In a recent post, I was asked the following question by Not Bob reader Jennifer Jackson: Did your self-doubt slow down after you became a "successful poet"?
Of course, my first thought was, "I'm not really a successful poet," and I started listing off all manner of reasons why I'm not a successful poet. So many rejections, so few honors, and while I've "self-"published two chapbooks, I haven't had a collection published by an actual publisher--whether chapbook or full-length book. Seriously, I'm horrible, right?
Then, I reminded myself of the things I have accomplished, and I won't get into those here, but I basically had to slap myself back into reality. I'm not a best-selling poet or national slam champion or even a member of the BAP club, but I have carved out a nice niche for myself. However, my reaction to Jennifer's question was sort of an answered in itself.
Self-doubt is ever present
Other writers may have a different take on this question than me, but I still feel the same level of self-doubt that I've always felt. In fact, I may feel it even more as a result of the small successes I've had. It's kind of like raising the bar in the high jump. Once a lower height is cleared, I have to move to a higher and more challenging level.
I'm always confident I can write another poem. My confidence level on writing another good poem, or a unique poem, is not always (or even usually) there.
Confidence is a moving target
A possible question arises: "Hey, wait a minute! Are you saying you don't feel like you're a better writer than you were 10 years ago?"
This is actually a different question than whether the self-doubt goes away. Yes, of course, I'm 100% confident that I'm a better writer today than I was 10 years ago. It's not even close, but that doesn't mean my confidence level is any higher.
I know a lot more about good and bad writing now. A decade ago, I was still pretty ignorant of how much I still had to learn, so I was naively cocky about my writing skills. Now, I've got a better handle on my strengths and weaknesses--and it does nothing to make me feel more confident.
Contentment can co-exist with self-doubt
So my confidence is not something I brag about anymore--like in my teens and 20s. Still, I've found a certain peace with my current situation. I know I'm better than I was, and I know I have a lot to learn. The important thing is that I've come to realize there's nothing wrong with knowing that I have doubts and fears.
Just last weekend, I performed my first poem from memory. How exciting! And nerve wracking! I definitely had my doubts about even attempting to recite my first poem, but I figured the worst that would happen is that everyone would laugh and throw rotten vegetables at me.
Post-It note advice
A few weeks ago, I wrote the following thought on a Post-It note: You never quit being afraid, but you do learn to mask the fear.
However, I've been thinking a better Post-It thought might be: You never quit being afraid, but you don't have to let it mask who you are.
I'm a poet, with my own level of success and self-doubt and things to improve upon, and I'm totally good with that.
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