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The Myth of Self-Esteem & Creating Work That Matters

hemingway_mirrorI want to talk about self-esteem and creating. About creating the work not only that we want to create but creating the work that your patch of the planet needs. I want to hear from you because I never have the complete picture, and hearing from you expands my – our – perspective.

Here’s what we often hear: If we just feel good enough about ourselves as writers, creatives, coaches, and artists, then we’ll be able to create the things and ideas we’ve always yearned to. That if we believe in ourselves as creatives, then we’ll finesse the magic we want our book or program, our canvas or course to have.

I’m troubled by this. Feel-good self-esteem is not positive psychology.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Feeling good about ourselves doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily create the kind of art that moves and engages people the way we yearn for it to.

Having high self-esteem for creating work that ultimately doesn’t engage people the way we want it to can backfire.

Maybe we get it backwards.

Maybe if we could keep our authentic wonder
while actually testing out workable tools
that lead to true breakthroughs in our work,
we would feel great about ourselves as authors and artists

Get it? Learning could lead to feeling great about ourselves as authors and artists who are making a difference. Learning could lead to deeper levels of wonder and self-admiration (different from high self-esteem) because we’re actually able to finesse our art in ways we had envisioned – maybe even better. Not the other way around.

I don’t trust exaggerated promises. “Write your novel in 90 days!” “Have massive breakthroughs to earn what you’re worth in 6 easy pieces.” “Follow your passion, and the money will follow.” That sort of thing. I don’t trust them because I’ve seen them deceive and disappoint people who otherwise have great promise. And I’ve reviewed enough about the science of what drives us through creative challenges to know these promises can be harmful.

But I am going to share two instances of two authors who have had huge break-throughs.

 AUTHOR 1: Three months ago, an accomplished author – who for now shall remain named “accomplished author” – had a promising trade nonfiction book premise for her next proposal. Promising but not yet a sure thing. This week, she emailed me to say that her agent presented the book at New York’s Book Expo and that publishers and acquisitions editors were fighting over who gets to see the book. She’s never had this level of interest in a book.

Something had been holding her back. But she had a true breakthrough.

AUTHOR 2: A second author has been wrestling with her current book project for close to ten years. It’s a memoir on an intimate subject that takes her to dark places but also to intellectually intriguing places. She wrote parts of it in a Master’s of Fine Arts program. Wrote pages here and there between her day job and other family obligations. But it wasn’t going anywhere. This week, she finally can conceive her book from beginning to end. She has a dynamic map of where her book is going and has made more progress in a month than she has in a few years combined.

Something had been holding her back. But she had a true breakthrough.

AUTHOR 1 didn’t lack high self-esteem. Instead, she didn’t have an authentic and reliable framework for seeing her native strengths of influence as an author. She didn’t have tested methods that helped her conceive the essence of her book, that helped her deeply empathize with her targeted readers, and that helped her own and write from her true persona voice.

We worked through all of that just this past month. And she showed up for the work and finessed her own break-throughs. I’m convinced she’ll call me soon with details about her next book deal – and possibly her first big book deal.

AUTHOR 2 similarly could have heard for months from me about how great she is, how she just needs to write the book she wants to, and just do it. But she’s been there. What she lacked also was practical and inspiring tools that helped her get out of her own way as an author and start conceiving her book’s reading experience from beginning to middle to end. Now she does. And. She. Is. On. Fire.

These two authors believed in themselves. But they didn’t fully believe in their books, 100%, because they didn’t yet have the heart-ful methods to conceive and create with a knowing confidence.

A knowing confidence. That’s faith built on something substantial.

I’m convinced that AUTHOR 1 and 2, will catapult to a whole new level of engaging their respective patch of the planet in 2014 and 2015.

And they’re not the only two.

We don’t just “write from the heart.” We actually get to the heart of a book, conceive that heart in ways that help us confidently finish our respective book, and get to the heart of our protagonists and our readers.

This shift away from thinking only about ourselves while still honoring our own artistic integrity has made a HUGE difference.

Mustering the courage to create requires more than self-affirmations. It also means we’re willing and ready to learn how to finesse creative lightsabers and Stings (Hobbit fans). And we’re willing to do so for a Story. For Art. For a Patch of the Planet. All greater than ourselves.

May the force be with you.

What’s your take on self-esteem, learning, and creating work that ultimately captivates and elevates your patch of the planet? Am I off-base here? All insights welcome and appreciated.

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  1. E: Allooo! I don’t think that a healthy self-esteem comes from accomplishments. I know many ‘accomplished’ people, much more than I, that are crazy insecure.

    Having said that, I’m an outlier because my self-esteem is healthy, so I never know what’s normal. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the drop in. Yes, self-esteem might not follow from accomplishments, but self-admiration – which runs deeper than self-esteem – might. We can admire our own skill development for its own sake.

      1. I’ve always had you on my twitter list but never really replied. 😀
        Creativity has always been a passion of mine as well!

        I would think that if we can separate our skills and talent from our sense of ‘worth’ as a human, then we can assess them more objectively and accept critique.

        I am immersed amongst all sorts of artistic creatives (writers, musicians, actors, etc) and I can see why it’s difficult, though! 😀