Do you want to stop me from trying something new? Just make me face the reality that my first attempt won’t be perfect.
Do you want to stop me from getting better at something new I’ve tried? Just show me how much better everybody else’s work is. Show me the best example of that work from someone else and then wait while a voice whispers, “See? You’re not good enough.”
I’m a quitter. The twin demons named Fear and Shame stand guard over my dreams. They taunt me. As long as I stick to things I find easy, they leave me alone. But when I look at my dreams again — or if I dare to start working toward one of those dreams — they spring into action.
“You’re not good enough,” Shame hisses. “Look how good all these other people are. They’ll laugh at your incompetence.”
“You’re going to do all this work and find out you have no talent,” Fear whispers. “You’re better off doing what you already know how to do. It might not make any money, but you’re good at it — so you won’t be embarrassed.”
I listen to these demons — and then I quietly find a thousand reasons not to do the things I want to do. It happened again this week.
I like to write. I’ve been a writer for many years. I’ve been paid a lot of money to do it. Newspapers paid me peanuts in the beginning, but I was good enough at writing and editing and photography and page design that I was rewarded quickly.
I was managing editor of a weekly newspaper by the end of my junior year of college. By the time I was 21 years old, I was managing editor of a daily newspaper for the same company. Everybody I managed was older than I was. But the work was easy to me.
After my experiences starting a couple of small publications — and losing everything because of my father’s embezzling from his employer — I eventually ended up in politics, where I was paid ridiculous amounts of money to help get people elected. I was a political prostitute. I slept better after I left that slimy business.
I know I have strong skills in certain areas, but I have absolutely no interest in using those skills in the ways I’ve been paid in the past. The newspaper industry is dying. (And it’s become a boring industry, frankly.) I refuse to have anything to do with elections, for reasons that are both philosophical and pragmatic.
But I need to make art. I want to communicate ideas that matter to me. I want to touch the hearts and minds of those rare people who care about the things I care about. I want to express things that cause people to write to me about something I’ve made and say — as someone recently did — “I just wanted to say it was beautiful. I never thought someone would write down what I feel so perfectly.”
To do those things, I need to use film and video and audio in more extensive ways. I’ve dabbled with these formats, but the things I’ve done have been low-risk and low-reward projects with which I’ve dipped a toe into the waters of creation.
And that’s when Shame and Fear resume their grip on me.
I understand where this came from. I’ve talked before about my battles with perfectionism and I’ve talked about how it was programmed into me in horribly unhealthy ways. But recognizing this hasn’t chased those twin demons away.
A few weeks ago, I started thinking that I really need to get more serious about finally making a serious attempt on YouTube. I built a functional little home studio several years ago. I have the pieces in place. But each time I try something, I hate it so badly that I run away — for months or years.
As I was starting to look into making another effort to do YouTube video, I was recently learning how to use some video graphics software called Apple Motion, which integrates with Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing software. During that process, YouTube recommended a video by a woman named Cathrin Manning, because she had made a video about Final Cut Pro.
As soon as I saw a few seconds of Cathrin — talking about video editing on her Mac — I was reminded of something that the late Roger Ailes once said in his book, “You Are the Message.” Early in his career, he worked for a company that produced television talk shows. When he scouted possible new talent, he would turn the person’s show on — but he would turn the sound off.
Ailes said the trick was to watch the person — without any idea of what was being said — and see if something about the person compelled you to turn the sound on, simply because you had to know what the person was saying. Ailes said that a great communicator makes you want to hear him or her, almost regardless of what’s being said.
That’s the way it felt to watch Cathrin talk. She was so talented — see her channel for yourself — that I would have watched her read a phone book. As I sampled some of her other videos, I was shocked to discover — in a “Twilight Zone-moment” sort of way — that she moved to Birmingham last year. What are the odds?
I soon discovered that Cathrin started her YouTube channel only a few years ago. Her early videos were rough by her current standards, but she got better and improved her technical quality. She now has more than 300,000 subscribers — and YouTube paid her something like $200,000 last year.
She was so inspiring that I was determined to follow her lead and see what I could do, with a completely different niche, of course.
I spent several days mapping out a plan. Once I was sure I was happy with the direction, I settled on what I would make for a first video. I told myself that I would make that first video as an introduction and then I would commit myself to doing at least 100 videos before deciding whether to continue.
I planned to put my introductory video together this weekend.
The weekend is now over — and I have nothing to show for it. Those old demons — Shame and Fear — have worked their magic with me. They keep reminding me of everything that could be wrong with my plan. They show me how much more talented other performers are. They remind me that I don’t know what I’m doing. They help me to find a thousand reasons that I should give up — or at least put it off.
So I’m frustrated with myself, but there’s a part of me which keeps thinking, “Just stick to writing, David. It might not make you any money, but it’s comfortable. It’s just something you do for yourself, so you don’t have to care about being judged.”
So that’s where I am late Sunday night. I still believe in the plan I developed, but Shame and Fear have talked me out of doing anything about it — at least not yet.
But I know that I can do something scary — even in the face of fear — because I did it once. When I had the right motivation.
I had wanted to make a film for years before I finally allowed myself to try. I had found every excuse in the world to keep delaying. Then I met a woman. She was impressed that I wanted to make films. Because I wanted to show her that I could do something — when I genuinely wasn’t ready — I made that first film.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to make it into more than 20 minor film festivals. And if I hadn’t wanted the approval of a woman, I doubt I would have ever made it. (She and I did date. We fell in love and almost married, but that’s another story that’s in the past, one I’ve alluded to before.)
I don’t know how to find the motivation right now to do something I’m so afraid of doing. I’d like to believe I’m so self-motivated that I could do it for myself, but that doesn’t seem to be my pattern.
I’m frustrated with myself tonight. I know I’m capable of doing what I’ve planned for YouTube. I also know that I can make the films — both shorts and features –that I’d like to make beyond that.
I have to find the right motivation. And I have to somehow defeat these twin demons that work so hard inside my head to stop me from pursuing my dreams.
I can do great things. I can touch millions of people. I can make art that matters. But Shame and Fear somehow have to die first.