You Do Not Even Have To Believe In Yourself

About six months ago, you may remember, Google put up a logo that looked like this:

Martha Graham

(That’s the static version. If you haven’t seen the animated version, take a moment to watch it now. It’s worth the ten seconds of your time.)

Personally, I think this is one of the best logos Google has ever done. So, following typical Internet logic, I clicked the pretty picture and read the Wikipedia article. The dancer’s name is Martha Graham, and after learning all about her, I promptly forgot almost everything.

One bit, however, stayed with me.

The story goes that another artist came to Ms. Graham to talk about her own worries. She “confessed that [she] had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that [she] could be.”

Martha’s response:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

I love this because it removes entirely the idea that you might not be good enough. She’s not saying you are good enough, she’s simply saying it doesn’t matter. That variable isn’t part of the equation. There is art inside you that exists nowhere else, and you must bring it out, and that is all.

This doesn’t mean you can be passive. You can’t wait for the Muse or your inner self to inspire you, nor can you merely dump your feelings on the page. Every art is a craft, and you are expected to forever push your skill to its limit. That’s what it means to “keep the channel open.” And of course, keeping the channel open is tremendously difficult.

But most artists – myself included – tend to make it even harder by piling worries and doubts on top of the work itself. Am I good enough? Will they like it? Will anyone remember this a year from now, or ten, or a hundred?

None of that is your job. It isn’t part of the equation.

Keep the channel open; make good art; give the world what it can’t get anywhere else.

Oh, and click on pretty pictures. That seems to help too.

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18 responses to “You Do Not Even Have To Believe In Yourself

  1. Sometimes I read a post and I think: You know, this is perfect. Absolutely perfect. It expresses so much of what I think and feel and believe, but haven’t yet (or possibly couldn’t) put into words. In fact, this post is so perfect, I have absolutely nothing to add or clarify or question.

    This is one of those posts.

  2. Brian, this is inspiring and very motivating! thanks!!

  3. One of your best posts yet. Really fits in with my mood today. Thanks!

    And I agree, that logo was/is gorgeous!

  4. As a former dancer (not a particularly talented one, but passionate) and a writer struggling with some self-loathing at the moment, I really appreciate this post. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Monday’s Top 5 | The Happy Logophile

  6. Self-loathing doesn’t get you too far. I’m a writer (by trade) and you have to gin up a lot of self-confidence to get material out there and not freak out when some people LOATHE your work — that’s one way to get rid of self-loathing — out-source it! My second book, a memoir of working retail, is one that people hate or love. Not much in the middle. But I know the story I told (about low-wage labor in America mid-recession) was important and valuable. If some readers hate the way I told it — boo-yah. They didn’t write or sell it. I knew the story itself was important, and it is.

    Don’t waste time on self-loathing. Get published, and let others do it for you!

  7. Reblogged this on Leon's daughter and commented:
    Great advice:)

  8. YES. Good to remember. It’s easy to get caught up in comparisons, but the creation and the craft are the only important parts.

  9. Pingback: For those of us who don’t believe in ourselves all the time |

  10. Thanks, I needed that. I’m about to start a new life and want to live my dream this time.

  11. Pingback: Do You Want to Dance? Or Do You Want to Dance? | Must Be This Tall To Ride

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