Personally, I believe my biggest weakness is a lack of confidence, which is why I’ve saved this pillar of success for last. I don’t often think I’m right, that my way is superior, or that the direction I’ve chosen is the correct path, but every successful person I’ve met has had, at least in their professional life, a kind of uncanny confidence in their abilities. They believe they can tell a story better, create impactful content more quickly, and generally believe that they are, quite simply, better than the rest of us. And they are. But being better and knowing you’re better are two very different things.
Confidence, it seems, is essential to withstanding the torture of repeated rejection endemic to the creative industries. Otherwise you’ll start to believe the over-educated assistants who are rejecting your work, that they know your story better than you do, and that you aren’t as good as you think you are. If you’re truly talented, confidence goes hand-in-hand with drive and organization to turn you into an unstoppable force.
But if you don’t have it, how do you get it? As I’ve said, I may be the last person to counsel folks on this, but because I know I lack confidence at times, I can watch for times when it might be important and defend against a negative internal dialogue. That may be the first step: identifying a lack of confidence as a development area. The book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life suggests that your internal dialogue, the way you talk to yourself about events in your life, drastically affects both your mood and your success. The good news, which you may have guessed from the title, is that you can teach yourself to be optimistic, to defeat learned helplessness, and to change your internal dialogue and predispose yourself for success.
The primary take-away, as I see it, from Learned Optimism is that optimists see negative events as temporary, specific, and non-personal. Pessimists see negative events as permanent, pervasive, and personal. In reacting to a rejection, a pessimist might say to himself, “People don’t like me, they never have. No matter what I do, they always pick someone else over me.” An optimist would approach the situation differently in his or her internal monologue by saying, “Those guys didn’t understand my story. They probably thought it was too similar to MEGA SUPER PROJECT which fizzled miserably last year. I should remember to specifically address how vastly different they are in my next meeting.” Contrast those two statements with one another. The first statement is personal (it’s me they don’t like), it’s broad (it’s not the material, or the time of day or any specific factor), and it’s permanent (it’s always going to be this way, I can’t do anything to change it). The optimistic dialogue, on the other hand, presents the situation as non-personal (it’s the project), it’s specific (they probably thought it was too similar to something their bosses see as a failure), and it’s temporary (other groups will be more receptive, particularly if I do a better job of explaining how much better this project is than MEGA SUPER PROJECT).