Saturday 3 October 2009

A Lack Of Self-Confidence, And What We're Going To Do About It.

When I started out in filmmaking, I made many short films on zero-budgets. I was that guy who would go out and shoot with his camera and no crew. The films were, for the most part, pretty decent-- and I showed a lot of promise. I had always promoted the idea that films, especially short films, didn't need to cost much money; if any at all.

Fast-forward a few years, and I was still making short films with just me and a camera. The quality was improving somewhat, but I hadn't made the leaps I perhaps felt I could have done. Looking back it is very obvious why-- I wasn't doing everything I could be in terms of collaboration. I was still shooting myself, I didn't get a Director Of Photography. I would still handle the sound myself, rather than get people who knew what they were doing.

For years I have had the knowledge and contacts to be able to put a little crew together, but it hadn't happened. The reason being, that voice inside me that would tell me "you're not ready yet, maybe a couple more films.." or "No crew is going to take you seriously." It's very strange, but now I realise, not uncommon-- to have these two sides of your personality battling each other. On the one hand, there are times when I have lacked confidence, been unsure of how others perceive me. But at the same time, I have always had an unwavering belief in my abilities and knowing this certainty that, one day, my films will be loved by many people.

I have a lot of friends who are actors, and every single one of them has this same process at work. On the one hand, they've done all the courses and gone to all the auditions; they're like a powerhouse of ambition and self-belief. But there is also the flip side to this-- a deep insecurity; something telling you you're not quite good enough for the role, or that you're not quite ready. Strangely, sometimes as an actor you DO get the role. And then the actor feels like they've cheated the system. They're just worried that one day somebody will figure out that they weren't supposed to be there.

And, one day not long from now, my looks will go, they will discover I can't act and I will become some sad middle-aged woman who looks a bit like someone who was famous for a while.
-Anna Scott in 'Notting Hill'

My personality has never really been one that seeks approval. I am generally happy for people to think what they want of me, and I wear my terrible clothes and sit in my room listening to Springsteen records, I'm happy with myself. But when it comes to my creations, there has often been the need for approval. The notion of being 'discovered' or of getting money to make a project, is subject to somebodies approval. It is at the very heart of what we do. The battle to prove we are worthwhile.

Of course, the simplistic advice we get is "be more confident." But I think we need to go further than that. We need to be more confident, but without the need for anybody's approval. I know a novel writer who, upon publishing his first novel, absolutely blitzed everybody on Facebook, on emails, etc-- begging them to buy his book. "Read me! Love me! Help me!" I could totally understand it; it's a pattern that certainly isn't alien to me. What could be worse than putting your heart and soul into your book, only to have nobody to read it come the end? Well, a worse thing would be putting your heart and soul into a book, forcing everyone to check it out, and still having nobody to read it come the end.

I spend a lot of time talking to successful people. I always like to know what makes them tick. In the field of filmmaking, and in other circumstances. What I find in most cases, is that the achievement comes when you stop fighting, and just create instead. Just yesterday, I was speaking to a theatre writer who struggled for years fighting to get her projects made. Then, for a few years, she went and had some kids and lived her family life. Before she knew it, people were on the phone, practically begging her to do projects. Likewise, the novelist I spoke of now quietly writes his books and screenplays, and is finding less resistence from the systems he used to feel oppressed by.

Look at it like an arm wrestling fight. If you are fighting the other person, you're going to get a lot of resistance. But if you loosen up, the fight loosens, and before you know it you have the ease and the energy to push forward. I am not talking about giving up, I am talking about changing your relationship with what you are trying to achieve.

So far I've talked about two things - self-confidence, and fighting to achieve with your creative pursuits. They are linked more than you might imagine. When you are trying to 'make it' as a writer, actor, director, etc-- you are entering into a system whereby you're offering something up, and the system can say 'let's make it!", "you've got the role!" or "we're not interested," "you're no good."

But that system, and by system I mean, the industry, the people who say 'you're worth our time' or 'you're not worth our time' is exactly the same as the inner process going on in your mind. Your script, or your audition, is the same as that voice in your head saying "this is what I want to do with my life." And that person who can say "Sorry, your writing is crap" is exactly the same as that voice in your own head, that tells you "your writing sucks!"

So why do you expect people in the industry to love your script when a part of your very being is telling you that it sucks? The naysayers in the industry are just an extension of that part of yourself that tells you you're not good enough. That's probably why you hate them so much, because they remind you of you.

To really understand the person who has the power to reject you, you really need to understand the part of you that rejects yourself-- or at least, your work. Maybe there's some great wisdom in that voice. This, for me, is where the limitations of those 'positive thinking' books come into play, because they try to override your negative feelings, rather than learn from them.

I believe you become successful when you are ready for it. I have found throughout my life that where I am, professionally and personally, is directly related to where I am in my head. And as I've become more aware of this, things have really transformed. I think that most people who have reached their desired level of success will tell you they did it at a time when they finally figured something out about themselves.

Self-confidence can come temporarily from listening to positive-thinking-guru type stuff. But after a while, you need more than that. You really need to look at your inner critic, at your insecurities; and find out what motivates them. That voice telling you 'you suck!' - where does it come from? Why is it there? Why do you sometimes trust it more than the confident version of you? What can you learn from it? What positive things can you take from that inner critic?

I know that my inner critic is pretty strong-- it's always there and it knows what it wants to say. I actually admire those qualities. What a great thing to have, perserverance and definiteness. That's something that it is teaching me. I should be as strong as that negative voice in my head. Come to think of it, having perserverance and being definate are two things that will really help me excel even more with my career.

This is something we can all do, starting today. Build a new relationship with the thing that zaps at your confidence. For me, next time I have a meeting or interview; instead of nerves or feelings of lack, I'm going to have new found perservence and definiteness, something that was always in me. Afterall, who the FUCK is my inner critic? Why am I taking him so seriously? Why do I believe him? What gives me the right to talk to me in that way? I know what I am doing with my creativity; of that I am sure, and I am going to perservere. And this new certainty has come from engaging with my inner critic, and learning from it. When something is part of you, you can either fight it, or learn from it and work with it. The same goes for external systems, like producers, film studios, script analysts, etc! Fix the thing inside yourself, and then you're going to do much better out there. I'd love to know your thoughts.

Care to share?


  1. Hi

    Thank you so much for sending this.

    Here I was, after 7 years of writing and directing my own plays and struggling to live because of finance, I came to hault not knowing where to go next. It's as if the whole world had ended. (My next play by the way is about giving up and finding yourself once again,which I haven't been fighting at the moment to put it on stage).

    Many people around me were crushing my dream and wherever I turned it was a dead end. It seemed the past was living the present, and whatever influences I had were still here hautning me.

    I don't know how you found my email address but you came just in time.

    I have been thinking of taking my theatre to the next level and all I needed was realisation to see what I was doing, the inner critic really had a hold on me, now it's time for it to lose its power.

    Thank you once again!!

  2. "To really understand the person who has the power to reject you, you really need to understand the part of you that rejects yourself-- or at least, your work."

    now that is a quite brilliantly profound statement!

    Great post. thanks!

  3. Well you remembered me on fb on this post about joining self-confidence, it's really a great post, don't forget it yourself :-)