I mentioned several posts back that I’ve really been enjoying the blog of Pittsburgh Steeler’s draft pick Baron Batch. He recently posted an excellent piece on pride and humility. Specifically, he talked about the struggle that lies ahead for him – a young, successful, talented athlete – in battling pride as he embarks on his NFL career.
We all walk a fine line between the confidence and pride in our work that is necessary to succeed and the pitfalls, as he says, of letting that pride become perilous. I can only imagine how easy it would be to fall under the spell of praise, success, fandom and fame as a young and talented athlete whose dreams all stand to come true.
I can imagine the struggle well, because I know that if as a young 20-something I had found myself in the shoes of, say, Stephen King, Jodi Picoult or Dean Kountz, those challenges would have been mine. I like to think I’m humble, but let’s face it. There’s a prideful little shit lurking in all of us. The prideful little shit in me would surely have been strutting around the bar circuit proclaiming myself Hemingway With Boobs.
But for me, that struggle is only a figment of that ever-active writer’s imagination now. At 40, life has made me humble. In fact, I’m living proof that the opposite problem can also hold true. Yes, if you aren’t careful, too much pride can be your downfall. But if you let life’s demands and hard knocks and your own insecurities chip away at your confidence, then you’ll never have to worry about getting knocked off the mountaintop for being too full of yourself. You’ll never get there in the first place.
My return to writing has been so much more than an exercise in improving my skill and taking some gambles. It has been a journey towards rebuilding my faith in myself and in learning to believe that I can become so much more than I already am.
I started out a confident and yes, borderline cocky young writer. I was the editor of my college paper, had won journalism awards and praise for my fiction, and thought the world was at my fingertips. Then I graduated from college and let mountains of debt and life’s daily pressures steer me away from my dreams. I took the easier path to a paycheck. I promised myself I would return to writing when time allowed. But along the way, I grew rusty and complacent. The edge that comes with the confidence of youth and ambition slipped away.
I am happy that I lost the self-important cockiness of my undergraduate days. But I’m sorry I lost the edge that came with my confidence. There’s a fine line between the clear, sharp pride that allows you to slice your way through the bullshit of life and the cutting edge of cockiness that eventually causes you to tear raw edges in your own success and in the confidence of others.
I admire Batch because he starts his journey knowing that holding on to his humility will be a struggle. Knowing is half the battle. I did the opposite. I not only let my pride slip away – I failed to guard my confidence. Now I’m fighting the good fight – the damn exhausting good fight – to get it back.
For me, here’s what that has looked like so far:
– Writing anyway during those times when my brain says “I’m blocked.” I tell it I won’t stand for constipation, and give it a laxative.
– Voicing my dreams to myself and to others, instead of burying them in a closet and pretending to be happy in my current career.
– Learning to accept that while sometimes rejection IS a reflection on what I’ve submitted, it may also be as simple as a reader having a bad day or a failure to find just the right niche for my work.
– Believing that I am entitled to and deserve my writing time, even when my job and my life try to tell me otherwise, and taking that time in spite of the consequences.
– Daring not to repress myself when I write, and to dabble in the absurd.
These risks have yielded results, both in terms of finished writing projects and a tangible growth in my confidence. I know I still have miles to go. I don’t yet have the lizard-tough skin I know I’ll need to deal with large volumes of rejections. I don’t yet have the balls to invest my meager (and sometimes non-existent) financial resources in self-publishing and believe that I’ll be able to market myself. But I’m getting there.
When I arrive, I also know that even at my age, it is never too late to be overcome with that perilous pride. I look ahead to a time when I will need to remind myself that:
– No matter how successful I am, I can always improve.
– There is something to learn from every critique, even if I don’t entirely agree with their opinion.
– I must plow on through a project when the going gets tough or boring, and not abandon things and lose focus just because I’ve had successes elsewhere.
I look forward to the transition from rebuilding pride and confidence to holding on to humility. If I had been as insightful as Batch at his age, the last 20 years might have been very different for me. But we learn and move foward regardless of our years.
As a writer, or in everyday life, where do you see yourself on the spectrum? Do you fight to gain confidence or struggle to hold on to your humility? Or have you found the happy medium?