Be a lamp unto yourself. Be your own confidence. Hold to the truth within yourself, as to the only lamp.
- The Buddha
Like every human being on Earth, I sometimes feel insecure. And, like every creative and artistic person I've ever known, many of those insecurities center around my worthiness as a creative and artistic person. If I am not careful, I can fall prey to the temptation of becoming a feedback junkie, constantly seeking signs of affirmation that my writing, my thinking, my insights are appreciated and valued and making a difference in people's lives.
These insecurities did not arise in a vacuum.
In seeking validation from others, I am seeking to assuage internalized beliefs that nobody wants what I have to offer, nobody values what I create, nobody wants to reward me for doing the things I love. Every time I take a "hit" in terms of lack of support, especially by someone whose opinion I valued and trusted would be supportive, it's natural to want to fill the void with reassurance and affirmation that I really am all right, that I am worthy of my dreams, that I am not wasting my time, that it's okay to go after what I want to go after, that my most deeply held aspirations are valuable contributions waiting to be made to the world.
Many of you know--and have lived--the script:
Well, isn't that nice. Wouldn't we all like that. Sure you're going to change the world. You'll learn. Huh, who's going to pay you for that? Some of us have to work a REAL job. You're a writer? Since when? Oh, that doesn't count. You call that art? LOL. Still working on your great masterpiece, eh? Dream on.
It took me a long, long time to realize that this kind of ridicule has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the person who is directing it at me. Unlike constructive criticism, it serves no useful purpose and should be dismissed outright.
Constructive criticism focuses on ideas, addressing specific points where, in the opinion of the person offering it, a work, a proposal, or a project can be improved. Often it will "ring true" as soon as you receive it, and you will feel positive and more clear as a result of receiving it. Also, a person offering constructive criticism offers it as just that: her or his opinion. They say, This is how I see it, and then they let go of the outcome. They will not be offended if you question the criticism, ask for clarification, or decide it just doesn't fit your vision. Their ultimate goal is to build you up and help you to fulfill your vision.
Destructive criticism, rather than addressing ideas, attacks the person. People who offer this type of feedback are not seeking to build you up but to tear you down. Their criticism tends to be vague, evasive, shaming. Any attempts to pin down specific points and ask for alternative ideas are met with yes-buts and non sequiturs. Sometimes it takes the form of things unspoken, the support that's being withheld, the implicitly judgmental silence. In any form, this kind of criticism has nothing to do with you or the value of what you are doing. Its sole purpose is to undermine your confidence in yourself.
Whether overtly critical or subtly disapproving, when you encounter such a lack of support--even and especially if it is from someone close to you, someone whom you believe loves you and would never want to hurt you--protect yourself. Back away psychologically, physically if necessary, and build a nice virtual wall around your heart and your craft and your visions and your dreams. Recognize that this person is not and will not be supportive of your goal, accept it, and move on.
Then ask yourself the big question:
Why am I waiting for someone to give me permission to be who I am?
And then realize: Your primary support comes from within yourself.
Just do what you want to do, create what you want to create. Waste no more time or energy or attention on getting other people's approval or affirmation. Approval and affirmation are wonderful, when you do get them, but learn to keep going even when the only one who believes in you is you.
That is the only way to stick to your vision, finish your novel, create your art, make a difference, become the change you wish to see in the world, reach your heart's desire in your life and your work. Be strong within, strong enough to withstand the shifting winds of loyalty and support from without. Release the restless search for feedback and affirmation. Connect, but don't cling. Dialogue, but don't depend. And when someone turns on you, withdraws support, cuts you down? Let it go. Let them go.
Once we have established that we are indeed good at something we love to do, we need to confront our internalized critics, dismantle their ridicule, and replace that misguided ridicule with an appreciation of ourselves and of our own work. The more we appreciate ourselves in a realistic, grounded way--the kind of appreciation that is genuine and heartfelt, not bluff and bluster to hide insecurity and doubt--the more we will radiate the confidence that nourishes our creative life and inspires others to appreciate us in turn.
Be your own confidence, and the time and energy you once expended on seeking approval for your dreams will go instead toward making your dreams your reality.