Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Self-Doubt and Self-Reinforcement

By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 8, 2013

[The blog is on vacation this week. Herewith an "encore presentation" of a fave from the past:]

I never talk about a project I’m working on. It’s bad luck. But something happened a few nights ago that made me think I should make an exception, both for the sake of my own thinking and for sharing an insight or two. So I’ll keep depiction of the project vague but the wisdom as clear as I can make it.

Literary

Never listen to what they tell you in rooms like this

I was at a professional event with a friend who, each time he introduced me to a new acquaintance, described and made a pitch for the project I’m working on. (Don’t ask why.) He did this a number of times despite my excruciating embarrassment.

Bottom line: everyone he told the idea to went catatonic with boredom. Their eyes glazed over. They began edging toward the exit. Though they were too polite to say anything overtly negative, it was clear that they regarded me and my enterprise the way one might a Comic-Con trekkie describing his plans for solar self-levitation or, perhaps, Newt Gingrich flogging tickets for his colony on the moon.

I went home pretty depressed.

The people at the event were by no means imagination-challenged “suits.” They were bold, savvy artists and entrepreneurs. Almost every one had multiple success stories across all spectrums of art, tech, and business.

And their reaction to my project was universal snooze-o-rama.

I thought about it and thought about it and I came to a conclusion:

They’re wrong.

They can’t see what I see.

They have a superficial conception of what I’m planning to do, but they have no idea of how I’m going to do it.

Then I asked myself a second question: Does negative response make you consider giving up?

Answer: not for a nanosecond. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I’m seized by this project and that’s it.

I thought about books of mine from the past. From Bagger Vance to Gates of Fire to The War of Art, practically no one has believed in them at the concept stage. (With the exception of Shawn—which is why he and I are partners today). Most people thought I was crazy. “That idea? It’s been done a hundred times, nobody cares about that any more, what can you possibly say that hasn’t been said already?”

There’s an axiom among artists and entrepreneurs: to succeed, you have to be arrogant or ignorant or both. What that means is you have to blow off every response that says it’ll-never-work. Be arrogant. The nay-sayers are idiots. Or ignorant. Stay stupid and plunge ahead.

So I had a little talk with myself. Literally. I dictated my thoughts into a tape recorder and played them back. I reminded myself that what makes a good idea good is the fact that it hasn’t been done before—and that most people can’t imagine what hasn’t been done before. What they imagine instead is a crappy version of what has been done before. Then they reject that.

I kinda like the idea of a colony on the moon. And I’m not so sure there’s no future in solar self-levitation.

In other words: self-reinforcement.

One of the hallmarks of the true professional is her ability to be her own best friend. Sometimes when I’m driving, I’ll phone home and leave a message for myself.

Steve, we’re behind you, brother. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it. Keep the faith, partner. You are on course and on target!

I always laugh when I get home (because invariably I forget that I’ve left myself the message). But the point is serious.

Almost no one recognizes a good idea. And the bolder the idea, the more people will be blind to it. If you’re seeking reinforcement from outside yourself, you’re in for a long, lonely haul. The answer to self-doubt is self-reinforcement.

Lindbergh made it to Paris, and you and I can too.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

35 Responses to “Self-Doubt and Self-Reinforcement”

  1. May 8, 2013 at 4:16 am

    Certainly worth another read. Every day.

  2. May 8, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Well worth the encore.

    Applause.

  3. May 8, 2013 at 5:49 am

    Fantastic post, and ideal timing for me today. Many thanks!

  4. Mary Lynn
    May 8, 2013 at 5:49 am

    Precisely what I needed to read this morning–thank you, Steven!

  5. takis
    May 8, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Another great job, thank you.

  6. Diane Smith
    May 8, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Thank you for inspiration! You make me feel a whole lot better about being stubborn (smart + stupid = stubborn) about writing despite the business odds of success.

  7. Basilis
    May 8, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Indeed, almost no one recognizes right from the start a good idea…

  8. Tony Derbyshire
    May 8, 2013 at 7:12 am

    I think I’m going to leave a message for myself on my phone today.

    I don’t think I can hear this kind of stuff too much.

  9. May 8, 2013 at 7:14 am

    I also like the idea of a colony on the moon! I’m afraid I’m so used to ideas that people cannot see that I don’t even try to tell anyone what I’m doing. But this post creeps up on you, I find the opacity of a good idea (to others) is a very good sign.

  10. May 8, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Thanks for revisiting Steven! Does anyone know a programmer who wants to build my platform design to solve a very big problem–the placement of ability at anything less than best fit–in the world?

  11. Michele Nelson
    May 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

    I’m seeing this post for the first time and the timing couldn’t have been better. Wonderful – thank you!

  12. Jason
    May 8, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Right on point, right on time, EVERYTIME.

  13. York
    May 8, 2013 at 11:59 am

    This is great. As usual. I liked it the first time and sure as heck like it this time around too.

    Reading this kind of thing keeps each one of us on our personal journey sane.

    Thank you.

  14. May 8, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    I was working on a sculpture once. I played Pink Floyd’s “Momentary Lapse of Reason” …exclusively as that music gave it wings. My sculpture (I felt in my heart) was triumphant and everything I could not be. One day 2 people integral to my life at the time, came in to where I was working on my piece… that I felt so proud of. It was not finished but the bones were there, and because of that, my spirit, that was in the process of creating it, was too. They had a lot of things to say to me, and knew just where to cut me off from “being”. Because of what they said to me, I covered up my sculpture of clay, being careful to mist it and cover up the seams of the plastic, and I did not uncover it again for close to a year.

    I wish I was strong to say, that I would not drop a feeling, an emotion that defined me and where I hoped to go…but I can’t. I want to, but I could not and I am not all that sure that I will not still. My unveiling as an artist is closely defined by casual words. I am deeply affected by others.

    God.. when will that end? Stop it right? I will keep trying.

    Thank you S.P.

    Thank you for the honesty, vulnerability and adjoining message of hope.

  15. Cindy Prokop
    May 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I love your idea to leave yourself a message on the answering machine. For me successes feel Surreal… I imagine Cindy-2013 getting out of the DeLorean (“Back to the Future”) and having a conversation with post-layoff Cindy-2008.The dialog would be punctuated with derisive eye rolling and peppered with lots of exclamations of “Yeah,Right”. A shout out to Sean Van Vleet/Empires-2008 for turning me on to “War of Art”! I donated a painting to auctioned be off at a fundraiser benefiting Chicago’s A.N. Pritzker School,met some really nice people and wound up with a photo opp and an interview(see “friendsofpritzker.org”).
    I don’t even try to guess which ideas are good and which ones are not. I will probably find out from Cindy-2018 :-)

  16. Al
    May 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Negative people can definetly cause you to think twice about your initiatives. The key is to discern between advice and opinion.

  17. David
    May 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Great words. I think people snooze because most ideas will fall short somewhere in their execution. Also, studies show talking about something before tends to complicate finishing it. I believe the theory goes something like – talking about it robs us of some motivational power as we enjoy the rewards – admiration, pride in ourselves – before its done. Assuming people react positively. When people don’t react, it does hurt. And I have been in the place Prof. Pressfield talks about re that pain of people thinking me unrealistic and absurd. So yeah, totally concur – best not to mention much about a project until its almost done and we are about ready for the marketing/disseminating phase of a project.

  18. May 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I just walked out of a meeting that caused me to doubt my instincts, to question my value in a particular situation, to look for what I was missing. Then I sat at my desk and read this. Drive on brother!

  19. May 8, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Love this! Gotta do the phone message thing!

  20. jim
    May 9, 2013 at 5:04 am

    Thank you for this great article! Exactly the right timing, as another reader also noted.
    I am sure there are many more people out there who have benefitted from your articles and books.

    I am going to read this a few times in the weeks to come.

  21. May 9, 2013 at 6:07 am

    Yet another good reason for creators to consider self-publication. Too many people in the traditional pub world aren’t taking chances, to the extent that sometimes it appears they’re actually trained not to see what the creator sees.

  22. May 9, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for the shot or kick this might be the one.

  23. May 9, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Thank you for this post. It was exactly what I needed to read, and a good reminder to encourage myself on a daily basis. Yes, I too will leave myself a message!

  24. May 9, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Great post Steve, but I wonder…

    For a writer, I can see where talking about a project could be deadly — resistance speaks loudly through the voice of the crowd and artistic endeavors are so intensely personal that others can probably add little value anyway. For the entrepreneur, however, I think talking about our ideas can help us refine our thinking and bring to light resources we need.

    Just a thought.

  25. May 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Have a well deserved holiday!!

    Gary

  26. Alison
    May 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I can’t tell you how helpful these kinds of thoughts are to me–especially right now. I have reached an all-time low in the amount of crap people give about the book I am working on. I can’t care. Since when are they the allknowing? I thank you for always keeping me on track.

  27. Janis
    May 9, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    I have lately tended ot get very stubborn, hermitlike, and almost obsessively isolated in order to do what I want to do, and make sure it gets done. I’m not sure there’s a way to balance it out such that I get done what I need to (what I’ve decided I’m on this Earth to do), and not turn into a bad-tempered hermit.

    But honestly … I’ll be a bad-tempered hermit if it means I get it done. The first order of business is to DO IT. If I can manage it, I will do it without turning into a curmudgeon, but that’s not my most important order of business.

    However, your point about people simply not being able to envision what hasn’t already been done is taken. :-)

  28. Mike Mc.
    May 9, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Amen.

  29. May 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Like your books well said and too true. I have no doubt your great idea will be a good idea well executed. xe

  30. skip
    May 10, 2013 at 9:07 am

    didnt we learn this in usmc bootcamp !?! semper fi !

  31. May 11, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I’ve just found you – what a blessing. Thank you for all the words of wisdom, they really help.

  32. May 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Great Post. Thank you very much. Presently reading War of Art. I would like to be contacted for an event I am involved with and want to purchase a quantity of the book.
    Thank you.
    John

  33. May 15, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Proving them wrong, like any and all resistance, makes you better. And the process makes the end result (the tangible thing that your idea becomes) better as well.

    Resistance keeps you on your toes. It erodes every layer of bullshit you didn’t even know was there. The more resistance you encounter, the better the end result. Resistance fuels excellence.

    People who don’t believe in your aren’t the enemy. They aren’t even an inconvenience. They’re the best thing that ever happened to you. ;)

  34. HarleyJules
    May 21, 2013 at 9:21 am

    I often think of this when interacting with people throughout my day. Even the most exciting thing to me isn’t the most exciting thing for them. But where is the balance between talking about myself and hearing about the other person? Conversation most often turns into waiting for your turn to talk (or get away) from someone else when there’s nothing interesting for you to pick up on. And it can be deflating when you walk away wanting and craving that attention.

  35. May 21, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Thanks Steven, just reading your blog has helped put me back on the self assured rail again.