After watching an old 2009 interview of Curtis Jackson (50 Cent) on Tavis Smiley, I was intrigued to hear how he struggled to develop self-belief. His life story teaches us a great deal about where self-validation, courage, and self-confidence come from.
Are we born with it? Do we develop it—and if so, how?
These questions are hard to answer, but Jackon’s tale leaves us clues. (Hint: It’s developed through force of will.)
Living in Queens, New York, Curtis Jackson began to learn the craft of song writing from his mentor, Jam Master Jay. But he was often tempted to trash his dream altogether, and instead make fast, easy money by peddling crack cocaine. The more he tried to break free from the drug game, the more it seemed to pull him back in.
Jackson was internally divided between two lives—a life of dealing drugs or making music. But his rap gig was starting to sputter. He was getting older and his chance of getting recognized in the industry was vanishing. Jackson explains how he handled the uncertainty:
I thought I was ready in 97. And I didn’t have a major record company marketing to promote my project till’ 2003. So for that time period I had to run on my own energy.
At this stage in life, when one verges on utter failure, what keeps a person going? Why would you persist with something that isn’t working? What made Jackson move forward when the world didn’t believe in him?
You know, I had to convince myself that I’m gonna make it. You know, regardless of how people felt at that time. And what it does is it makes you feel like, well it made me feel like, there’s gonna be points where people are gonna mistake my confidence for arrogance. Cause I had to, they don’t understand the process I went through, and how much I had to believe in myself in order to make these things happen.
Jackson had to develop strong self-belief in order to keep his dreams alive. This same rule applies to any artist, writer, or creative person—you just have to believe.
How do you develop self-belief?
I struggle with that question—some days I feel confident, other days I’m pierced with doubt.
I wouldn’t say that creative people live a difficult life, but they live a different one, a life that’s always not supported by the mainstream. They often work alone with a vision nobody else gets. They slog it out in the studio, working late hours, giving up their weekends, trying to get it right before the world collapses on them.
Artists are often alone with their thoughts—negative thoughts. Am I wasting my time? Am I just kidding myself? Will I ever make a dime off this project?
If things don’t work out right away, if success isn’t visible on the horizon, self-doubt sinks in. The writer who receives rejection after rejection from publishers begins to doubt whether she has what it takes to get her words into print. The full-time photographer who struggles to sell his work wonders if he should rejoin normal society and get a real job.
Every creative person endures this dark period, a time of uncertainty. But there’s something positive that sprouts from this darkness. Out of necessity, the struggling artist learns to get well acquainted with herself—she discovers strengths and abilities she never even knew she had.
She’s forced to reach deep down and draw on untapped inner strength. She starts to invent self-belief, sometimes out of thin air—she has no choice. She has no sure-fire reason to believe she’s going to make it, but she moves forward anyway.
Curtis Jackson explains his theory on building self-belief during a dark period:
I feel like you can will yourself into a good space. Things that are meant to happen will, and if you believe in yourself enough you can help yourself learn. You can inspire, you know, yourself in different ways where you can actually discipline yourself. To the point where you can actually become good enough.
The level of your self-belief will predict how far you go in life. The artist who believes in herself has an edge over the artist filled with self-doubt.
We’re going to reach that point in our journey where we’re confronted with the real possibility of failure, with real consequences. We’ll endure many setbacks. We’ll get frustrated and begin to lose hope. We’ll reach the end of our spiritual ropes.
It’s these moments that will make or break us. It’s either we learn to really believe in ourselves, even when nobody else does, or we learn how to let go of our dreams.
But if Curtis Jackson let go, the world would never have known 50 Cent.