My whole life has been a war with self-esteem. Not my own, mind you, with others insisting I should have more than I do. Yes, there are times I feel lousy about myself and think that I'm failing. I embrace those feelings, though, because they are what motivate me to do better. I don't want to think I'm a loser? Then work at not being a loser. Natural talent only takes you so far. For example, I'm a funny guy, but it takes more than that to do a comic strip.
My parents, on the other side of the corpus collosum, have really weird ideas of what constitutes self-esteem. For example, building a deck. I HATE home construction projects. My dad derives a fascination from them that confounds me. But he's my dad, so I help. And when he asks me if I don't feel even the tiniest bit of pride from helping him build his deck, and I say I don't, he genuinely can't understand why. It's because a deck means nothing to me. Now, Cloudburst? Taking a simple idea and developing it into a full blown computer game, tested, refined, and debugged, from alpha to gold in less than two months? Now, THAT I take pride in.
My parents were in network marketing for a while, and couldn't figure out why I thought it was stupid. I recognized the group think that the motivational tapes were to inspire. Of course, I was just a teenager, how could I know what was going on (just as parents complain about kids that know everything, there are plenty of times where kids feel the reverse). They would give me their cutesy little affirmations until I wanted to reach for the shotgun mouthwash. They stopped when my mom told me, "If your mind can conceive it and you can believe it, then you can achieve it." I looked her dead in the eye and said, I want to be the first man on the moon. Not a peep after that.
My parents tried to build my self-esteem with a bunch of stuff that meant dick to me. By way of contrast, things that I truly did care about, like the writing? They went out of their way to try to get me to give it up. My mom would record talk shows with people talking about how tough it is to break into the business. My dad would ask me how much longer I'm going to keep trying. Didn't matter that I love writing. Just as I assigned no value to building a deck, my parents ascribed no value to building a story. They didn't even read anything I wrote when they knew I was writing. In fact, they lied about it (I wrote a story with a character who just happened to look like me, act like me, and had my name. My mom said she read the story and she loved it. I asked her for the name of the character. She said, "Bob". I don't care if you aren't supposed to swear in front of your mother, I gave her my best David Mamet "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU!").
So much of self-esteem isn't about what you genuinely enjoy, are good at, or even is realistic. I mean, will working on my writing help? Of course, it will. But at this point, what I need is actual experience and to build my brand. Working on stupid shit just to keep myself busy isn't going to get me anywhere. Even though Sound Waves isn't setting the world on fire, I am still writing a continuing series with story progression, structure, evolution, AND MAKING DEADLINES. Same with Stress Puppy. Editors will actually be less likely to look at you if that fantastic comic you wrote took you two years. They have a schedule to maintain. You want to play in the band, you have to know the songs. And just going around thinking that I'm wonderful won't get me anywhere. Showing that I can apply skill is more important than actual skill at this level.
But that's not the encouragement you get. Keep contacting everyone you can, and sooner or later, something will break. Uh-huh. At this point, I made an inroad at Archie by showing them Sound Waves. If I tried that with, say, Zenoscope or Avatar, it would have gone in the trash. I no longer believe in the shotgun approach, I believe in surgical strikes. And you know what? It really helps.
But that's because of a realistic approach. If something isn't working, you either find something that is, or you find a way to make it work. Stephan Pastis said the most important thing about doing what you love is you have to adapt. If something's not working, find what is or find a way to make it work. I knew a guy who wanted to be a manga artist. Frankly, his stuff wasn't very good. He got the art form, but there was no real personality to his work. On the other hand, he was a kickass sculptor. But even though he did fantastic stuff there, he refused to persue it. He wanted to be a manga artist. He eventually quit, broken hearted at his lack of artistic accomplishment. And the key to his happiness was right fucking there.
Self-esteem is overrated. Look at my game projects. I made Biff's Adventure as a lark and to test out the game engine. But while I enjoyed it and was happy with it, I wasn't happy enough. I refocused myself, and a year later, made Biff 2, which was leaps and bounds ahead of the original with multiple levels, new techniques, tricky gameplay -- basically, it was what I wanted Biff's Adventure to be, but didn't have the skill to make happen at the time. And it's all because I wasn't satisfied with what I did. Same with Sound Waves. It was originally just a cheap excuse to play around with shoujo. And I kept refining it, and it's no longer a diversion in my mind, it is an actual series, it's own artistic entity. And all because I saw potential for improvement and chased that muse.
Some projects, I am satisfied with. Head Above Water? That is genuinely the best I could have made it. Other than a couple of panels over the entire series run, I can't think of anything I'd do different (that's not to say criticism is unwarranted, and in fact, one of my regular fans has said he thought HAW was a little underdone. But I'm a big boy, I can take it). But that's only because I pushed. I didn't go, that should be good enough, I kept at it until I got what I was after. Something that I could look at and go, "You did good there, Peter." Sound Waves? Yeah. The artwork ain't the best. But it does what I want, which is convey the characters and their personalities. I could probably learn to do it closer to traditional manga or more realistic, but I feel that would rob the characters of their charm and their expressiveness. Cartoony works for them. It's not a question of, it's my style, and it's not a question of, I don't need to get better. It's an awareness of what is needed to achieve goals. And vague platitudes that I'm good enough as is? That'll get me a page on deviantART, but it won't do anything more than that.
My point is, I'm glad to hear someone back me up about self-esteem being a hinderence, not a help. I like to tell mornblade , "If I don't push, I don't advance." I mean, it took me 15 years to get my first published credit! My icon has me posing with a Pikachu! I geek out about video games and Constitutional rulings! I DRAW MERMAIDS, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE! Clearly, self-esteem is NOT a problem for me. You want people to feel better about themselves? Give them the tools to succeed. Or teach them the skills they need. They'll do more with that they ever will with being told, "At least, you tried, that's the important thing."