I watched something interesting, last night. It was an interview with author Caitlin Moran, recorded at the recent Hay Literary Festival, on a wide range of subjects and topics. Never afraid to be outspoken, as evidenced in her twitter tweets, she had a lot of interesting things to say, during this hour long interview. I warmed to her in a way that I have to confess I never quite have, through the medium of twitter. She has a lot of well thought out views and has lucid moments of unarguable truth that she is quite happy and courageous enough to share.
One thing that struck me in particular was her view about self confidence. I’m paraphrasing from memory here, but the essence of her view was that being in sheer, desperate terror to show that you know what you’re doing, when in a situation that you have to, because you have no other viable options available, while a little voice in the back of your head tells you to pretend you know what you’re doing, as if your life depended on it – well, this is indistinguishable from actual self confidence.
I thought there was an important truth here. When you are out of alternatives and options, when there is a lot riding on you demonstrating your competence in the field, you have to be self confident. There are no other choices. Magically, though, if you have made what you do into your comfort zone, where you are happiest working, then demonstrating your knowledge, even when you feel way out of your depth, or amongst experts that can smell an imposter at fifty yards remove, really draws upon your subconscious mastery of your subject matter or skill. Somehow, it always shines through.
Think about that. Your conscious self is worried that you aren’t good enough, that you don’t know what to do in this situation, that you might blow it completely and bring disaster upon yourself, that you could reveal yourself as an incompetent fool or that people won’t like you or what you do, but your unconscious mind just knows what you can do and how to do it. Your unconscious mind, if permitted, can take control of the situation and provide your conscious self with all the briefings, evidence, backup material and sound judgements or instant reactions that you are going to need.
That said, competence (and hence the ability to be self-confident) comes from a place where we love what we do so much, we are prepared to put up with the drudgery it sometimes involves, or perhaps even become oblivious to it. If we love to paint, love to make music, love to write, then the act of painting, playing or writing becomes our sanctuary. It’s the one piece of our self made universe where we can be free, happy, unabashed and unconcerned about criticism. In that moment of flow, we are realising ourselves in our most noble form. So, do the work. Love the work. If you can achieve that, then when you are in some situation where you have to prove your competence, despite all your imagined fears and desperate dread, the essence of your being will come to the fore. You are what you say you are, so proving it is going to be easy, even if it appears, at the time, to be the most daunting task ever given to a person.
The corollary, of course, is that if you have a job and a steady income, it becomes quite hard to approach your art as if your life depended on it, because it actually doesn’t. I’m not advocating recklessly throwing in your day job so that you engineer a situation where you have no options, because that isn’t going to work for many people, but I am saying that the security of a full time job makes it much harder to approach your artistic work with quite as much desperation for its success as you would if all your eggs were in this one basket.
As an amateur, getting your own work up to a standard means finding more working hours than you are already putting in at your day job, drawing even more energy out of yourself and finding the necessary hours to work at your art, your sanctuary, until such time that your subconscious is content that you have it all in place. The moment to “go pro” can become quite obvious to your sub conscious. If you have found the time and energy, beyond what you rent for money, to pursue your amateur artistic pursuits to the standard of the professional, as hard as that actually is to achieve, then going that one extra step to become a professional, at some point, is beyond doubt. But, it’s a long, hard, gruelling road that will leave you exhausted.
Maybe we need to trust in what we already know a little more. Maybe that is the well spring of self confidence.