The Paradox of Creative Confidence

To get off the couch and do something interesting requires confidence. The more interesting the thing, the more confidence you need. But if you have too much confidence, you’ll be blind to the lessons you need to learn to make something as good as what you imagined in your mind.

But  if you have too little confidence, you either won’t get off the couch, or you’ll give up when you hit your first wall. And no interesting thing is finished without hitting some walls.

The paradox is to be confident, but not confident.  Or to posses the self-control to make yourself confident, or doubtful, whenever you wish, mastering the tightrope of your own mind.

People who make good things walk this tightrope all the time.


11 Responses to “The Paradox of Creative Confidence”

  1. John

    I think Ira Glass is talking about the same thing in this video:

    His solution to the problem of building confidence is to simply do a LOT of work. You often have to force yourself through this process because the work you’re doing early on seems (and usually is) so crappy.

  2. Scott Berkun

    John: Thanks for the link. I’ve seen it before, but I’d forgotten about it and how good it is.

  3. Mike Nitabach

    Another way of putting this balance is as between being confident enough in your own ideas to push them forward persistently, while still being open to criticism and course correction.

  4. Paul Tevis

    One of the ideas that keep encountering again and again is the notion that it’s important to be able to turn off the
    “critic” part of the brain during certain phases of creative work and turn it back on again during others. When you’re on the couch is the right time to assume you have something useful to say. After you’ve written the first draft is the right time to question whether you’ve said anything anything useful. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  5. Paul Baranowski

    In my experience, confidence is a state of mind that comes from competence. Competence comes from working on something with determination, courage, and non-judgment. So I don’t think you need confidence to get off the couch at all. You just need the motivation to do it, along with the other three qualities to get you through the learning process.

    The other quality you seem to be describing is arrogance, which is not confidence. Arrogance is just insecurity in another guise. So I don’t see a paradox here. :)

  6. David Elliott

    “The paradox is to be confident, but not confident.”A nice piece but is there not a typo – should it read but not over confident?

    1. Scott Berkun

      Hi David: I think its ok as is. I meant duality, that you have to be both the thing and not the thing at the same time.

  7. Bill Caemmerer

    Could you be looking for curiosity? A healthy curiosity won’t be self-satisfied like over-confidence, and can get you off the couch, too. Makes confidence less of an issue.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Curiosity has it’s own paradox too – if you’re too curious you get bored easily and abandon projects. If you’re not curious enough, you don’t start anything.

  8. Doug

    Ironicallity! But confidence doesn’t guarantee you’ll be right OR creative, which may be why a lot of people maybe self-select for the couch. The others are just bombastic. ;)

  9. Scott Berkun

    Ironicallity indeed! I like that. Fair point about confidence. There are no guarantees. Even if you’re creative, and right, and do good work, a year or decade from now you might feel differently about what you made. Of course the opposite is also true: you might hate something when you finish it, but realize years later it was better than you thought (but then years after that…).


Leave a Reply

* Required