Get Thee Behind Me, Spider; or How to Deal with Self-Doubt

I have this idea for a performance. I’ve been thinking about this for almost three years. For three years I’ve been darting at the idea, throwing down some words, and then wandering away. Today I said to myself firmly, Okay, you’re going to work on that project today. That was at 9 a.m. It’s now almost 3 p.m. I’ve shouldered that elephant in the room out of the way several times as it’s stood between me and the coffee pot. As you can tell, as I’m talking to you rather than actually working on it, I am in avoidance mode. Why is that? Why do I keep working on it, wander away, and then resist getting back to it, yet still have at least a theoretical interest in the idea?

I realized today that the whole thing is shrouded in doubt, like sticky cobwebs, the kind that may or may not contain spiders. I doubt many things: whether it’s a good idea at all, whether I can pull it off, whether I know enough about what I don’t know, whether I know enough to do a creditable job and not embarrass myself.

Some comedian/inspirational speaker woman I heard once talked about the committee we all sometimes have, a committee who lives in our brain just waiting around to critique what we’re up to. My committee seems to have assembled in response to this threatened performance. Who are they? Who are these snooty opinion-mongers? They are you. They are me. Mostly me. You’ve always been quite supportive, actually.

All art making is a kind of communication, so why has this one conjured up, more than most of my other attempts, this committee? I’ve done performances before, so I’m used to an audience, the faceless foot shifters and program droppers in the dark. No, it’s the inner doubters that are keeping me at bay.

But self-doubt need not be a bad thing. First, it means I’m stretching myself into unfamiliar spaces. This is good. Second, it can make me careful, thoughtful, apt to do some research, some self-education. This is only bad if it becomes what I do instead of doing the thing I’m trying to do.

So now that I’ve identified my doubt, I’m hopeful I can move forward with it rather than against it. I regret I characterized it as a cobweb, as I can’t think of any way to go back now and reclaim the metaphor — cobwebs get caught in the hair and tickle the neck and cause me to feel like spiders are crawling down my sleeve. Self-doubt can’t be swept away. But I can hope to push it aside gently (get off my hand! get off!) and move forward cautiously. I can educate myself about the art and craft I’m embarking on, try to identify some specific aspects that are causing me concern, identify some steps or aspects to focus on, and can muster a new committee to run drafts past, people who will be constructive. And real.

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4 thoughts on “Get Thee Behind Me, Spider; or How to Deal with Self-Doubt

  1. Hi Marilyn, Not sure at all if you are asking for advice here, but since my note isn’t public, no one will know but you. Here’s my humble suggestion:

    First, light a candle and eviscerate that cobweb (metaphorically or literally, your choice). Then imagine the triumphant end of your performance. Where are you? What (if anything) went wrong? Lastly, jot down some names of folks with expertise that might help you avoid what you think might not come off well.

    Since I have no clue about your performance idea, it’s possible none of this makes a bit of sense. But conventional wisdom says, imagine the worst (aka your fear) and find a working solution. This helps one move on to action.

    Miss you, neighbor!

    On Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 1:13 PM, Marilynonaroll’s Blog wrote:

    > marmcc posted: “I have this idea for a performance. I’ve been thinking > about this for almost three years. For three years I’ve been darting at the > idea, throwing down some words, and then wandering away. Today I said to > myself firmly, Okay, you’re going to work on that p” >

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    • My advice to myself was in the last paragraph: consider the tasks, do some research, chunk it out, and get some sound advice. Hope you’re well and well occupied out there, and having fun.

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  2. Sometimes it just takes a long time to figure out how to approach it. The resistance is some part of your brain saying you haven’t figured it out yet. Sometimes it’s right and you have to live a few more days, weeks or years before you figure it out. Other times, you just have to force it onto paper and it turns out you knew how to do it all along but didn’t trust it. My rule of thumb is, first listen to the resistance… what objections do you have? Second, try a coming at it from a new angle..different point of view, different tone or stance toward the topic. If it’s minor resistance, you’ll get through. If the resistance is major, it means you need more time to figure out what the best approach is.

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    • In other words, at least don’t resist resistance, if one can’t entirely in fact embrace resistance — I’m thinking of how a cat gets all stiff-legged and horrified when you try to pick it up if it doesn’t want to be picked up. Pat resistance’s head.

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