“Damn! I’m such an idiot!” I yelled out, frustrated that I had screwed up yet again that day.
“Don’t do that,” Steve, a fellow worker told me.
“That. Putting yourself down. It doesn’t help.”
I still remember that conversation now, even though it was roughly half a lifetime ago. Before then I used to curse at myself all the time (still occasionally do). I hadn’t realised what I was doing. I thought that I was venting frustration or anger, but I was only venting them back out onto myself, recycling the frustration, attacking my own self-esteem.
After that day I never looked at self-criticism the same way.
I know what you are thinking. You are probably groaning and cursing that you have accidentally stumbled on another tacky inspiration-style page which will shower you in positive self-affirmations; You can do it, if you only dream it! Believe in yourself until you… bla bla, dribble dribble, gag and dry-retch.
This is not-so-much a self-help guide, so try not to use it that way. This is just my opinion, of my understanding, of self-criticism. There is no link to buy a product at the end of this. No course to join. I have no qualifications, no esoteric knowledge to share with you. In fact everything I am about to say you probably already knew, but maybe hadn’t thought about. This is just as much for me as it is for you. So read on, or don’t. Not trying to start a cult or anything.
Imagine that you had a small child and you criticised that kid the same way that you do yourself.
“What were you thinking?”
Imagine if that child brought home a painting from school and your reaction was:
“Man, what a piece of junk! No one’s going to want to put that up. Are you serious? Where is your imagination? Maybe you should give up. Maybe painting just isn’t for you. Hopeless!”
Now, have you ever said any of those things to yourself?
Myself, I could tick everyone of those except the painting thing. Never really got into that. But that’s beside the point. I think that anyone who creates, from writing fiction to painting, from stand-up comedy to playing music, will always have periods of self-doubt. That lapse of self-esteem that can lead to a creativity block.
So, if you’ve gotten this far you will probably be hoping for some pay-off for your time spent reading this. Well, there isn’t going to be any Shyamalan-esque twists. You already know that there is such a thing as constructive and non-constructive criticism. Try using more of one and less of the other when appraising your work. Talk to yourself (we all have that inner voice, some of us have multiple) the way you would talk to a friend you have known for a long time.
Instead of saying: “This work is crap! No one will want to read/listen to/buy/watch this,” try saying: “I’m not sure about this. Maybe I should get someone else’s opinion.”
It may even help to show your work to a soft-target. That fan that always praises your work no matter how much you hated it. Like an easy opponent for a boxer, a way of getting your confidence back.
Remember, there are so many celebrities out there, many of whom you have no idea how they became famous. No matter how bad they are at acting, singing, writing etc… each of them has scores of fans who gave them their fame. On the flip side of this argument there are historical figures that changed the world with their ideas, people like Nikolas Tesla, Da Vinci and Jesus, and despite their best efforts, even they had critics and detractors. But people don’t remember the critics, only the ideas.
So be careful how much you put yourself and your work down. Avoid talking yourself out of creating new ideas, or even variations of old ideas. Create your work first and edit it later. Train your inner voice(s) to be more positive.
Even as I am reading back over this I am criticising it, picking at it maliciously, kicking myself for the typos, clichés and grammatical errors.
Did I seriously just reference Jesus?!
But despite myself I am going to finish this piece, polish it up, read it out loud and expose it somewhere that people can comment on it.
You never know, someone might even like it.