Earlier this year I was watching a documentary on a writer named Fran Lebowitz. Fascinating film. I highly recommend it. At one point Lebowitz is speaking on a 2 person panel. Her, and Toni Morrison. At one point she addresses the audience and says:
By the way…When Toni said “Write the book you want to read.”, she didn’t mean everyone.
As Lebowitz speaks further, she says that this idea of self esteem has morphed into something much larger, where people think they can do anything well.
This comes as a bit of a clash against all of the other things we have been taught by our parents and society. No one likes someone who is insecure. You have to be confident that you can do whatever it takes to get something done and that you’re good at it. The problem is, this begins to produce a lot of overconfidence, where people think “If they can do it, I can do it too.” This may be true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can jump right up and imitate it without the same amount of work the other person put in to make it happen. Lots of people have been watching The Secret and believe that it’s all a matter of thinking positively, and that confidence is synonymous with positive thinking. I think it’s a bit more complicated than just thinking you can do anything you want to do. We all have limits for a reason. In my view, confidence is the positive belief that when you do the work, it will produce the result you want. Not that you can do it all without training.
I really think part of what’s going on in this country is how many arts programs have been taken out of schools. There was always those kids in school that knew how to draw, and if you weren’t good at it and wanted it done well, you went to them to do it. The kids who could sing or dance well. Those things showed early. And it let you know what your limitations were. It didn’t mean you couldn’t overcome them though. You surely could, if you were really interested in being better. If you weren’t, then you leave it to the people who were skilled at it. At this point everyone thinks they’re a rapper, a singer, a producer, a photographer, a stylist, a graphic designer, a model, a fashion designer, an actor, etc. Part of that, I think, is because people have felt this repressed need for self expression. The other part of it is vanity and the desire to be famous.
We’ve heard so often the mantra of “Follow your dreams”. That to tell someone they aren’t good is seen as “hating” or trying to take their dream away from them. So how do we balance this idea of confidence versus reality, especially when it comes to something as subjective as art?
I’d say, constantly show your creative work to strangers. And if you don’t see a good constant amount of them asking how they can buy it, or where to see more of it, then you either need to work harder, or it’s not for you. Your friends and family will probably always tell you that you’re good because they want to be nice to you, and not seem like haters. Even people on YouTube will forgo giving their true opinion to be nice, while some others will just be mean for no reason. But when you see a constant number of people liking your stuff and recommending it to others, then you know you’re on to something.
Whenever someone gives the words of advice to other artists on my interviews, they usually say for folks to be confident and believe in themselves. But just like Lebowitz says, that is speaking to those who know they have that ability. Sometimes you can know you have the ability but not feel like you are where you want to be. Being an artist can be a very long, lonely road. The odds of becoming a millionaire from any artistic form is very slim. And many people seem to be playing those odds like the lottery, not like they truly care about what they are doing. They sing, dance, photograph and put themselves on display, hoping to get that call that will make them a star. For many artists, it’s not just about stardom. It’s deeper than that.
They often say that artists are insecure people because they need constant reassurance. I think lots of people are insecure, they just mask it by taking the safe road. Taking an idea in your head and putting it out for the world to see takes a massive amount of confidence. But a lot of artists also know there is a line of overconfidence, where it can become delusional to think their idea can work.
To me, the real aspect of confidence is not narcissism or and refusing to be wrong, but to learn from your mistakes, and to be happy with who you are regardless of if you get what you want or not. If one truly loves what they do, even if they are constantly told they stink at it, there’s nothing wrong with still going forward. I’d much rather root for a bad singer to keep singing because they love music.