordinary process of dancing with creativity.
I write because it has been my favorite thing to do since I was seven years old.
I write because it transports me to another place where I feel connected to something divine. That is reward enough. Anything that comes after is merely incidental. Doubt doesn’t get to scare me away from what I love.
And when some inevitable criticism arises, so be it.
I respectfully do not care.