Self-doubt, Part 3
There are certain skills that must be mastered by every writer, artist, entrepreneur, and athlete if she or he wishes to succeed. These skills are not taught in school. Many don’t even have a name.
These skills are not about craft. They’re about management of emotion. I’ve heard them called “soft skills,” though to me they’re anything but “soft.”
One of them is the ability to keep going when in the throes of desperate self-doubt.
Keats called this skill “negative capability.” From a letter to his brothers, George and Thomas, in 1817:
I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke (Charles Wentworth Dilke, a writer and editor whose home in London, Wentworth Place, is now called Keats House—a museum to the great Romantic poet), upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason … This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.
My own poster boy for this skill is Christopher Columbus. Talk about uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts! “OMG, what if the world really is flat? Will my ships sail off the edge? No, that’s ridiculous. I know the world is round. But what if I miss the Indies? What if my course is too far north? Or south? Maybe the wise move is to sail back home … right NOW!!!”
The thing about soft skills like this—the ability to follow your vision when every cell in your body is revolting against this—is there’s no glamor to them. They’re boring. They’re quotidian. They’re the scenes we would cut out of a movie.
But they are the way we defeat our own Resistance.
Sit down. Get to work. Don’t stop.
Nobody gives you points for this stuff. No one cheers. No one even knows. The reason soft skills are so hard is they’re totally internal, producing no reward except that which we give ourselves.
A thought experiment:
Which writer/filmmaker/athlete/entrepreneur would you and I bet on?
1. A one-in-a-million talent, but one who habitually faltered when confronted by self-doubt.
2. A far more modestly gifted performer, but one who could buckle up each day, no matter what emotional headwinds he or she was facing, and keep grinding.