All the writers I know have at least one person in their past who told them they would never make it. In my case, it was a creative writing professor in college. Too often it’s a critical parent who thinks writing isn’t really a career or a disgruntled spouse waiting for the income to start rolling in to relieve financial woes.
For writer/director Kevin Smith, it was the mother of an ex-girlfriend.
Smith wrote about his experience on Facebook last month in an inspiring post which he began, “I’m gonna close #2016 with a relic from 1989.” He described how this woman, the mother of a girl he had just broken up with, handed him a note that said: “Kevin Smith will never be a famous writer. He does not have the drive. I do wish luck.” You can read the full post here, and you should.
It will make you angry and hopeful and happy all at the same time. Angry that a person would dare to try to crush someone’s dream like that, and hopeful that if Kevin Smith could overcome that kind of criticism anyone else could too, and happy that he did it. He proved that woman wrong.
However, after you pump your fist into the air and the giddiness of Smith’s victory fades, the issue lurking underneath remains.
As humans, we are social creatures. Each one of us lives in the center of a complex web of relationships and works constantly to negotiate the connections between family, friends, bosses and coworkers, our government, the media, and society as a whole.
What do you do when the people close to you—or even the people who are only on the fringe of your web—are critical of your dreams? How do you keep working to make your destiny manifest when someone pops up and says, “Nope. Never gonna happen.” and then leaves you seriously doubting yourself?
You become a highly resilient person.
“Julian Rotter, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, developed the concept of what he calls “locus of control.” Some people, he says, view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience — i.e., they have an internal locus of control… [while] others believe that things are done to them by outside forces or happen by chance…research shows that those with a strong internal locus are better off… They’re less likely to find everyday activities distressing… they take compliments and criticism in stride,” according to an article about highly resilient people in Business Insider.
What this means is that highly resilient people believe that every choice they make matters. And if they find themselves in a situation where neither choice is very appealing, they focus on the choices they can make about their reactions.
Kevin Smith could have chosen to believe in that woman’s opinion. He could have stopped writing then and there. But instead of using that note as evidence of his own inadequacy, he chose to use it as fuel to stoke his creative fire. In his Facebook post Smith says, “The note served as a constant reminder that NOBODY writes my story but me. Rather than believe this adult who had some minor insight into my character, whenever I looked at this piece of paper, I’d start typing. And one day, I typed a screenplay that changed my life.”
Highly resilient people also don’t let the emotions of the moment dictate the outcome of their future success, but this is a tough one for most of us to pull off.
“Whether we feel guilty, outraged, scared, or hurt, we are prone to quickly dismantle the only part of our brain that sets us apart from other mammals and default to fight/flight/freeze, the three responses of a prey to a hunter,” says psychologist Randi Gunther.
As hard as it can be to stay present and not go into fight/flight/freeze mode, it’s essential for our long-term success. Kevin Smith could have written his Facebook post as a rant, with the goal of shaming the woman who wrote him that note and gaining personal vindication. But he chose a different route. He shared how one critical opinion spurred him on to keep writing, and ultimately helped him achieve his dream.
Lastly, highly resilient people are not afraid to be vulnerable. Social scientist and author Brené Brown says, “The most transformative and resilient leaders that I’ve worked with over the course of my career… have the ability and willingness to lean in to discomfort and vulnerability,” in an article on Brain Pickings.
Kevin Smith could have chosen to keep this note to himself out of embarrassment or because of fears about what people might say about it now. He might have been nervous that someone reading his Facebook post agreed with the woman’s opinion and would make a comment letting everyone know that. However, he chose to share something from his past that made him vulnerable. He chose to open himself up in a way that courted emotional risk, but also made possible greater emotional connection within his community.
All writers sooner or later encounter the person who tries to deflate their writing dreams. The solution is not to barricade ourselves in an underground bunker and only interact with the world via the internet, because the dream-deflaters are trolling around there too.
Instead, it’s time to make “building resilience” priority number one on our self-improvement agenda. In the words of Kevin Smith: “…As we head into #2017 remember: nobody writes your story but you. This year, write the shit out of your story. Don’t let someone else define your future for you: sing your song and show ’em what you’re made of. Happy New Year, everybody. Thanks for making the lady wrong.”