Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Confidence vs. humility

Finding balanceAlmost everybody struggles to some degree with achieving the balance between confidence and humility (although the latter is less fashionable than it used to be). Confidence tips so easily into into arrogance, presumption, and even delusion. If you doubt this, watch the early episodes of American Idol, any season. We all know how charming an arrogant jerk with an over-developed sense of entitlement is. There are few things more satisfying in life than watching him do a face-plant in the muck.

On the other hand, humility can tilt into discouragement, self-abasement, and even self-loathing. Misguided religious types have often failed to make this distinction and presented such unpretty things as an ideal to aspire to. Well, no. There is a world of difference between unworthy and worthless. Whiny self-hatred is not only unattractive, it's pretty much a guarantee of uselessness.

The sweet point in the middle of all this is evaluating yourself realistically, which is admittedly rather difficult. It's particularly difficult if you want to be a writer.

Why is that, you ask? (OK, so you didn't ask, but humour me a minute. I appreciate it.)

You'll always miss 100% of the shots you don't take; and, statistically speaking, 99% of the shots you doBecause for every open spot on a publisher's list, there are probably at least 100 completed manuscripts out there, trying to elbow their way into position. Those are intimidating odds. That means if you're writing, and you have any serious hopes at all of being published, you have to believe somewhere deep inside you, that you are better than 99% of your fellow aspirants (all of whom believe the same thing). That's got to be something close to hubris. And in most cases, delusional hubris.

Of course, a lot of them are unaware of the odds, so if they're talented, they toil in blissful ignorance, and if not, they live in a fool's paradise. The rest of us, well, we keep teeter-tottering between the feeling that we can actually do this and the opposite feeling that we are out of our minds. We can easily go through the cycle from elation to despair and back again several times in one day.

It gets better. Almost every successful author went through a string of rejections before hitting paydirt. So even if publishing professionals keep saying "thanks, but no thanks" that doesn't necessarily mean you don't have what it takes. Perseverance becomes a necessary part of the equation. But wait a minute, isn't the definition of insanity repeating an action and expecting a different result?

Maybe you have to be insane to aspire to authordom.

So, writer or not, how do you find the sweet spot where confidence and humility are in perfect balance?


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7 comments:

Janna Qualman said...

"The rest of us, well, we keep teeter-tottering between the feeling that we can actually do this and the opposite feeling that we are out of our minds. We can easily go through the cycle from elation to despair and back again several times in one day."

A.men. And it stinks.

How do I find that balance? I have no idea. No, scratch that. It's probably due to the amazing support of friends and other writers I have. THEY are the ones whose encouragement makes me believe I can do it - more often that my own thoughts of no ability can make an appearance.

Janet said...

I know what you mean. I just got a comment back from one reader who had accepted to read three chapters saying he wished he had asked for more. That is perhaps the best encouragement of all. Now let's hope literary agents share his opinion...

I am always genuinely grateful to readers who point out problems with my writing; it's the only way I can improve. But the occasional good word helps too, doesn't it?

Melanie Avila said...

I LOVE this. I try not to think about how many people are fighting for the same spot as me. I'm not a boastful or arrogant person and if I start thinking in the terms you've said, I'll talk myself out of thinking I can achieve my goals. So I guess I live in a forced ignorance. :)

Pink Ink said...

Insanity and hubris. Yes, those sound like great ingredients :-)

Janet said...

Melanie, I can relate. I just concentrate on trying to be good enough, and I'll let everybody else worry about where to place me on the scale.

PI, you're making me laugh. Have you mastered the art of insane hubris then? Any tips?

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I needed to read this post today. Thanks.

Becky

Janet said...

Becky, I read your excerpt. You are not delusional.

 

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