Distant But Here

I get angry at myself.

There’s a lot to be said for humility. It’s nice having no expectations in particular of yourself and thereby being able to surprise yourself – not, that is to say, having low self-esteem, but avoiding regarding the self with any judgment at all one way or another. To work, not as best at what you’re doing, and not as a rank amateur, but just as a person doing a thing and seeing where it goes.

It’s a difficult state to maintain, I find. I keep wanting to think I’m awesome, that I’m great at what I do, that I kick ass. There’s a lot to be said for confidence too, but a mind that’s constantly saying to itself “I’m amazing, I’m the best” isn’t a confident mind, it’s a mind grasping for reassurance. Humility and confidence are similar states of mind, because they both disregard failure, in one case as irrelevant and in the other impossible, and maintain focus on the task at hand. Conversely, constantly reassuring yourself that you’re great and the best, telling yourself that you cannot lose or that you must win, is centering the rhetoric of success or failure in your mind, and prioritizing a vision of having done whatever you’re trying to do over actually doing it.

What makes this balance difficult to maintain for long is the rush that you get when you succeed, or the sudden dismay of unexpected failure. Once that happens, all the juices start flowing, trying to make you think that you’re great you’re the best you always win or that you suck what’s wrong with you you’re supposed to be better than this – this is when I start getting angry at myself. When I set a standard for myself, and then I fail to meet it.

The problem with having high expectations of myself is that there’s no end to that road. If something’s easy, it was because I must have chosen a trivial task or gotten lucky or just figured out the trick to it, which means I obviously need to try something more ambitious next time. If it’s too hard, it means I’m a fraud, I’m not actually good at anything, what the hell do I think I’m doing, why do I even try. Even if I know these lines of thought are self-destructive, it’s hard to avoid falling into the pattern. Gutters are made to be easily swept into.

So I’ve been trying to be less angry, both generally at the world and specifically at myself, as stupid and unreasonable as both can frequently be.

I’ve been trying to disconnect myself emotionally from my result as I work. It’s a difficult trick, since in order to create art we must be constantly evaluating it, carefully seeing what’s working and what isn’t working. To be able to work is a trick of judging the work without judging myself for creating the work, deciding what I like and don’t like without deriding myself for making something I didn’t like or congratulating myself for making something I did. It’s strange, because in that state it’s almost like I’m my own audience, and I can just be along for the ride, and I can just see where this thing is going.

It’s a shame it’s such a hard state to achieve.

Live and learn, I guess.

  1. Superbly written and some of us know that feeling all too well…I have been blogging here for three years and there were times when I went through this (mainly in the beginning…now, not so much)…”Just keep swimming”, as Dory used to say…

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