Believe in Yourself: The Secret of the ‘Work In Progress’

We get a lot of readers asking for advice on how to ‘believe in yourself’. And what I can say is that it’s less about the accomplishment and more about the progress. Here’s how I know:

It is believed to have taken Leonardo da Vinci four years to complete the Mona Lisa, though some historians say he may have been working on the piece until as late as 1517 (a total of near 15 years).  Even today, many of the painting’s admirers debate the subject; Sigmund Freud once suggested that Mona Lisa was an interpretation of da Vinci’s mother, Caterina, meaning it took much longer than four years to prepare for the portrait. Or maybe not: some believe Mona Lisa was actually a self-portrait of the artist himself, rendering the painting a riddle as well as a masterpiece. (via)

Even more perplexing is that, according to his contemporary, da Vinci walked away from the portrait before being satisfied with it. Giorgio Vasari is quoted as saying:

“after he had lingered over it four years, [he] left it unfinished”.

Can you imagine an artist looking at the Mona Lisa and believing it to be ‘unfinished’? Leonardo is even said to have regretted never finishing a single project he started. (via) Quite an interesting prospect, given that works like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are regarded as some of the most respected and visited works of art in the world, isn’t it?

The first devices using the essentials principles of rocket science are said to have occurred in 400 B.C. Three hundred years later, they were again employed by a more advanced Greek mastermind, only to be again experimented with, changed, and improved upon for a few hundred years until the first true rocket was invented by the Chinese in 1242. In the 1700’s, Sir Isaac Newton came on the scene and offered his expertise to the science. (via)

Flash forward to present day when, even after a heart-wrenching disaster on national television in which the shuttle Challenger exploded upon blast off, sending the country into a state of shock, we are still working on, experimenting with, and completely fascinated by rockets and their possibilities…

What does this mean for you?

Even after walking away from it, da Vinci regarded one of the greatest pieces in art history as ‘unfinished’. Not a failure.

Even after hundreds of years of study (and a few fatal disappointments), scientists are still committed to seeing how far humans can go.

Life is about progress, not accomplishment or failure.

If you keep looking at your life like it’s a problem you need to solve rather than a possibility you could achieve, you’re living in the state of the ‘fixer-upper’. You see your entire life as something terrible that happened in the past (the break up, the job loss, the cancer) that you are still trying to clean up, get rid of, get past, move on from, and fix. The state of the fixer-upper is: viewing your own life and potential as something limited in potential because of what has already happened to you. As we’ve discussed many times here on HerAfter, we’ve all faced our own battles. We’ve all had our hardships from childhood, teenage years, our early 20’s. We’ve all faced bad relationships, gotten fired, lost people we love. You  have absolutely been through a struggle that is unique to you, that placed hardships upon you that you didn’t deserve. Still, if your past struggle is your present reason for why you CAN’T, then you are living your life like it’s a fixer-upper.

Your past struggle has, no doubt, had implications on your present day. The difference between treating yourself like a fixer-upper instead of a work-in-progress is whether you let the past limit what you’re able to do in the future.

The work-in-progress perspective understands that unless you experiment with something, you’ll never understand how to perfect it. The work-in-progress isn’t afraid to try different things, isn’t even afraid to fail, because she understands that only in attempting can a person understand if something is possible or right for them. The work-in-progress looks forward at how they’ll achieve what they desire, while the fixer-upper is busy looking backward at all the reasons their failures mean they can’t move on. The work-in-progress understands that yes, life is messy and mistakes will happen and sometimes those mistakes might be embarrassing. But success often takes more than a day, a year, or even hundreds of years in the case of the rocket. When you’re guided by the dream of the future rather than the pain of the past, incredible things are possible.

The only thing impossible is for everyone else to understand the path that you are on. Don’t worry if other people can’t understand the areas in which you experiment to find your best self, your science for the rocket toward your potential. Only you can understand the method.

Even while you’re marveling at her past accomplishments, she’s looking to her future at what’s next…

It all comes down to whether you believe in yourself. Believing in yourself all comes down to whether you believe more in your past or your future. If you believe in your past and your beliefs based on your past (“I’m not worthy” “I’ve failed” “I’m not good enough”) then you’ll never reach a point where you believe in yourself enough to progress forward. You understanding of what you’re capable of has to be based on openness, willingness, experimentation, possibility, rather than fear, the past, hurt, wounds, or anger.

So what does this have to do with da Vinci walking away after four – or 15 – years? Well, sometimes (and you might not be able to see it in the moment) walking away at the right time can offer divine solutions. It might not feel so hot when you’re walking away from that relationship, or leaving that job, and feeling like you could have/should have offered it more or tried harder. But sometimes, if you listen to that guiding intuition, even when it looks like a mess in the moment, you can realize later that it all happened exactly as it should have, perfect in it’s imperfections. An influential masterpiece that progresses in life, just like you.