5.03.2012

Learning How to Swagger

Say what you will about Kanye...he ain't hurting for confidence. Or success.
I have no swag. I can put on a good game face sometimes, but my confidence level tends to flag a lot. I am never really satisfied with anything I do. 

While this in many ways keeps me striving to learn and do better, it has its drawbacks. Namely, that I stop listening to my own voice. And this is bad, no matter how you paint it. It's important to be able to take criticism with an open mind, but it's a whole other thing to listen solely to what others are telling you until you're convinced that your original vision is wrong. When you lose that kind of confidence, you can't succeed no matter what you do. 

Phillip Phillips. Hasn't Compromised.
Has Never Been in Bottom 3
I see this all the time in other people. In no way is this demonstrated better than on a show like American Idol. Here we have an entire cross-section of singers, all from different backgrounds and styles. The only thing they have in common is a decent-to-great instrument. Some of them know exactly who they are, and they go out every week and rock out as if it is the most effortless thing in the world. The ones who do best, you never have to wonder if you're going to be entertained. These are the ones who bring you into their world, sit you down, and give you a show. You'll either love it or hate it, but you can never doubt for a second that what you got was sincere entertainment.

Elise Testone. Compromised Every Week.
In Bottom 3 Every Week. Has Since Gone Home
The others...the vast majority of the contestants, rather, they have no idea who they are or what they want to be. They have this ability, but they don't know how to apply it. Or, they think they know who they are until someone tells them it isn't quite right, and without even showing the slightest bit of artistic fortitude, they submit to an entire re-molding process at the request of judges and mentors and producers who just want to  make money. These performers do it because they just want to be accepted, but by doing so, they've already said goodbye to who they truly are in order to become what someone else wants them to be. 

Sometimes this guidance can help the right artist bloom, but most of the time, they become even more lost and confused, and before you know it, their run has ended and they fade into obscurity, because people can usually see through that kind of ruse. That's because more than pure talent, people just want entertainment. And they want it at the hands of a skilled entertainer who knows what they're doing, who probably came out of the womb knowing it. 

*cough*
And it's these people I admire the most. And it's these people who always give me cause to sit down and think who it is who is writing some of these stories of mine. I won't say which ones aren't me, because I don't want to affect anyone who might eventually read them. But suffice it to say, there are a few of my pieces of work that I despise more and more each day, and would take down if I didn't already think that Pandora's box had been open for too long.

But it's only a few. Most of them are me down to the bone. They have a pulse, and that pulse is mine. Other stories started out as mine, but they took on another life when I felt I needed to change them in order to be accepted, and as such, they do not reflect the kind of writer I want to be. My voice and my own particular thumbprint has been scrubbed out of them until they're virtually sterile.

And it all comes down to confidence. Knowing the kind of artist you are and not compromising on it, even when there are some people who might not agree with you. I've recently had to consider two opposing viewpoints on a book I just finished. One person thought I needed to change something. Another person didn't think it was necessary. I was so busy trying to decide between these two viewpoints when it occurred to me that I forgot to even consider my own. 

When I was asked what my gut was telling me, I had to sit and think for a few minutes. What did I think? Why should I even have to think so hard about this? My voice should not be so muffled and buried! This shouldn't have taken me even 30 seconds to decide, but I had to clear my head and think about it. I had to tell myself that it was my story, I created it. What is my vision and why did I make the decision I made? 

I shouldn't have to depend on other people to tell me what my vision is, even if I'm only half as competent as I think I am. 

My gut told me that I did it right the first time. There may be others who won't agree, but I have to take the risk on myself and not on someone else. I have to trust myself. I have to be the one who takes you into my world and entertains you on my terms. Because if I'm doing it on someone else's, it won't come through, and I will get no joy out of the success that may come of it. 

Maybe my book won't work for everyone. But even the most legendary entertainers aren't universally loved. Everyone is a critic. But the greats never compromised on what they saw was best, even if some of their closest confidants disagreed. That's the mark of someone who knows that they're doing. Even if some people think they suck, they have the swagger, and most of these people will be swaggering all the way to the bank.

I'll let you know when I find mine.