“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
– Vincent van Gogh

Honestly, I hardly notice when I’m confident. It feels like water through my fingers. It is smooth and quiet bath, this state of confidence I step into from time to time. Most other times I am very aware what I am feeling, and what I am feeling is self doubt. Self doubt isn’t a spring day where you barely notice a breeze, it is a pricking cold, a suffocating heat. It is present and whining, an alarm.

Like most negative, horrible things about life, self doubt can be good. Without it, we’d all treat each other worse than we already do. We’d stay gods in our heads. Doubt helps keep up in check and snatches us down from hubristic fancies. It helps us spot errors and improve. But, that doesn’t mean we should surrender ourselves to it, and drown in a sludge of a self-secreted sense of failure.

I sometimes veer off into all-or-nothing land, a place I find fellow humans visiting quite often. In this place people assume that either you strive for perfection or you just let everything go; choices that ignore a vast amount of psychological geography. It’s difficult to acknowledge how grey and blended everything is, we want to cut hard lines out of it, to paint it satisfying colors. Being human is a middleness we can barely stand, we’d rather be demons and angels. It helps explain the pain of living. It simplifies the wretched edge of unknowns.

“I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.”
? Tennessee Williams

The words of others feed our self questioning. Even an offhand remark can grow a lush rainforest of criticism and complaint in the mind. We are hungry for a stray negative remark on which to sustain our self disgust, which, in all its suffering, seems like a safer, more noble ego feeding than gorging on compliments. Sure, my ego is fragile and large, but at least I hate myself, that’s better than wretched self love, isn’t it? Don’t only monsters love themselves?

No, but it’s hard to accept love from one’s self sometimes. I like to do it by thinking myself as a creature, the animal that I am, and caring for that animal the best ways I can find. I’m a confused animal sensitive to the elements, in need of a ghastly amount of water just to survive. I’m an animal that responds well to affection and kindness.

I’m a curious, questioning animal who expresses themselves through language and words, and sometimes it’s mediocre. Sometimes it’s just not good, but it seem to offer enough value to others to be worth something. Contributing to the lives of others is part of how we survive, and a good place to begin to quench our search for meaning, even if it’s a just a drop of succor.

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

People often ask me why I write, and usually they are asking for themselves. I tell myself I write because I am somewhat good at it, but what if that’s not true? What if I’m lying to myself and making a fool out of myself? There is freedom in a blog, freedom in self-publishing, but the price for that freedom is that I have to propel myself solely with my own wavering belief in myself. There is no one backing me up, standing behind me, or putting a seal of approval on what I do. No one, except the people who read it, and the people who tell me they enjoyed it. Some people even tell me that something I’ve written has helped them in some way. It’s hard to really believe it, when I hear it. But, it does make an impression on me, validates what it is I’m doing, putting words on the internet, asking for clicks.

Self doubt should not be cured, but just like self-importance, it should be kept in check. Because it is so rooted in the ego, and negative ruminations of anxiety, meditating, and connecting with nature and other human beings can be successful tonics. We should not dismiss our own potential and power, but the desire to feel and be important is absurd with a little perspective. We are a bit insignificant, a tiny flash of a fire, which is a relief in many ways. Still, while we are here we can and should contribute. We should be brave enough to put our hand out and shift the universe with whatever rippling we can muster.

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  • Jason Clark

    Beautiful.

  • Caitlin Harrington

    Thanks for writing this – I needed to hear it!