Honesty is a strange thing in the sense that it’s often far less difficult to practice it with others than yourself. Being truthful is a good quality, there’s no doubt about that, but I would argue that the ability to be self-honest is a great one. I’m of the belief (however idealistic) that true progress in both your ability and personal growth should be grounded in this trait, rather than excuses or cushioning words to soften harsh truths. Reality needs to be faced, and not sent away into a dark corner because it’s not pretty to look at.
There’s no two ways about it. Being honest with yourself is difficult, especially more so if it’s concerned with being critical. The saying “you are your own worst critic” wasn’t born from nothing. It’s not easy for anyone, even if they’re naturally hard on themselves, to look at something they’ve done or created and say “that isn’t good enough” or “I can do better”. Sure we all want to do better and achieve a higher standard, but wanting is easy. Admitting you need to do better is a personal mark of character for me.
It takes a certain kind of humility to admit certain truths to yourself, some of which may seem pretty obvious to you but are once again challenging to actively practice. Truths such as you can never stop improving or learning, or you will inevitably make mistakes and fail along the way (and that’s perfectly okay), or what you wrote or created six or more months ago is probably inferior to what you’re capable of now are all examples of useful forms of self-honesty. But as it always goes, talk is cheap, and it’s one thing to express these ideas verbally and another to actually put them into action. That is something that requires practice. Just so long as you’re not walking around thinking you’re ‘it’ and your work is above criticism, I suppose!
Why is self-honesty important? That would be because the absence of it is a serious barrier to progress. After all you can’t fix a mistake if you won’t admit it’s there in the first place. We are given this remarkable reflection tool called hindsight which unfortunately we often tend to view as a bad thing and attach negative connotations to it, but what I feel should strongly be considered is the usefulness of it instead. It can be a fantastic thing for one simple reason: it always opens the door for self-improvement. You may not often be able to be honest with yourself in the moment, while caught up in all the excitement, emotions and drama, but in the aftermath and weeks or months ahead it’s very possible with a clearer head on your shoulders, to look at what you’ve done with fresh and more realistic eyes.
When I published my first book, The Sorrow, a year ago I was so caught up in the elation and positive rush of it all that I definitely didn’t sit back and think “well this isn’t very good!” I was pretty determined to send the work out for review and hear opinions on what I’d produced. Fast forward a couple of months later, after a lot of time for self-reflection and assessment, and my opinion of the work dramatically changed. If you asked me today, I would say that my first book was a fair attempt given my inexperience, but it had numerous damaging flaws I need to correct and also some areas of strength that I need to develop further. As I said in yesterday’s post in response to The Review Board’s review of the book, I’m very pleased to see various critical analysis fall very much in line with my own views.
I’ve even told some friends used to a higher standard of reading to wait for my future works. I’d probably be called a right old fool for telling some people not to read my book, and some would then probably ask me why I wrote it in the first place. Well, it’s important to understand that I’m not putting myself down and being a negative Nancy. I’m not telling myself that what I wrote was rubbish. That’s counter productive. Being critical shouldn’t be associated with something negative, but something productive. I’m telling myself that I can, and need to, do much better. It’s fairly simple. Publishing a book was a childhood dream, but being a great writer is a lifelong dream. In the grand scheme of things, no matter how fantastic, the journey to that first book is only a stepping stone in a much larger adventure.
That is why I am able to be honest with myself about my first book. Not just because it’s months later and I have more clarity and actual feedback to work with, but because I understand that it’s one single book – my first one – in what I hope will be a library of them. My first book achieved exactly what I realistically set out to do. I didn’t tell myself I was going to write the best crime story ever told. I was honest with myself in my goals, telling myself that I wanted to prove I could actually write a book, that I wanted to find my path and direction in terms of releasing it to the public (in other words establish a platform for myself) and I wanted to set a foundation, a starting point, from which to use as a reference and inspiration to keep getting better. Of course I also wanted people to actually enjoy the work, and seeing that always pleased me to no end. But there was a bigger picture, if you will.
You may ask, reasonably so, that if months later you’re always going to look back and think what you did is inferior (as detailed in my post about the six months rule of progression) how will you ever publish or complete anything? Well it’s up to you to determine when something you’ve created is done to the best of your current ability, because we all know that with practice we will eventually get better at something. You’ll pull your hair out if you keep obsessing over the future. If you infinitely delay your work there is the further danger that you won’t get to setting those important landmarks for yourself from which to build on. As such there must come a time (you’ll know it) when you feel you’ve produced your present best. Alternatively you’ll feel that the work can be better and needs more time, which in that case you’ll ideally be aware of how with a clear plan in mind, rather than a mere hope.
In the end the road to progress is paved with self-honesty. Sometimes that honesty can be harsh, and sometimes it can be fantastic. It often ends up being about reminding yourself not to perceive criticism negatively, and valuing both it and praise in equal measure. The use of invaluable tools such as hindsight and feedback to improve yourself only become even more essential once you’re able to be honest with yourself through reflection. And that is a skill that is obtained through practice and repeated self-assessment, especially in the aftermath of all the initial drama. Once you obtain it, however, you’ll find yourself having dropped one more barrier to progress.