I just received news that a piece I submitted for a writing competition has been long listed for the prize.
In case the title of my piece somehow, suddenly, disappears from the list, I have kept it open in a separate tab for the last 15 minutes. In case, I don’t know, the judges change their minds or something. In case it finally dawns on them that my piece wasn’t even that good, that others responded better to the theme, and that, really, they just didn’t like it that much after all.
Whatever. They probably didn’t get that many entries anyway. Mine was likely the better of a bad crop.
And that, my friends, is the damaging thought process that has led to me writing this here blog post.
This isn’t the first time I’ve managed to make myself feel almost worthless following an achievement recently. In January, an article I wrote on the No More Page Three debate was published on an online women’s magazine which I admire. At the end of last year, a connection showed interest in my point of view on a particular topic, and invited me to write a series of vignettes exploring it further. Did these experiences – these successes – leave me feeling overwhelmingly proud of myself, and more confident in my abilities? No. Instead, I felt just as inadequate and restless as I had done before.
Modesty is a characteristic I value very highly in other people, and aspire to exhibit in myself. Nothing turns me off like a person who is good at what they do and knows it, and lets others know it. If I ever find myself even close to boasting about something I’ve created or achieved, I head to the nearest corner and stare at the wall for as long as it takes for me to snap out of my self-congratulating haze.
Just kidding, though that’s not too far from the truth. But if I can’t cheer myself on – albeit with humility – why would anyone else want to?
It’s easy nowadays to torment yourself with thoughts like “Why haven’t I achieved X yet?” or “Y has been successful at this, how come I haven’t been too?” The Internet, wonderful as it is, makes accessing the work of others in our chosen fields that bit easier. This can be inspiring but, if you let the self-doubt in, can lead to you playing a game of comparisons, which will inevitably leave you feeling as though you’re not measuring up.
At the first class of the writing course I am currently attending, I was relieved to hear the facilitator let us know that self doubt will never go away. It doesn’t matter how many awards you win, personal milestones you tick off, or creative goals you achieve, you’ll still have a little voice in the back of your head telling you that your ideas aren’t original enough, your voice isn’t authentic enough and, ultimately, your work isn’t good enough. Rather than try to silence it altogether, the trick is to ignore it.
Minimising the pressure that you put on yourself is a great place to start. Haven’t managed to write for 2 hours today like you’d planned? Simple – cut down to an hour. Re-writing that chapter proving a little more tiresome than you’d anticipated? Screw it, take a break. There really is no point setting deadlines for yourself that you know you can’t meet. What you perceive as failure, your self doubt sees as a chance to twist the knife. Don’t give it the satisfaction!
Instead, focus on the successes – big or small – of your everyday creative practice. From being able to tick an item off your checklist, to completing a challenging mini-project, don’t let self doubt cast a shadow over your achievements.
Next time I feel that twinge of I’m not good enough, I’m going to remember a time when I felt proud, even just for a moment, of my work. When self doubt echoes the words of my inner critic, I’ll call to mind the positive feedback I’ve been lucky enough to have received about my writing.
Keeping my well being and creative success at the forefront, I will focus on celebrating my achievements, as ostentatiously (or not) as I like. And when self doubt comes along to stick its oar in, I’ll be ready to kick it to the curb.