We could also call this “Failure State – Believing in Myself” but it’s not quite as snappy, is it? “Failure State – The Ability to Think My Decisions Are Good Decisions and Not Bad Decisions”.
“Failure State – Feeling Good About The Creative Choices I Make”.
Nah. None of that is good. Let’s go with “Confidence”.
You know that feeling when you’ve been working on something creative and literally at no point at all through the entire process do you feel good about it? Not like the work itself is stupid, but more like you’re stupid? Like, somehow, you totally misunderstood the assignment and you’re spending all this time making something that completely misses the mark creatively, intellectually, and spiritually? You know how you feel that feeling all the time about everything you make?
Good. I’m glad it’s not just me. I feel this way about literally everything I’ve ever made, professionally and personally. My whole career. Everything. The entire time. And I’ve spent most of my adult life working in a creative field! Even when we were doing the greenhouses, I felt this way. I’ve never not felt this way about something. Can you relate?
Worse is that this feeling puts me on edge like crazy. I’m so worried that I am making a dumb mistake that my anxiety spikes and I work myself into a sulky mess. The anxiety also really slows down my progress while I spin out about whether or not I am metaphorically shitting the bed. What a colossal waste of energy.
For example, just yesterday I received a very nice compliment from someone to whom I sent an audition for a VO project. She didn’t need to say anything to me about it. It could have just gone out there into the void like 99% of auditions do to never be heard about again. But, instead, she took time to tell me something nice about the work I put into it. It was really nice! And I really appreciated it! And she absolutely did not need to do it! And what did I say back to her? Just look!
What the actual fuck, Joe. How about a “Thank you!” or a “That’s awesome! I am glad she liked it!”
Instead I offered a self-deprecating joke and then totally hammered it home because I felt weird. Slick, dude. So slick. Then I spent the whole rest of the day thinking about—and feeling bad about—this exchange. So bad, in fact, that I am now writing this post.
I’m not worried about the person who sent me the text and this weird little exchange having some effect on our relationship. We’ve known each other for a long time. It’s totally fine. But, man, am I a doofus sometimes. Like, just be gracious and take the W, dude.
Maybe allow that there is a chance, however slim, that you are actually ok at some stuff and just have faith in yourself? Maybe just a little bit? A teeny tiny bit? A speck of faith?
With professional creative work, I grind and I spin and I torment myself until the deadline comes and it’s time to present the project. I am sure I’ve written about this here before. I make my presentation with this profound shrugging feeling inside my soul that screams “I have no idea if this is good or right or if I’ve completely misunderstood and fucked it up but here it is and oh god I’ll never work again”. And boy does that suck a whole lot. I experience this every time I start a project. And, if I am being honest with myself and with you, the feeling has led me to actually fuck up some projects because I was so far inside myself that I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other to get the thing done correctly. I couldn’t put the right amount of effort in with the time allotted. And those regrets haunt you. I always want to do a good job, but sometimes I get in my own damn way.
And with personal works? Forget about it. As soon as this rears it’s hideous, malignant head the project stops. If I could share with you all the sheer mountain of aborted projects littering my projects archive, you would go mad in the face of true hopelessness. A thousand thousand projects—good ideas all!—begun and abandoned because deep in my heart I truly believe that everything I make is trash and that no one will ever want to read/watch/listen to them.
For the projects that do meet completion, by the time they are finished I have spent so much time feeling weird and uncomfortable about them that I can never see them in a good light. Even when they are good, like the audition I wrote about above. And this feeling of… shame? embarrassment? uneasiness? none of those are right, but you get the idea. This lingering, haunting feeling impedes me standing behind my work or promoting myself with any real vigor. This has been a major professional failing that we will discuss in further depth another day.
I am always in awe of people who can really promote themselves and the effort they’ve put into a project. It’s impressive! I wish I had even a tiny ounce of that, but I don’t. I can feel the inside of my chest just crawling thinking about it. The most self-promotion I can stomach is the occasional post here on The Black Laser and that is insufficient.
Another recent example I can’t stop thinking about. Ever since Verdant folded, I’ve been picking up freelance video edit projects to try and pay for my kids and life and stuff. It has been pretty tough because I live in Delaware and everything is remote. The time gap between the last time I was active and now is quite long, so people have moved on and I am out of their minds. Normal stuff. I sent an email to someone I used to work with to let them know I am on the market and looking. I made a mention in the e-mail of how awkward I find that sort of inquiry e-mail. And while that is completely true, why the hell did I write that? Why self-deprecate at all? All it does is feed the void and that’s not helpful at all. Does this person now think I find them awkward? I don’t. I really just want to work. But I couldn’t help writing some dumb ass shit because I felt nervous about representing myself and, God forbid, asking for something. I wrote that e-mail in May. I never received a reply. I think about it every single day.
Yet things do get finished. Otherwise there would be nothing here for you to read and I’d have starved to death ages ago. Worry not for things will continue to get finished for as long as I am making things. I am more than three decades into feeling like this and I don’t see it letting up any time soon. Just have to live with it and work through it.