This question is the psychological equivalent of a strait-jacket. It can stop people dead in their tracks and is universally applied, in the sense that it does not matter if you want to sell chutney at the church hall or run for President. When you delve a bit deeper, you will see that more accurately the fear is – who will other people think I am to do this? Ahh, other people. Other people. Two words which deprive the world of so much. How many unpublished books, unpainted pictures, unseen photographs, unsung songs and unworn outfits are there as a result of ‘other people’? How many beautiful dresses and sharp suits are left to linger in wardrobes in case other (scruffy) people think the wearer is ‘over dressed’?
Next time you go out (and I mean today) really look at these other people. If you are reading this in a public place, better still. Look up and take a look around you. Take the vague, woolly notion of ‘other people’ and focus in sharply on exactly who we are talking about here. That drained man in the corner of Starbucks with a pumpkin chai frothy mocha (side note – what happened to a cup of tea?), the bored bank clerk, the cold traffic warden, the giggling teens, the waitress waiting for her shift to end, the teacher with the thumping headache, the frazzled mother, the miserable postman, the cheery builder – have you given each of these complete strangers the job as the gatekeeper to your dreams? When you worry about what other people will think, on some level, it can feel as though you need their permission to forge ahead. Here is the deal. They are not going to give it to you. Ever. They do not have the first clue who you are. They are not interested in you and never have been, just as you are not interested in their life crossroads because you don’t have a clue who they are either! They may, however, find your chutney absolutely delicious or your book a life changer and that’s all you need. They may feel a million dollars in the dress you designed or be lifted by your interior design skills. But, booms the voice inside, what if it’s not a success? It’s an impossible, and therefore pointless, question. Without putting your thing out there, you can never know how it will be received, so you may as well just go ahead and do it.
What if someone actually says those very words – who do you think you are to do that? What gives you the right to launch your own shoe company/fashion line/rocket to Mars? Or a sideways swipe, ‘huh everyone thinks they are an expert these days.’ This is easy to deal with. One question is all you need – who are you to ask who am I? It reminds me of one of those old English theatrical farces from the 1970s. I imagine a West End production of the hit farce “Who are you to ask who am I to ask who are you?” Curtain goes up, on runs a bishop, he slips on a banana skin, two panto dames show the audience their bloomers, on comes a traffic warden in a pair of pyjamas, curtain goes down, audience stands up, curtain goes up, cast take a bow and everyone says together “Who are you to ask who am I to ask who are you?” followed by two loud boings and rapturous applause. Audience makes its way home. Usherettes clean up Cornetto wrappers.
Seriously, where is their locus to be your gatekeeper? Did you hire them to keep you in check? Here’s how that advert would look (right).
You are not on a crazy TV show (hopefully) where you have to listen to people with questionable haircuts in swivelly chairs. If you have to deal with detractors, ask yourself how come they’ve got the bandwidth to be all chewed up with what you are doing? Successful, creative, bouncy types will be so completely immersed in their own projects, that they will wish you well, but they are unlikely to set aside time to pick your stuff apart.
TEARING APART the TWO BIG FEARS
At the dark heart of the terror of doing anything new lie two things – the fear of the ‘no-show’ and the fear of ‘the show and slag off.’
1. THE No Show
What if people don’t turn up to my play? Read my book? Buy my jam? I will die of embarrassment. It’s easy to forget how commonplace this is and how slow things can be to warm up. Paypal started with 27 users. Facebook had a few Harvard undergrads. What matters more than anything else is that you show up.
Recently, I hired my local village hall near my house in Devon, England to sell lots of great clothes that no longer fit due to weight loss and lots of clothes that do fit but which I am editing. In a couple of hours I set up the hall with rails of lovely clothes, all on black velvet hangers, my magazine was on sale and people who could do alterations were on standby. During the day I converted the bar into a café, spreading crisp white linen tablecloths over the tables, which looked beautiful with vases of fresh spring flowers, solid silverware and immaculate china. Evening times saw the same bar candlelit, I brought bar stools from my house, lit Diptyque candles, played fabulous vintage music, had a smart barman and coupes (not even flutes people, coupes) of fizz for just £1. It was head to toe fabulous and I was delighted with it. Virtually no one came. Honestly, hand on heart, it did not make the slightest difference to whether I thought I had done a good job or not. You have to just stand by your creation and not have its inherent worth defined by other people. Best selling author Eckhart Tolle gave workshops where sometimes only one person turned up. He now says exactly the same thing to tens of thousands of people. This demonstrates that a concept’s inherent worth can be completely independent of audience size.
2. The ‘Show up and Slag Off’
In some ways, this is an even bigger fear for people. What if people do come to my play but hate it? What if they buy my book but don’t get past the first chapter because they are so bored and then slag it off all over Amazon? I believe you know deep down whether you have produced good work or done a good job. First and foremost, the credit always belongs to the man in the ring – the person who is ‘daring greatly’. The world has those that do and those that only comment on what others do. No one wants to be in the second gang. The older you are, the more intolerable not doing your thing is, as time marches on and you have nothing to show for your years of bitching. So let’s get back to my hall sale. I had expected a few more people the next night (three had come the night before, so the threshold was low). That evening I had decided to offer facials and make-up lessons as well – think Harvey Nichols with sheep outside – just five people came. I listened to the music, drank the fizz and went back to my lovely house. Note to self I thought, it’s important to be with your tribe in life and that would have been that. Soon however, word started to reach me of comments posted on Facebook by one of the thin trickle of attendees.
“Sorry, does not live up to the hype thumbs down” said Dawn. This is a “I came, I saw, I slagged off” and it is going to happen if you do anything else but watch TV and deal with social media. It’s a village hall. Readers will not be surprised that I did not hire Saatchi & Saatchi to promote this event. Dawn and I simply don’t share the same ideas about fashion, what constitutes hype or what is actually possible in a church hall. Under no circumstances can the ‘show up and slag off’ stop you from putting your thing out there. If it is a genuine comment, people will make it to you in person and offer an alternative – “I don’t like fashion but is there any chance of you organising a livestock jamboree?” (answer – no). As the old saying goes “everyone has internet balls” and that is why this type of ‘feedback’ can be dismissed. The trick is to learn to tune into the value of your work yourself and then you are impervious to comments.
KEEP IT UNDER YOUR HAT
Everyone wants to feel central. Do not ask people who are not directly involved if they think your new project is a good idea. Never do that. The overwhelming likelihood is that people will pick it apart. If eBay did not exist and I were to mention that as a potential idea – here is what I would get. “What???? You are going to have complete strangers come to your house and collect a sideboard? They could be an axe murderer… No one is going to be bothered to list stuff unless it is really valuable… No one is going to buy clothes they can’t try on… Who is going to buy an antique umbrella stand in the shape of an accordion?” OK that last person may have a point, but I am sure you get my drift. The last thing many people want is a big, shiny success up close to them – that is going to make many people feel very uncomfortable. Just produce it – slam. Done deal. People will stand with their eyes wide open – minds in overdrive looking for shortcomings – hell, there must be a problem here somewhere. However, once something is launched, it’s too late. Launched projects carry a different charge than nascent or unfinished ideas. It’s simply too late for negative interference to scupper the project. Also, you will get people’s true reactions – both positive and negative, the enthusiastic, the pinched, the generous and the mean. You will see very clearly who you have around you. People may like your work or not – that’s a preference – not everyone likes damson jam, your dresses won’t work for everyone. However, true supporters will recognise the effort, the execution and the ‘daring greatly’ element even if your launch is not in their line of interest.
This is an excerpt from Issue 2 of Amanda Magazine. Read the full article by ordering your copy now.