Am I good enough?

This has been a theme that has rattled around my week, and being a believer in the nudges that we tune into, it becomes the topic of focus for a blog.  It all began on Monday, when I took my RYA PowerBoat II course with Cornish Cruising.  Ostensibly, I did that to gain confidence for driving our new RIB.  I went in nervous about my driving skills, and whether I would be ‘good enough’ to pass.  For more about that experience, check out my sailing blog. I passed it, but not without anxieties – could I control it, would I be completely girly, would I bump it, would I be seasick, etc etc… Any demon of self-doubt was loaded on.  I have in excess of 4,500 nautical miles at sea, and I still think of myself as a complete novice.  When am I going to accept that I am good enough?

I had a crisis of confidence in the week about being a writer.  Triggered by some of the networks I’m in, where I am at the beginning of my writing journey as a novelist. I got daunted by it this week, and ended up feeling quite gloomy about it all.  I’ll never succeed, I’ll never be able to do it, I’m just not good enough.  This was highlighted in a post that I saw on Facebook, which I now can’t find, but someone asking the question when they can call themselves an author.  I know many writers feel the agony of this question, because of the value judgements of being published, successful, paid, etc etc.  This hasn’t been my dilemma of the week, of calling myself a writer, but it struck me that this same person was wrestling with the demon of self-doubt.  When am I going to accept that I am good enough, and that I am where I am?

I heard an interview with Bill Nighy this week, saying that he never watches himself back.  In his mind, he likes that he can remain as he wants to believe he was – and not shatter it by picking over the bones of a performance.  Here he is, with a string of credits, and he still struggles to call himself an actor.  Like the author I mentioned earlier.  These talented people who still are wondering if they are good enough to wear the title of their own occupation.

When my husband retired, he undertook a project to build a car.  That project is now done, more of that in a moment, but he’s begun another project to build a boat – a wooden sailing dinghy.  He had a terrible day in his workshop the other day, and got thoroughly despondent about his woodworking skills, and whether he is actually capable at building something that will float and look nice (it must be the writing equivalent of not writing a trashy novel, for me!!).  All I could do for him was remind him of the days that he came in from his workshop when building his car, equally despondent, thinking he’d never be happy with what he’d built.  But look at what he achieved…

Here's something I made earlier
Here’s something I made earlier
And this is where it started...
And this is where it started…

Despite that experience, he is being plagued by self-doubt this week, wondering, will I ever be good enough?

We’re watching Breaking Bad, and the character that I care for the most is Jesse Pinkman, who has a continual struggle in believing that he is not good enough.  The episode this week was whether he was good enough to run a Crystal Meths Lab alone, but it is a theme that underlies his character right throughout the series.  Jesse is a fundamentally good person, and the series is full of people looking beyond the meth-head and seeing something in him. It’s delightful.  Jesse, I wonder if you get to accept that you are good enough?

You see there are echoes of this in my week, and in thinking about the other people (so much easier than thinking about myself), I’ve built up a message that I can give myself…

Enough already!
Enough already!

It’s such a waste of energy.  It’s so toxic, so negative.  You have a choice to accept where you are.  The XK120 wasn’t built in a day, it took nearly four years from conception to registration. Your book won’t be written in a day, but will be sentence by sentence. The best thing you can do is accept who you are and where you are, and STOP THINKING THAT YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

The gift of feedback

I’ve had the privilege of reviewing two works this week, one a manuscript and the other an academic assignment. Both very different, but both very important to the individuals. I enjoyed reading both, but felt a bit out of practice when it came to giving appropriate feedback. The responsibility!

It got me thinking about my days gone by in the corporate world. Appraisals, assessments and the damage done to the potential of colleagues under careless words in the name of ‘feedback.’

Feedback has the potential to make someone’s confidence sink or soar. Work reviews aside, it always strikes me that it is a hugely brave thing of anyone to ask someone to comment on their work. But what is the alternative if we want to improve? Better to have someone you trust pick over the bones of grammar, look at flow, sense, substance first. It is so tricky to review your own work, since you read what you mean to be there, and not necessarily what is actually there. A way of trying to avoid this, is to read anything you write out loud. Painful? Perhaps, but it’s a great trick.

Anyway. I digress. So, this week, the joy was in reading but the responsibility was in distilling my thoughts in a way that would be helpful to the writer. If it isn’t helpful – then what’s the point. All feedback is subjective – it is an opinion (except perhaps on matters of grammar, but even that’s up for debate too). Feedback is a personal opinion; it isn’t fact. Psychologically speaking, it says as much about the giver, because we frame things according to our own values, beliefs, judgements. In the appropriate lingo, we project through the mechanism of feedback. As such, the recipient doesn’t have to accept the comments. You keep some power that way!

We come to the point that feedback is a gift, and the packaging makes all the difference. If you can take the time to wrap your gift nicely, then the messasge inside has the potential to be well-received, and valued. Wrap it carelessly and it has the potential to damage.

Far too often reviews are careless, bruising, destructive. There is no skill in that. Anyone can unleash a torrent of vitriol, projecting judgements. There is real craft in making an honest, responsible review, without shirking any difficult messages.

This is what I wanted to achieve this week, and from the comments that I had back, I managed it. I gave two separate gifts of feedback.

Is it heresy to give up on a book?

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It’s a closed question, so it’s got to be either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, but can is there a ‘maybe’? In the last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling with this dilemma.  Following the successful MOOC. Plagues, Witches and Wars, there’s a bunch of us in a virtual community over on Facebook.  We’ve diverted into a group that shares interesting snippets connected to Historical Fiction, and also established a book group.  This month’s book, up for discussion tomorrow, is Matthew Paarl’s The Dante Club.

I have truly struggled with this book, and then struggled on whether it was right to give up on it or not.  Forget the book itself, and think about the question.  Is it heresy to give up on a book?  I’ve certainly been in the ‘life’s too short’ camp to battle on with a book that just doesn’t grab me, and would have answered ‘heck no,’ but having become much more engaged in writer’s circles, I’m, well, more respectful.  My only regret in not finishing a book is one that my husband gave me as a gift.  As an aside, on St Valentine’s Day, isn’t the gift of a book a truly romantic one – something chosen just for you? He thought I’d be totally fascinated by this particular book, as I love a biography and the great explorers fascinate me.  Ernest Shackleton was a turgid, difficult read, and I barely managed more than a few pages.  Pete, fortunately, loved the book and delighted in teasing me at times for what I was missing.  Perhaps he was right.  I’ll never know.

These days, I won’t give up without a fight for the book.  50 pages, that should do it.  Not all books are for all people, and I think that an arbitrary 50 pages, a few chapters ought to be enough of a fight.  Layered on this as a reasonable stance, what about the added dilemma of others in the book club, and the quality of the discussion about the book?  I can put some thoughts together on why it didn’t engage me – that’s more than not just liking it, btw. I’ve ploughed on through books that I didn’t like (except The Historian, because that gave me nightmares, and The Dragon Tattoo one, which just disturbed me), but The Dante Club, well, I just could not connect with. The characters were a complete muddle, and I didn’t care about them at all, if only I could have distinguished one from another.  Ultimately, that’s why I stopped reading it,; it wasn’t difficult, just dull. Did it get 50 pages? That’s hard to measure on a Kindle, where the nominal location is a meaningless gauge.  On this book, after a lot of struggling on ‘for the book group’, with a tempting mountain of books on the ‘to read’ list, I put it down.  The Kindle told me that I was 20% through.  It was a mighty relief to put it down.  And yes, I feel guilty about it.

I asked my sister, given to wiseness in such matters, and she thought that life was really too short and that my having abandoned it would add something to the discussion.  I certainly hope she’s right.

Joy

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This week’s blog is a kind of rage, a frustration against myself.  It’s because we’re finally about to agree an offer on our house.  The one that we’ve been trying to sell for nearly 10 months. And yet, I don’t find myself in a state of joy, but rather, well, nothing.  What’s it got to do with a puppy, you may wonder.  Well, when you google images for ‘joy’ you seem to get, either:

  1. People in mid-air ‘jump’ positions, preferably kids it would seem, or,
  2. Animals doing cute things, apparently smiling, or,
  3. Words of wisdom.

They all connect to my point, but I decided to choose one with a cute puppy, because I’m also on a ‘waiting list’ for a puppy… which fills me with much joy and much of a sense of responsibility.  However, let’s get back to the house. It’s been a very protracted, very stressful and immensely frustrating selling process, and I long gave up getting excited each time that someone wanted to view our old house, our home.  I think, gradually, over time I’ve become disengaged with it, to stop me from feeling the disappointment and the frustration.  That’s been effective, also because I’ve been master of that process for a lifetime, but it has a massive consequence.  It kills joy.  I’m sure that something gets knocked out of us (Brits, perhaps) when we ‘grow up’ that stifles joy.  We begin to worry, we begin to think of the things that could go wrong, we warn ourselves not to get our hopes up, we tell ourselves we’re not that lucky, we say to ourselves we can’t rely on things…. we begin to not believe in the possibility of joy.  We think of all the other things that stop the joy from flourishing, and so we suffocate it. This is why the images are what they are – kids haven’t got to the death knoll of joy phase, animals are not that complex and we ‘adults’ need words of wisdom in order to connect with The joy.  It’s bonkers.

I want to be ecstatic.  I want to skip around this house because someone loves our old house as much as we do.  The buyers are a family – and the house really needed a family to make the most of it, the gardens are a delight for kids with the stream and the big shrubs to hide in.

I think I need to read Jostein Gaarder’s Through A Glass Darkly again.  Time to climb on the rabbit’s ears and see the world as Cecilia might.  Failing that in the short-term, I need to just get over myself and let out a “Yeeeeeh-haaaaaaah”.