I took a mandatory improv class in college. It made me squirm every day. The exercises were weird to say the least, and I was constantly put on the spot, made to do things completely out of my comfort zone. I watched others act like bafoons without blinking an eye while I cringed when she asked me to so much as make up my own dialogue. One day the teacher asked me to do an exercise that I thought was impossible.
“I’m just not that creative,” I declared, thinking the professor would give me a break and let me go back to memorizing monologues and doing scenework.
My professor looked appalled, nay heartbroken.
“Oh Liesl,” she said. “You are creative. I have seen you do some amazing stuff when you don’t think you are. You don’t have a problem with creativity. You have a problem with confidence.”
Her words struck me to my core. She was right. Creativity was not my problem. I had ideas, dozens of them. My fingertips were tingling with creative energy. I was just afraid I didn’t have what it takes to carry it out. But if we’re going to create anything worth other people’s time and maybe even money, we must have confidence.
But is confidence a choice? Can one simply push the easy confidence button? I’m convinced that the mind has amazing power, and since that fateful improve class I have worked on building my confidence, even when I’m out of my comfort zone.
1. Say nice things about yourself. My improv teacher had a rule in our class. (Probably because of me.) If you said something negative about yourself, you were required to say three things you were good at and you couldn’t be snarky. We live in a very pessimistic, critical and negative world. Everyone is not only bashing on everyone else, we’re all bashing on ourselves! And how is this productive? It isn’t. On the other hand, faith in yourself and a positive attitude will take you places. Practice a little cognitive behavioral therapy, (What you think is what you feel, aka “Fake it ’til you make it,) and tell yourself the things you are good at.
2. Keep working. Practice makes perfect. Perfect makes confident. Okay, we will never be perfect, but if we continue to learn and grow in our craft we will become skillful and thereby more confident in our creativity. Don’t doubt yourself because you have weaknesses. Have confidence that your weaknesses will become strengths with time and practice.
3. Take criticism and advice the right way. This can be a tough one. Hopefully we seek out criticism of our work. We need it to point out our mistakes and help us improve our craft. But there might be situations where because we don’t feel confident in ourselves, we either give up, or let our work slip away from us and become something that is not ours at all. I’ll explain it the best way I can by telling a story.
I attended BYU’s Life, the Universe and Everything: Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy a couple years ago. Orson Scott Card was the guest of honor, and being the huge fan that I am I hung on his every word. His addresses and workshops were amazing. But during one particular speech, I heard what I thought was contradictory advice. At one point he said, “You have to listen to what people are saying about your story. You have to be willing to make changes.” And later on in the address he said, “Don’t let anyone tell you how to write your story.” At the end he opened up for questions. My hand shot up and, probably because I was standing and wearing a bright red “Where’s Waldo?” shirt, he called on me.
I pointed out his contradictory advice.
“It’s not a contradiction,” he said (with great confidence I might add.)
“Then where’s the balance?” I asked (with absolutely no confidence whatsoever.)
“There is no balance.”
He then went on to explain that when someone tells you your story is awful and lists all the things you need to do to fix it, don’t do what they say you should do. Listen to what they are saying is wrong with your story. Figure out why it is not working for them, and then let the changes come from you.
So take a critique. Be open to the fact that thing might need to change, but have the confidence that you are creative and smart enough to figure out what those changes need to be.
4. Choose to be confident. No one has ever done great things without believing in themselves. And they had to have confidence BEFORE they could do the great things! How can one have confidence if they don’t know if it will work out? They choose to. Faith precedes the miracle, even if someone tells you to act like a bafoon. When we commit ourselves and choose confidence, our work will resonate with the world, because we created it with boldness.