The eradication of doubt

The Creation of Adam Michelangelo Sistine Chapel God and man

Section from ‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) in the Sistine Chapel, Rome.

Most people find it hard to sell themselves. How often have we come across people (including ourselves) who say ‘I can sell someone/something else, but when it comes to selling myself I can’t do it’. When the spotlight is forced on them by themselves, they’re riddled with self-doubt and lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. It’s interesting to notice what kind of people do find it easy to sell themselves compared with those who don’t, and what it is about themselves that they are actually able to promote.

So why is this and what can we do about it?

In my experience, the main category of people who struggle to sell themselves are the many different types of artists: painters, musicians, designers, dancers, performers and writers, and the thing they struggle selling is their art.

The main category of people who are able to sell themselves don’t have a particular name so let’s call them ‘salespeople’. They have in common a projectable self-belief that is not connected to any product, artifact or art that they have made, but is linked to confidence in something external and/or their ability to deliver a potential service in the future.

So now we can see a clearer difference. The ‘artists’ judge themselves and their self-worth on what they have created in the past, their ‘art’, which as time goes on, has less and less value in their eyes. They then project this lack of self worth, index linked to their fading glories or past failures, into the future. This pressure lowers self confidence in their abilities so much that they fail to be able to communicate the value of their work and fail to sell (or even pick up the phone or knock on the door).

The ‘salesperson’ does not really care about the past. They communicate with people in the present about the future. Their self-belief is index linked to an ideal service they may deliver in the future. This creates an unlimited potential in the future which builds confidence, enabling the person to sell their services.

So in part it’s a difference between products and services. A product already exists and can be judged, but a service has yet to be delivered so might well be perfect.

But there’s something more than that. The product that the artist is talking back is intrinsically linked to them. The salesperson may be able to easily sell someone else’s product precisely because it exists and is tangible. It exists to the salesperson in isolation and therefore can be linked to their own confidence about their own ability to communicate its benefits as a service.

The artist who created the product can’t do this because the product is too close to them, it is still part of them. The very fact that they are an artist means that their own feelings and emotions went into the creation of the art. This is unlike a bricklayer creating a wall to a set plan, possibly laid down by someone else. They might put their all into the construction, and may even be able to describe themselves as a highly skilled artisan or craftsperson,  but when finished, the wall is not art and not linked to the individual in the same way as art. Instead, it’s the product of a service rendered.

So for the artist to sell themselves and their art they have a few stark choices. One is to portray their art as a future service. This is how successful designers learn to think. The other way is to portray their art as products. This is how successful painters learn to think.

But there is another thing to consider and that is the power of a team mind. Obviously it’s easier to sell your product or service when you have a real physical team of people supporting and working with you. But when you’re on your own there is a secret way of being a team too.

Our consciousness gives us the benefit of an internal voice, the voice in our head. It lets us weigh up options and figure things out. It works as a stream of a conversation in which we are both the speaker and the listener. Many people have tried to investigate how and why this works. It’s related to the fact that we actually have two brains, two hemispheres. We often call them ‘right’ and ‘left’ and relation them to the different world views of abstract visual emotional concepts (right side) and logical sequential verbal mechanics (left side).

Another model that takes these basic concepts further is to think of one of our brains (the active dogmatic left side) as the Apprentice or Emissary and the other as the master (the unconscious holistic right side). The conversations we have, happen between these two beings, the Master and the Emissary.

A route to self confidence can begin by accepting this model and listening to the voice of the Master, who always has your best interests at heart, and allowing him/her to guide you to the best decisions. Now you’re working as a team. You’re also creating your art as a team, having internal conversations as a team. Many artists describe the creative process as a collaboration between a part of them carrying out the physical art and another part giving the instruction, often externalised, sometimes described as divine instruction, coming to them. John Lennon described his songwriting process as him as an antenna, picking up signals from a higher source.

If we, as artists, accept this model we may well just find that our internal team will also support us in the selling of our products and services, which, now, are not only our sole and lonely creation. Plus, safe in the knowledge that our Master will not let us down, we can rely on him/her in the future too, so can base our self confidence on that certainty.

This, I believe, is the secret to the curse that stops us selling ourselves and our art. This is the secret to the eradication of doubt.

For more on these ideas, read this excellent book: The Master and his Emissary by Iain McGilchrist.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

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4 comments on “The eradication of doubt

  1. Great post, Ayd! Maybe Albert Einstein’s internal conversation would have gone something like this:

    R.H: Can’t sleep. Too much to think about. My brain is pulsating with energy, like some kind of nuclear dynamo.

    L.H.: Ah, yes, energy. That’s mass times the speed of light squared. And nuclear – I know about that.

    R.H.: Oh, nuclear, shmuclear. Why can’t I forget it? Good God, there must be more to life than science!

    L.H.: All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.

    R.H.: But which tree? An oak? A fir? A silver birch, perhaps, with the winter sun setting through a myriad of skeletal twigs. Or maybe it’s just any old random tree.

    L.H.: Ah, no, God does not play dice.

    R.H.: The only real valuable thing is intuition. Imagination is everything. There are whole forests of trees out there. Waiting for us to build tree houses in them.

    L.H.: Forget the tree. That was just an analogy to explain how things are. One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.

    R.H.: I don’t get it.

    L.H.: Well, I mean that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.

    R.H.: Right. Well, that creates our problem, then. The process of scientific discovery is, in effect, a continual flight from wonder – but Imagination is more important than knowledge. Now I’m getting a blue tree with pink leaves.

    L.H.: That’s crazy. Logic will get you from A to B.

    R.H.: Imagination will take you everywhere. Now the leaves are flashing different colours!

    L.H.: A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

    R.H.: Are you sure?

    L.H.: Undoubtedly. Goodnight, Albert.

    R.H.: Goodnight, Albert.


  2. What a juicy article! One of the things I notice creatives doing is fantasising about what people think of their art. Maybe it’s another creative process. I have seen creatives state things as fact that have never been said! Also any tiny criticism or praise swings them wildly to the polemic of elation or despair. In reply, may I shamelessly plug my own art! Enjoy!


  3. Ayd, a great article.
    I always had self-belief and still do, so a lack of that is not what made it difficult for me to sell!
    I think it’s more basic – and by the way, I know a lot of sales people for whom it makes no difference at all what they’re selling, they still do struggle with ‘themselves’ at times.
    In my experience, if I could mention what I believe is the number one reason that creatives are not particularly good at selling, it’s because the brain is overactive, our thoughts convoluted and therefore difficult for ‘normal’ people to follow.
    Selling requires clarity and specifics – creatives usually think in generalities and concepts, and concepts do not sell.
    We (creatives) have a knack of confusing people, and if people are confused, they don’t buy!
    So, what I have learned over the years is that we need to learn ‘straight peoples’ language’ and then speak to them in their language. And it’s like learning a foreign language – as difficult and as alien to the other party when we speak ‘creative’ and they don’t!
    When you can clearly articulate to the other party the ‘value’ of your offer, service, product or art, then the decision to buy is at least made possible. Without clear articulation, sales is left to chance and usually unsuccessful.
    You are right, of course, that a lot of artsy folk find it difficult to ‘rave’ about their stuff, or even think their stuff is any good (Tchaikovsky thought most of what he wrote was rubbish), but that’s kind of beside the point.
    All we need to do in reality, is step back, systematically evaluate the value of our ‘product’ to the other party (enthusiasm helps, of course) and then let them decide.
    It’s a fallacy that persuasion helps in selling. In fact, we have become so sophisticated as buyers and in our understanding of fundamental psychological principles, that when left to decide for ourselves without any pressure or expectation from the sales person, we are more likely and not less likely to buy!
    Great blog, Ayd. Let me know if you’d like to ‘guest’ on my site. Maybe we could reciprocate.


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