HAVE YOU MET JACK?
I’m sure you have. He’s one helluva guy, with the emphasis on Hell.
He’s the kind of guy that pops up out of nowhere, always when you least expect and always when you don’t want him to. So inconvenient.
He’s the one you love to hate. I mean, you want him to like you, but you want him to go away all at the same time.
He’s the type of guy who will make you feel as though you want to chuck out everything that you’ve ever done. He’ll make you freeze, feel numb, throw up in your mouth just a little at the thought of having to show your work to anyone.
Still not sure?
Well. Let me ask you, have you ever been told:
“You’re just not good enough.”
That voice. Stemmed somewhere between childhood and early adolescence, maybe even as late as adulthood. Seeps in almost every time you embark on something new, or while in the midst of your ‘best’ work.
“You’re just not good enough.”
That voice. The one in your head. The one you hear the LOUDEST. Always comparing your work to others. Your peers, those you look up to.
“You’re just not good enough.”
That voice. The one that will leave you creatively crippled, if you let it. Stop you from moving forward. Laugh at every idea you’ll ever have. And make you throw stuff out that hasn’t even seen the light of day.
You know that voice right? Always there, back of the mind, telling you –
“You’re just not good enough.’
Well. That’s Jack. Certified arse. Here to taunt you.
His voice creeps in, right when things are flowing, to knock you back down, to doubt yourself. His goddamn smirking face always there. Always laughing and pointing. He’s like that annoying ‘friend’ who just won’t go away, and the more you try, the more he sticks to you like gum on hot bitumen.
You know what I mean right? We all know one of those.
You’re sitting in your favourite spot, just writing away in your little notebook or maybe on your laptop. You feel someone behind you but you’re absorbed in what you’re doing. Hey, things are flowing and feeling good and the well of inspiration is pouring out. And then you hear this voice, raspy and abrupt.
It says – “That isn’t very good is it? Are you kidding me. You call yourself an artist? You call yourself a writer? That’s just not good enough! You’re just not good enough!”
Taunt, taunt, taunt. Point, point, point.
You turn and think, Well who the hell is this guy? And try to recall when you ever asked for his opinion.
Tell me, would you listen to this guy, who doesn’t know you, doesn’t understand the amount of sweat and tears that have gone into your work? This guy who has just come along and attacked you? This stranger with all the unsolicited opinions.
But you do right? You do listen. You take it all on board. Take it to heart. Let it consume you, cripple you. Let it question everything you do. Well, this is Jack at his best (and by best I mean worst). It’s his MO. Jack is persistent. Jack derives pleasure from watching you squirm. Successfully shooting you down is his victory. BANG!
So who is this guy and where did he come from?
Jack is subtle and devious and he works his way in bit by bit. He may have shown up as early as those first school days. Think about it for a moment – our schooling thrives on a hierarchy of grades and critiques. Everything we do is judged. From our schoolwork to our conduct and behaviour.
An environment Jack thrives in.
Jack is one talented and highly experience ventriloquist. He is in the voice of your peers, your parents, your teachers.
Jack, in essence, is society. And he’s in your head.
Jack and everyone else knows you’re an imposter. A fake.
One of Jack’s favourite taunts is to tell you that you are a fraud. An imposter. You don’t belong here. You’ll be found out. And he is highly convincing.
Those sick to the stomach nerves that come along with believing what you do isn’t enough, isn’t good enough, often drives us to work harder – yet not always smarter. We put in more hours because we fear being discovered as this fraud. This fake.
Jack likes this. He knows that under duress you may stumble, and so he pushes and prods all the more. Waits until you’re right on the edge before that final blow.
‘This is Sparta!’
Why he laughs at things that are not perfect (and everything else). He wants you to believe that anything less than perfect is not worth doing. The more you strive for perfectionism the more he mocks you. Wants to humiliate you. The more he ridicules, the harder you push, or the further you retreat into yourself, beat yourself up.
And those days when you feel as though you have failed and Jack is sitting in the corner laughing, holding his stomach with tears in his eyes, just remember – this is what creativity requires much of the time. You pushing yourself. Your persistence and sweat. Finding what works for you and what doesn’t.
And never letting up.
The thing is, Jack doesn’t know how hard you work, Jack doesn’t know how far you’ve come. He doesn’t care about that 100% that you put in time after time. He just wants to see you fall.
HE GOT TO YOU TOO?
Think you’re alone in this? That Jack only has you to pick on?
No. Think again.
No one is immune to Jack. Even the most prolific writers, artists, musicians cop a pounding from him. No one is exempt from Jack’s bitter tongue. Everyone has their own version. Some louder than the others. The more attention the louder and more obnoxious he gets. He thrives on this. Some people are able to shut them up, or at least mute them, turn down the volume.
It takes years of practice. And Jack never really ever seems to shut up. He never seems to leave. Even if you manage to lock him away in the cupboard, he will still sit there rapping his knuckles on the door, letting you know that he hasn’t gone anywhere.
MAYBE YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH.
So maybe you aren’t good enough. So maybe your work is just not that great. Mediocre even. Maybe your work doesn’t live up to the standards and expectations you have for yourself. Or you believe others have for you. Or what you assume your work needs to be.
So? What are you going to do about it? Give up? Fail? Let them win?
Tell me – do you use Jack as an excuse not to do your best work? Or are you going to use him to motivate you to be greater? To want more? To push those boundaries? To take risks?
Jack is the quintessential bad guy. He loves to see you suffer. He loves to see you lose it. He likes to know he holds all the cards. And if he thinks he is getting to you, getting into your head and messing it up a bit, then he is one very happy guy.
Everyone loves a villain, we want them vile and cunning, calculated and uncompromising. We love to hate them. But ultimately, in most instances, we don’t want to see them win. We take much joy in watching them fall down in spectacular fashion because we don’t want to believe that someone like Jack will win, in the end.
You know the saying – keep your enemies close and your friends closer. Well Jack isn’t going to go anywhere fast. So it’s time to make him play on our side. It’s time we partner up. It’s time Jack worked for us.
JACK’S A GREAT MOTIVATOR.
If you’re anything like me – that is, somewhat defiant – you will want to prove Jack wrong. Take on the challenge. Let him motivate you. Let his jeers be inspiration for you. Let him think he’s helping. Let him feel wanted, for a while.
You see the thing about Jack is, as much as he loves to cause chaos, he also likes to know that his opinion matters.
Ask him what he thinks of your work when you are editing. Polishing. Don’t take it as gospel but get some thoughts from him. He likes attention and knowing that he, in any way positive or negative, is making some sort of impact.
But you need to keep it restrained, or he will mess with you. Pat you on the back and let you know that you’re doing okay – and then smack! That fierce slap to the back of the head that will leave you reeling, teary eyed and unable to see clearly what is in front of you. That dazed distortion.
So yes. There is a time and place to let Jack ‘have his way,’ or when he can come in handy. When his critical eye can be used for good instead of evil. So take this motivation and push hard. Let Jack egg you on.
Just don’t let him know that his criticism is what may drive you to perform better. Or that sometimes you might just NEED his not so humble opinion.
BLOCK OUT EVERYTHING
Jack will speak to you softly if you let him. He will resort to shouting if you don’t.
But you can block him out, with a little practise. The way a parent may zone out when their child is running stream-of-consciousness dialogue or manically screaming, ‘Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.’
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Write drunk, edit sober,” (often attributed, with much debate, to Ernest Hemingway) then you may understand the logistics of this. The state of mind you can enter that has Jack left out in the cold. The same way that you lose inhibition when drinking, you can learn to create with the same mindset, one that doesn’t allow Jack’s voice to override your unconscious thoughts.
It takes some practise to just create. Lose the delete button or the eraser. Do not read back over. Stop Jack from getting inside your head. But when you do it’s bliss.
TIME SPENT AWAY
Keep Jack occupied.
Let that Jack go out and play for awhile. His attention span is short. Anything longer than 90 minutes generally, and he wants to cause some trouble (if not sooner). Increment your creative time. When he starts being snarky, give him something else to focus on. Do something else. Anything. You need to leave what you’ve done and look at things with a new perspective once time has passed. He’ll be more forgiving when you come back to your work.
You see Jack gets in your head, making you doubt yourself, hate the things you’re creating. Especially when he’s bored, has been working too long, is over it. But sometimes he is relenting and that thing you hated somehow turns out to be not so bad after all, when you give it time to marinade, and when Jack feels refreshed.
When it all feels new again.
So, treat Jack (your own personal inner critic) as the villain from time to time. Stand up to him. Prove him wrong. He wants you to fail, he wants you to give up. This gives him power. He loves that control.
But don’t ever let him have it. Don’t ever let him win.
Because despite what he might say, You ARE good enough.