I recently had the opportunity to discuss performance and acting with a group of teenage drama students. Future performers and artists. One of the things that struck me, after their initial hesitation to ask questions (must be the introvert in them ), was their honesty. You could tell that they were undertaking their drama training because of a want to be involved in the industry in some way and in spite of the natural reluctance for teenagers to openly express themselves in front of adults and their penchant for introversion, these guys were genuine.
Their emotional intelligence was, for the most part, far greater than I could have ever wished for when I was in my mid to late teens. After the initial ‘breaking the ice’ questions relating to who I saw as a great actor, etc., came an astonishingly frank question.
“How do you deal with self-doubt?”
I was dumbfounded. I nonchalantly responded with, ‘Read my blog, I’ve written an article about this’. But then I thought much more deeply to the true heart of the matter. It is one which perpetually harangues performers or people who put themselves ‘out there’.
Self-Doubt = Fear of Failure = Anxiety.
I have already discussed this to a point in my previous blog Creative Business, where I indicated that ...creatives are often insecure or hold incredible amounts of self-doubt, when, almost without exception, the reality is that their talents are, as Steve Jobs of Apple once stated, insanely great. The interesting thing though, was I could see that this question sought a much more personal answer. My previous blog discussed the need for managers/leaders/businesses to realise that creatives will underplay their ability, but what I didn’t really elaborate on, was how creatives (like myself and these incredibly insightful young people) will often themselves, just not believe in themselves. Here are these incredibly talented people, who, at the very heart of everything, still believe they aren’t good enough.
By using the term ‘Anxiety’, this blog hints at a topic that is often not discussed enough in the Arts and it is usually only when an artist of note takes their life that discussions around anxiety and the fear of failure bubble to the surface. The Arts industry is not one that promotes a healthy approach to these issues as this article by Mark Hawthorne in The Age paints.
So where to from here. I was still thinking of an appropriate response to the question.
My father once told me, and it is a truism that I hold to, to this day… Perception is Truth. Whatever we perceive, is our truth, regardless of the actual reality. The current issues with the Australian Census are true of this maxim. Regardless of what the Federal Government or the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tell us about the security of our data, if we perceive that it is insecure, in our eyes it is insecure, even if the reality is otherwise. These young performers (and for the most part, the vast majority of artists) share the same affliction as it relates to their talents as creatives. So long as they perceive that they need to improve or be better, their self-doubt will continue. Catch 22? Well, maybe not.
Now, I could leave the blog at this point and the questioner with the thought that they will always be wracked with self-doubt, but I had to provide the inquirer with a response and Catch 22 is is just too trite.
I know that over many years, I have learned to turn my self-doubt into a positive, a motivational factor. So, I left the ardent teenager and the group with this advice.
Use self-doubt to your advantage by constantly challenging yourself. Bite off more than you can chew and then don’t stop chewing! Take on projects/roles that you know will stretch you, that you know will cause you to work that much harder. As Helen Williams argues in her article at Creativity Post, do it because it calls to you, because life seems to be missing something very essential without it.
No one really knows their true capabilities until they put themselves in situations that they have not previously faced. This is when you will know you can harness your self-doubt and your fear of failure becomes a call to action and not to inaction.
For a fleeting moment I hoped the questioner was happy with my response. It was then I realised I wasn’t heeding my own advice.
I had pushed myself. Now, it was up to them.