Give yourself Permission to be Good

George Bellows

I had finished my weekly sparring session a year ago feeling defeated. I had just gone more than 15 rounds where I’ve lost most, if not all, of them. Keep in mind that I had regularly been training kickboxing for over five years, so this was a massive ego blow.

I went up to my instructor, essentially giving him all the excuses of why I was performing badly and how amateur I was. What he told me next would stick on me to this day. To paraphrase the conversation:

“You’re not a beginner anymore. Give yourself permission to be good. You are better than this.”

George Bellows

What he said was right. I held myself back because being an amateur absolved me of responsibility of performing badly. That’s not to say I don’t get bad days despite my experience, but to accept it as if being bad is normal is a defeatist mentality.

This is something I also did to my art years prior. When I made a bad painting, I simply convinced myself it’s because I was incapable of being good. Don’t get me wrong; being humble is an integral part of improving as an artist. You need a bit of it to realize there’s room to improve. However, as I look back from the outside at some younger artists, I realize a majority of them are overly humble for their own good.

George Bellows

The worst thing I see online is when an artist posts their work and, in the description below it, a seemingly endless essay on what went wrong during the process. It reads to me as if it’s making excuses in advance for their own work being not up to par.

I completely understand that circumstances may affect the process in their work but, at the same time, it’s a license to blame those circumstances for any mistakes. Leaving any room to create excuses is a surefire way to strip you of accepting real improvement. It reads as asking others for pity for bad performance, which is objectively detrimental to your journey as an artist.

“Oh, if I was 100% I would have gotten this part right.”

Going back to my martial arts analogy, a common understanding in professional boxing and mixed martial arts is that no fighter ever goes in 100%. Injuries are frequent and nagging due to how hard these fighters train. It might be the fingers hurting in one fight, or the toes in the next.

Now, imagine how pathetic it sounds if a fighter loses and says:

“Oh, if my hand was fine I would have knocked my opponent out!”

George Bellows

See what I mean? How could this fighter accept any improvement if his/her mentality is that a loss was only possible due to the circumstances?

Ever since getting a verbal thrashing by my instructor, I made a decision to never create excuses for my work. I had accepted that yes, it is okay to see myself as an expert in art and that it is acceptable to have higher expectations for myself. 

Does it mean I’m at the peak of my potential? Absolutely not. Being humble in “defeat” is part of the learning process too. However, when I think with this newfound mentality, I have just enough pressure to perform better at my work rather than expecting and accepting poor outcomes.

Give yourself the permission to see yourself as good. Do not go into the fight with defeat already in your mind.


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