Success = Self-Confidence + Humility

I've been thinking about words of wisdom that might help teachers and learners: platitudes some call them. A platitude sounds like an animal with a large bill on a high hill, but really, dashboard dictionary tells me it is a "remark or statement, especially with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful." Well, let's look again.

One is a prescription for being, existing in the world. Keep two notes, one in each pocket. On the first, write, The world was created for me. On the second write, I am but dust and ashes. On the proverbial one hand, self-confidence; on the other, humility. The words matter. Not arrogance and entitlement versus self-doubt and self-hatred, but self-confidence and humility.  "The secret of living comes from knowing when to reach into each." 

Another set of statements concerns your work and actions: your expectations and reality. One: You are better than you think you are. Two: You are worse than you think you are. This website suggests that you think you are better at a task early in the learning process and believe you are worse once you understand more about it. Remember how you knew so much ten years ago…or rather, thought you did?

The two sets of sayings make sense from a pedagogical pedestal. In order to proceed with learning (or teaching that first class), you have to plunge right in. It's not always fun and it's not always comfortable. But if you think you are better at the task than you are, you are likely to keep going, right? It feels better that way. Denial works!

Of course, this early denial applies to daily artmaking and writing as well. How will you improve? You have editors, possibly external and certainly internal. You have to know when to turn off the internal editor, and when to turn it on again. If you are too self-aware of every stroke, you'll stop swimming and drown. But if you don't stop to examine what you are doing and perfect your strokes, you probably won't win any races. Start by assuming the race is with yourself. After you do the work, then you can judge.

How do you refine your editor? Writers should read, artists should view. Know what is going on in your field, both in the past and right now. Note what moves you, what is strong about a work, what bugs you, and what strikes you as weak. Ira Glass says, in an nice typographically treated excerpt from a longer video, that we actually have good taste before we are able to make good work. We acquire that taste from accepting and rejecting qualities in the world around us. Then we have to keep practicing to bring our skills up to the level of our taste.

Which brings me back to the phrase, "…used too often to be interesting or thoughtful." Perhaps a platitude is a saying used too often, but maybe it is still worth thinking about. The words matter.

I am but dust and ashes / The world was created for me


ronnie said…
beautifully put. I think there is indeed a great lack of humility in many spheres but unfortunately because I'm an artist I see it most in the art world.... brash self-confidence built upon ignorance is not pretty.... crippling self-doubt is not pleasant or productive either - to make anything meaningful we all to find a balance. Thanks for sharing
Velma said…
having struggled with self deprecation, i get this from the inside out. i'm learning to just be with what i make. you raise some interesting thoughts, and i remember that dichotomy, er, happens. i learned to spin so many kinds of fibers because i was playing/learning, not because i was a fiberartist. it was about the stuff. maybe for writers it's all about the words in their dance on the page? anyway, the other day i pulled off some dead leaves from a humble spider plant. later on, i found them and started twisting them quite without thought, and made a cord about two feet long of a new (to me) fiber. it's lovely!
holly said…
In addition to being a great artist, you are a wonderful writer. Great post. Thanks.