Friday, June 24, 2011

Don’t Apologize. Don’t! Don’t Do it!

Unless, of course, you did something wrong. Then by all means, get your grovel on.

But don’t do that thing where you apologize for the horribleness of your creative work right before you let someone see it.

Back when I used to study theatre, I had this teacher, Ms. Deaver, aka Ms. Diva because she unapologetically carried herself like one. She taught Voice and Speech. This wasn’t an artsy acting class where you get to talk about feelings and there’s more than one answer to every question. Voice and speech was technical and practical. It was her job to make sure we knew how to speak clearly, loudly and effectively (kinda important when you’re on the stage.) As a teacher she was stern and accepted no excuses. But she especially wanted no apologizing!

Don’t say, “I’m not very good” or “You’re going to hate it.” Don’t hunch your shoulders and shy away from eye contact as if to say – without saying a word, “I’m unworthy of your time. You may pretend I’m not here if you'd like.” And dear God, whatever you do… Don’t. Mumble.

All this is very obvious when it comes to the performing arts. Whatever you project, the audience will pick up on it. If you’re uncomfortable, the audience will be uncomfortable right along with you. But if you project confidence, well, in the best case scenario the audience will all together forget that you’re acting.

But this “no apologizing” credo isn’t just for the creative types who have to face their audience because it isn’t only performers who do it. I know breaking the habit is easier said then done. I catch myself at it more often than I'd like. While there are several reasons many of us creative types have this tendency, there are also reasons we should resist the instinct.

To paraphrase Erykah Baduh, we’re artists, and we’re sensitive about our shit. Often times we either believe that we completely and hopelessly suck or that we are just barely hanging on to being mediocre. Even if that is true, that doesn’t mean you won’t improve. It's just a fact of life that, unless you’re a prodigy, there’s a good chance you’re going to do something poorly before you do it well. Rather than knocking yourself down a peg, approach your talent with the understanding that the more you apply yourself to your craft, the better you’ll get at it.

The humble act. It’s good to be humble. No one is too high up on the totem pole that they can’t be taken down a notch or two, or ten or a hundred. It’s good to remember that no matter where you are in the pecking order, but there is such a thing as taking it too far; namely, when it becomes almost an embarrassment to admit that you’re capable. If you excel at something, allow yourself to acknowledge that at least every once and a while.

A way to shield ourselves against criticism. If we tell ourselves we suck first—or better yet, if we tell the person evaluating us so, then it won’t hurt as much when someone else says it. It’s along the same lines as quitting something so that you don’t have to fail at it. Counter-productive. I say we should embrace (constructive) criticism. It’s how we learn to do that thing we’re already awesome at even better.

An attempt to garner sympathy. Trying this can actually work against you. Sure, the first few times you might be able to get an, “Aaw, honey. You don’t suck. That was terrific!” But after a while, it gets old and people will get tired to having to reassure you if you come at them like that every time (or at least I get tired of it). And when you venture beyond your circle of family and friends, I tend to think that professionals are not going to take pity on you because you present yourself as meek and unworthy. If you think you’re incompetent, people will be more than happy to agree with you.

There’s a reason why people who we might think have only a modicum of talent manage to become rich and famous, and that reason is a little something I like to call confidence. Okay, maybe that’s not all there is to it, but you gotta admit it is a major factor. It takes a lot of confidence (or delusional thinking, sometimes interchangeable with confidence) to get on stage and sing to packed house when you can barely hold a note. Not that—ahem, I have any particular performer in mind. (shifty eyes, shifty eyes)

This is one of those things where it’s not even about being the best. It’s about carrying yourself as if you are. If you can’t see your value, then how can you expect anyone else to? Or worse, if you don’t see your value, what’s to stop someone who does see it from taking advantage of you and your abilities?

So don’t just do your thing. Own it.

If you can’t do that, then you know what? Fake it ‘til you make it.

In other news, the thing about practicing the technical aspects of drawing for hours everyday is that it isn’t terribly non-boring. I bribe myself into sitting down and drawing thirty ears in a row by putting on some TV series that I never knew much about or started watching but for whatever reason couldn’t keep up with and have been meaning to get back into for the past of years. So far I’ve watched Dr. Who, some of Farscape, most of Dollhouse, and I just finished season two of Big Love, and it has definitely given me good reason to sit and draw for several hours at a time.

My favorite quote from the show so far:

“If I could open up a vein and drain the half of my blood that is yours, I’d gladly do it.”

- said coolly and quietly by Bill Henrickson to his rodent of a father

Ooo! Burn!


  1. I agree whole-heartedly with your advice on when an apology is appropriate. This is also applicable to thank you's as well. Never thank anyone unless they have done something for you.

  2. Ha! I never thought about that. Good point.