“[Regarding] your inclinations to self-doubt… find in yourself enough patience to bear your suffering and enough simplicity to believe in yourself.” Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Everyone that knows me well also knows my fondness for the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke, especially The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. This time, however, it is Rilke’s prose found in the form of ten letters written to a young poet tortured by daunting life’s questions that spike my attention. The young poet is hounded by overwhelming doubt expressed in his questions: Should I even be a poet? Is my writing any good?
Rilke relentlessly refuses to answer those questions directly. Instead, he repeatedly urges the poet to go deep within his own soul to discover the answer, for only the poet himself knows the answer to those questions. The answers are discovered by solitude of thought and in a life fully lived.
Am I Any Good to Anyone?
Are we not disposed to ask such questions ourselves? Am I any good at what I do? What do people think of me and my work? Am I wasting my life doing what I do?
I find that it is times like these that the haunting voices of my own Demons of Self-Doubt surface only to drag me back down into that abyss of disabling fear of rejection and failure.
Both Fuzzy and Clear
Today I continue to embark on a fuzzy, yet ever more increasingly clear, vision for my purpose or calling for this next decade. I am quite sure that I am heading in divine direction. I am simply unclear of the precise destination. Yes, I am confident that I am heading West; however, I don’t know if I’ll land in St. Louis or Seattle. My only job is to continue on this divinely orchestrated journey.
And yes. I ask the question: Do I have the skills and talents to take on this new course of action? And then, is there anyone out there in need of my services? Answers to these questions are irrelevant when I sense this weighty yearning to follow this path. Answers will only be discovered in process, in time, with patience and perseverance.
The Wisdom of a Young Poet to a Younger Poet
Maybe you are asking the same kinds of questions. Maybe, you too, are haunted by the same Demons I live with. Enter Rainier Maria Rilke. May we find solace in his wisdom regarding self-doubt (at 28 years old!!!).
“Find enough simplicity to believe in yourself.”
“Furthermore, let life happen to you. Believe me—you can count on life in any case.”
“Your doubt can become a good quality if you can train it! Ask it questions… demand proof… Demand explanations from it.”
The Answer is Within
You see, Rilke believes that in everyday life and keen self-observation we can come upon the answers to even our most harrowing questions. For Rilke, the Demons of Self-Doubt are always at the mercy of attentive self-awareness.
And remember, the slow work of God can be acquired only with a patient stint of paying attention.
You are Created to “Be Yourself”
So Be That and Only That… in Time
Photo courtesy of PeopleImages at istockphoto
2 thoughts on “Your Demons of Self-Doubt”
Very timely and thoughtful essay – thank you!
Thanks Pete. I was indeed writing to myself.