Ego, by Luke van O

I spend a lot of my time doubting myself, a small amount of it proud of myself, and the rest of it terrified that everything's about to fail. When proud it's likely due to some compliment about my work from someone whose opinion I admire, and I feel invincible. When I'm feeling doubtful or insecure even the simplest of tasks seems like a mountain to climb. Thankfully my reaction to this feeling is (usually) to put my head down and get on with it, work harder. It's probably this that's made me successful as it's this state I spend most of my time in. Or not successful. I'm unsure.

When I'm terrified I turn to one of the many smarter, more experienced, cooler or calmer people I know and tell them. And they help me.

So, in some ways, it's my feelings of uselessness that make me useful. Since I have to justify myself to myself and I'm a horrible critic, every perspective and opinion I have gets constantly challenged, brutally critiqued or ridiculed. Sometimes I wish I could just accept it how it is and leave it be, but then what would I achieve? Participation?

Feeling your work isn't good enough leaves you only two options: give up, or try do better. Thankfully, I tend to keep trying. I do have a tendency to walk out of jobs, napalming my bridges behind me and adding new names to my shit list, but it's not because I'm giving up, it's because I can't *not* look for a better way forward and I'm impatient when bureaucracy or apathy get in the way.

"If I can't find a way around I'll find a way across, and if I can't find a way across I'll walk straight through." – Dizzee

I remember telling a friend who was struggling with self-doubt and depression that work, "is a lifelong struggle to convince people you know what you're talking about when, really, you're just faking it." It's a simple philosophy: if you accept we don't live in a static world; that every discipline, academic or professional is constantly evolving, then there's always more to learn. Anyone who exhibits certainty is lying or deluded. Expertise can only be achieved temporarily, and if you want to stay on top you have to keep climbing. It's exhausting but rewarding and it's the perfect antidote to arrogance and vanity.

A few weeks ago we pitched for a piece of work against some very prestigious competition. It went well, very well. At the end the person who'd invited us took us aside and told me our presentation "was everything he'd hoped it would be." And he said a ton of other complimentary things I can't remember (or didn't listen to). He was beaming. We had out-thought and outperformed people I look up to.

I didn't know how to react. In the face of proof that I occasionally get things right, know what I'm talking about and have a right to speak about it, I wanted to run. I couldn't think straight my heart was faltering and I was worried I might start crying. It took me an hour of being led around Sydney by our CD before I started getting back to normal. 

So that's my ego: a vital and constant drain on my self-worth. I can only hope to carry on feeling shit at this forever.

 

reprinted courtesy of Word-Form, originally printed 19th September 2017 (read the original post here)

Luke van O

Northcote, Australia