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Sunday, December 4, 2011

How Self-Confident Should You Be?

Self-confidence is a great tool. The last few days I have felt that I was writing a masterpiece of criticism, a great trilogy of Lorca criticism, that I could do what I was doing well and that nothing would stop me (despite some recent turmoil in my personal life).

Curiously, the renewed self-confidence resulted simply from returning to work, after a few months in which I wasn't producing a lot or even trying that hard. My self-confidence seemed to slip during those months. No mystery there. Cut off from the source of my strengths, I began to doubt myself. Sure, I had been able to produce before, but would I ever do so again? Even though the break was a deliberate one, in some sense, and I knew intellectually that I would be able to resume when I wanted, the effect was predictable.

Of course, if you're anything like me, you will be doubting yourself with some frequency. Isn't the book I'm writing just a repetition of what I've done before? Aren't people going to reject this, or be uninterested in it, because most people want to follow the dominant paradigm of Jo Labanyi Spanish cultural studies in which poetry itself is insignificant? Writing another book or two won't get me a better job / salary / a distinguished professorship here at KU, etc... Maybe I don't write well enough in Spanish to write my book about Lorca in that language?

Doubt is useful, I guess, but I would advise that you address doubts as pragmatic problems to be resolved rather than as existential ones. In other words, if you have a nagging doubt, bring it out into the open and see what's going on. A generalized doubt like "I'm not good enough" is largely useless, because it has no practical solution.

Self-confidence is not arrogance, but the necessary fiction needed to get the work done at all.


Anonymous said...

Isn't the question whether you're interested in the project, enjoying working it out, enjoying the challenge of writing a book in Spanish now, etc. - and not whether it will get you a distinguished chair (and who knows, what if does?)?

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

I completely agree. Self-confidence is key. And, it is different from arrogance. Actually, I think arrogance is much more about fiction than self-confidence.

Jonathan said...

Sure, it's about my own interest in the project above all. The doubts, though, come in all flavors.

Anonymous said...

Ha! I have no doubt about value of work, my capability to do it, peoples' likeliness of accepting it.

I just don't believe I have the right to spend time that way. Yes this is irrational.

It's quite interesting actually: I heard so much as a child about the uselessness of teaching and the impossibility of research that I pour all the creativity and energy I can into administration, program building, and fundraising - not because it's my favorite but because it's the only thing I've not been trained not to do. It's the only time I don't feel I'm looking over my shoulder, waiting to see who is going to hit me or who is going to tear the paper from my hands.

So it is not myself I mistrust, it is my circumstances.