by Jennifer Paros
As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.
~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
I was working on a birthday card for my father, and time was getting tight. I started questioning and criticizing the drawing I was making, and these thoughts were corroding my clarity and sense of security. For a while, I purposefully avoided acting on the urge to show a preliminary print of the image to my husband, sensing it was a bad idea. Eventually, however, I did.
In general, my husband is a kind, enthusiastic audience. But when I turn, in a state of insecurity, to anyone, the experience is never what I want. In that frame of mind, I am looking for reassurance. This is a ragged and raw state. For a person in the process of creating something, we are the only ones who know our vision, so we are the only ones who can truly know the way to it. It’s not that others can’t be helpful; it’s that ultimately, we are the ones who must make the final call, as it is our inspiration to create and our creation. So if we’re not feeling trust in ourselves, we’ve got nothing.
I showed him the drawing and he said it was “nice.”
Nice wasn’t what I was after. Now the momentum of my insecure thinking sped up. I was in a swirl of mental activity, none of which was conducive to working. All of my active thoughts felt bad. But his response, which seemed to make me question myself, actually just matched (and now amplified) my previous state of self-questioning, which had made working so difficult in the first place.
I was mad I’d showed him the picture, angry I’d looked outside myself for confidence and stability.
Then, in an agitated I Have to Do This spirit, attempting to find my father’s favorite Goethe quote, I came across another: “As soon as you trust yourself, you’ll know how to live.” I sat for a moment considering this, at first having to ratchet my attention away from the car crash of my previous inner dialogue. Soon the words sank in easily and started making sense.
There was a trade being offered: I could continue to be miserable and feel insecure—judging my work, anticipating others’ opinions—or I could let those thoughts go by and return to a natural state of trust in myself. I could feel this trust regardless of possible “unwanted” outcomes and feel good now, or I could withhold that good feeling by making my right to it dependent on outcomes. As I switched my focus, I felt relief, and all the feelings I previously had no access to, like calm and security, were now available to me.
Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentations, discussion, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
When I was around 10 years old, I was in a class at school called Workshop. Workshop was a hands–on crafts/building/tools experience. We had a nice, very good, salt-of-the-earth teacher, Mrs. Bush-Brown. In Workshop, for reasons unknown to me, I felt great insecurity and routinely, frequently—okay, near to constantly—checked with Mrs. Bush-Brown in regards to almost every choice I made. I don’t know why. In her comments about me on my report card, she expressed her concern about this somewhat debilitating habit and was clearly fatigued of it.
I felt ashamed—exposed as pathetic and needy. But I had innocently gotten caught in a thought storm of chronic questioning of myself, and because Mrs. Bush-Brown was the authority figure, I turned to her, again and again, for relief. I didn’t know how to stop the momentum of that thinking; its speed was great. All I could come up with was asking for reassurance. But insecurity is never answered from without; in fact, seeking outside ourselves for security makes us feel insecure.
“Trust yourself” sounds like something to do. But in truth, the state of trusting in ourselves is our natural state. When we focus on questioning or assessing what we are, we obstruct our access to inner certainty. When we pay more attention to being ourselves than proving ourselves, we experience trust. One who refuses to question one’s own value has clarity and confidence, and when we leave the questions and doubts to die on the vine, there’s nothing left but trust and knowing—and the joy of creating.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.