How to Believe in Yourself
Even though only drowning men can see you.
Why don’t you believe in yourself? Maybe you grew up around people who thought there was something wrong with you. They believed in you, sure, but they also saw you as slightly broken. They saw you as broken because they saw themselves as broken. Or as Leonard Cohen put it:
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open,
Forsaken, almost human,
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.
That last line is the epitaph that belongs on the graves of every bad relationship I ever had. And if I had Polly’s job, I’d answer every single letter from a girl hung up on a dude the same way:
Come on, woman. He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone! But you want to travel with him anyway, don’t you, you stupid motherfucker? You want to travel blind. And you let him touch your perfect body with his mind again, too, didn’t you? He’s not even that smart, you know that, right?
Meanwhile, who believes in himself more than Leonard Cohen? That’s the kind of belief we need to conjure around here. We need that level of mega-church mega-faith in yourself. Even Though I Sound Like a Stoned Zombie, I Am Just About to Touch Your Hot Ass with My Brain Waves!
Why do so many of us need to believe in ourselves more than we already do? And why do we crave tea and oranges that come all the way from China so goddamn hard? Why do we hear the words “touched your perfect body with his mind” and immediately feel a tiny bit envious of Leonard Cohen and Suzanne (who was she?) and anyone else they knew or got naked with, even though they probably all had unsightly patches of body hair and smelled like old cheese? Why is Suzanne such a deeply dirty song? Why is Hallelujah even dirtier? Why do most explicit lyrics sound utterly sterile and clinical but Leonard Cohen’s weird nerdy poetry about Jesus is just UNGH YEAH JESUS, GIVE IT TO ME?
Belief, baby! Believing is the special sauce. It turns you into a mystical being who can just sing in monotone and people trip out on how super duper amazingly groovey you are.
Belief also makes you happier. You get more done. People like you more. And even if they don’t like you at all, you don’t care. You don’t even notice.
Belief in yourself makes it easier to write, of course, but it also makes it easier to get up in the morning. When you believe in yourself, you don’t mind if someone doesn’t like the stuff you do. You’re relaxed. You’re just trying to have fun, after all. No need for stress. No need to prove anything to anyone. You’re in it for the personal enjoyment. You understand that, finally.
This really nice stranger came to my house to record some stuff for a podcast today, and she was talking about a podcast that she wants to make. Incredibly enough, as she was describing her podcast idea, I didn’t think, “Oh god, no, please don’t do that, that sounds fucking terrible, another podcast, who needs that?” I really loved her idea. “I would listen to that!” I told her, and I meant it.
But she hesitated. She said, “Yeah. I don’t know.” She had a great concept and a bunch of cool stories. She even has experience with interviewing and editing audio. But the more enthusiastic I was, the less into her idea she seemed.
“I should do it, I guess,” she said, in this really downtrodden voice.
She was struggling to believe in herself. She was struggling so much that even THINKING ABOUT SOMETHING SHE WOULD BE GREAT AT made her anxious. Her most passionate desires had formed themselves into an annoying homework assignment that she was avoiding. Blurting out an idea was all she could do. If she even considered her idea for more than a second, or planned it out a little, or followed through with it in any way, that brought up a big wave of anxiety and dread.
I remember being that way. I used to be very allergic to my own ideas. I could work on a new project briefly, but then I would always turn against it. I had all of these intensely negative associations with BELIEVING IN SOMETHING. Belief embarrassed me. It made me feel delusional. I turned every good idea into bad homework that hung over my head until I stuffed it under the bed or threw it out or ignored it forever and ever.
So I told her this: The best things are created by people who don’t have some big plan or concept, they just take their desires and run with them. All that matters is figuring out how to enjoy making something. You can’t think about whether it will change your life or not. That just turns it into something that’s too high stakes, too heavy. All you have to do is show up and show yourself and enjoy it. Yes, at first, all of the anxiety and dread will be there. You have to tolerate that part, and keep working, and eventually you’ll start to notice that you really ENJOY the work itself. And if you’re enjoying it, everything will feel organic and right. You’ll set the bar high. You’ll get into the zone (after you break through the dread phase, which you’ll have to do every day btw). You’ll know what you made is good. You won’t even need feedback from your half-interested friends. You’ll just BELIEVE. You just have to put your whole goddamn self into it. You just have to figure out how to enjoy the process. Because the process is all there is.
Anyway, as you might imagine, it is exceedingly taxing to meet me casually. If you do happen to meet me somewhere, here’s a reminder never to give me any information about yourself. Never do it! And never, ever lead me to believe that you DON’T BELIEVE IN YOURSELF or you are fucked. I will lecture you for hours. It will be so. incredibly. boring. for. you.
If you meet me in real life, it will be the exact opposite of that time when you saw someone bathing on the roof and her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya. Remember that? Was Leonard Cohen a peeping Tom in real life? Was he a total creeper? Was he Aqualung? And if he was so spaced out and freaky, how did he come up with the world’s most scathing put down:
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?
I mean what species of passionless mouthbreathing toad is indifferent to MUSIC?
I’ll tell you who’s indifferent to music: People who were trained to power down their feelings. People who were punished for feeling things. People who were punished for believing in themselves.
People who were punished for believing in themselves eventually learn to PUNISH THEMSELVES FOR BELIEVING IN THEMSELVES. They spend their lives peeping at women bathing on the roof but they never talk to them. They can only feel things when they’re tied to a kitchen chair. (Bad sign.) They can only feel things when they think they’re with Jesus. They can only feel things when they blurt something out. They can’t feel anything when someone else speaks, when it becomes a conversation, when it gets intimate and therefore scary.
When there’s a plan, when there’s homework, when sustained hard work is involved, they light up at first, but then they immediately shut down. They love hard work, underneath the noise in their heads. But the noise says, “You’re deluded.” The noise says, “Who do you think you are, Leonard fucking Cohen?” The noise says “You’re going to abandon this project the same way you abandoned the last one, and the one before that.”
They don’t know that believing in yourself is the same thing as SUSPENDING YOUR DISBELIEF. They don’t know that you can’t always feel your belief in yourself, but you have to just plow forward anyway. They don’t know that everyone abandons every single project, until finally one day they persevere. They persevere once they figure out that the process is the fun part. Everything else is just a footnote.
So the next time you don’t believe in yourself, ask yourself who didn’t believe in you, in the very beginning.
Who was it? Oh, him? That guy? You’re really going to take his opinion over yours? Because, dude. He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.
Today, The Book of Polly tells us to stop expecting to transcend our insatiable nature. Spoken like a sailor who knows only drowning men can see her, amirite? Anyway, who’s sinking beneath your wisdom like a stone at the moment? Write to askmolly at protonmail and spill it!